Kay Ann (Fails) Ruffin
By CHRIS LARICK
From the time she was small, Kay Ann (Fails) Ruffin honed one skill that would prove invaluable to her career — shooting a basketball.
Ruffin and her brother, Craig Fails (two years older than Kay Ann) would spend every spring and summer shooting the ball from long-range on the driveway at her parents' (Bill and Linda's) house. Both of them contended in the free-throw shooting contests at the Knights of Columbus' tournaments.
Kay Ann remembers watching her brother and Boyd Griffith, a teammate of Craig's and another 2016 inductee into the Ashtabula County Basketball Hall of Fame, shoot while young. Eventually, she joined them.
"They shot from far out," she said."I don't remember our driveway without a three-point line. We had a little slope in our driveway, so we shot a little higher. My brother wasn't tall, so he shot higher to get over people. Sometimes my dad would come out and challenge us. It seemed like we did more shooting than playing one-on-one, though we did play a little one-on-one."
Kay Ann didn't join an organized team until junior high school at Rowe in Conneaut, where she teamed with classmates Gretchen Showalter and Tammy Wiederman on the seventh and eighth grade teams coached by Mr. Fundermark.
The Conneaut varsity team was not very good and Ruffin made the team as a freshman.
She admits she wasn't at all sure she wanted to play organized basketball at that point.
"When I look back, I contemplated not playing my freshman year," she said. "I thought I might try something different, but I ended up playing. I liked being part of a team. I remember the people and the camaraderie we had more than the scores."
The scores weren't all that good her first couple of years, anyway.
"My first two years of high school, we were not very victorious," Ruffin said. "The other freshman (Showalter) and I got some playing time as freshmen. That helped when we became junior and seniors.
"By my junior year, Tom Ritari became coach and we had much more success. We had a core of girls who worked hard, had a winning season and went farther in the tournament."
The Spartans of those days (Ruffin graduated in 1994) were not a tall team. Ruffin, for example, stood just 5-foot-6.
"But we made up for it in other ways," she said. "We played hard and ran the floor. We had quite a few come-from-behind victories. We never gave up; you could never count us out."
Ritari, whom Ruffin now joins in the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation's Hall of Fame, earned her respect.
"I enjoyed (playing for him)," she said. "He pushed us and made us work hard. He made us better. He was a student of the game and structured it. He loved basketball and that made it more enjoyable to me."
Ruffin admits she was just a shooter as a freshman and sophomore.
"But in the last couple of years I morphed into a point guard/shooting guard depending on how the defense was set up.
"Martha Cananen played the post for us. She was probably 5-8, but she could jump. She and Gretchen (Showalter) were underneath the basket.
"Mr. Ritari knew we weren't tall. He was very good at teaching us how to take good shots so we made more hoops. As a team when we were juniors and seniors we played well together.We were friends on and off the court. When you get to know people well, it translates well (to sports)."
Ruffin recalls playing against Shaun Novak from Geneva and Anita Jurcenko from Jefferson.
"That was a lot of fun," she said.
In addition to basketball, Ruffin played volleyball (as a setter) and softball.
"I was so-so in volleyball," she said. "In softball it depends on who you ask. I loved softball. I got a (college) basketball offer and two softball offers as a senior."
Ruffin finally decided to go to West Virginia Wesleyan, mostly because she would get a chance to play softball there.
"To me, softball never gets old," she said. "I got some press in basketball in high school and a lot of people thought that was my best sport. In high school softball I played the infield and pitched, mostly pitched. The most exciting thing in college was my coach (Steve Warner) switched me to catcher. I loved it. I could throw from my knees and I loved the leadership aspect of being a catcher.
"I tried to lead by example. As a catcher, you're in control. The pitcher thinks he or she is in control, but a catcher really is."
In her junior year, her best year for the Dragons, she hit .406. Before the season, she had listed batting .400 as one of her goals, so that pleased her greatly.
Power was not her forte, however.
"I hit one home run in college," she said. "I still have the ball. I always hit in the high .300s and always hit fifth or sixth in the lineup. I made good contact and got a lot of RBI's."
At West Virginia Wesleyan Ruffin majored in elementary education. When she graduated, Adrian Powell, a good friend of hers, recommended her for a job in Loudoun County in Virginia, near Washington, D.C.
"I felt comfortable there," she said. "Adrian and I still keep in touch."
She taught seven years in Virginia, during which she married and had her first child. She met her husband, Scott, while she was teaching in Virginia and he was in the U.S. Marine Corps in Quantico. In 2005 she and her family moved back to Ohio after she obtained a teaching job in Wadsworth.
"It was great to be back in Ohio," she said. "We had two more kids, then, in 2013, my husband (Scott Ruffin) took a job in Seattle with Amazon. He works in logistics. We live 20 miles outside of Seattle (in Snoqualme).
The Ruffins have three children: sons Nathan, 12, and Ryan, 9; and a daughter, Morgan, 7.
"The weather is different here," she said. "We're close enough to the Cascades that we can go up to the mountains and see snow. We don't have to shovel rain."