Ritchy Hitoto, the new Head Athletic Trainer at Pratt Community College (PCC), has come a long way, both literally and figuratively, since leaving his native France in 2007.
While his parents migrated to France from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Hitoto was born and raised in Europe as one of 12 children. “I was number 9,” he said.
Spending his formative years playing soccer, like many other European youth, Hitoto switched to basketball during the days Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant ruled the hardwood.
“My dream was to become a pro basketball player in the NBA. It never happened,” he said.
However, as a youth, he played point guard for town teams in France, which, he said, is a step above school sports.
At 18, however, he faced a crossroads: should he continue playing sports or instead serve a mission for his church?
He opted to serve a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and was assigned to the West Indies.
“For two years, I didn’t touch a basketball,” he said. “The main sport there is cricket.”
All together, Hitoto served in four countries during his mission, including St. Martin, Martinique, French Guiana, and Guadeloupe.
Once he returned home, he studied English at La Sorbonne University.
At this time, he also met his future wife, Naomi. Following an 18-months separation from each other during which she lived in Utah with a three months stint in Minnesota, the two married in October 2006.
Afterward, Ritchy was determined to study and play basketball in the United States.
He enrolled at LDS Business College, later transferring to the University of Utah, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications.
“While there, I tried out for the team for two years in a row but never got accepted,” he said.
It was during their time in Utah that Naomi and Ritchy welcomed their new born daughter Keshia.
After graduation, Hitoto played in various basketball camps throughout the United States and was scouted to play professional basketball in France for a short time.
The Hitotos then moved to England, where they lived for five years and during which time Hitoto worked as a personal trainer and strength coach. He also decided to return to school, obtaining multiple fitness certifications and even pursued a Master of Sports Rehabilitation from St Mary University College.
Hitoto and his family then hopped across the ocean, landing in Tampa, Florida where Ritchy pursued a Master’s degree in Sports Medicine at the University of South Florida (USF).
Hitoto also worked for various professional sports teams, including the MLB Tampa Bay Rays, the NFL’s Houston Texans and Detroit Lions.
“It was great,” he said.
Hitoto recalled an experience he had when shopping at a Wal Mart in Detroit: “I had my Detroit Lions gears on. There was an elderly couple that noticed me. Later, we met at an aisle crossing. The gentleman asked me, ‘Are you Barry Sanders?’ After I said that I wasn’t, the man hollered at his wife nearby, ‘I told you he wasn’t Barry Sanders.’’
Hitoto’s resume also includes time working with G-league teams for the NBA’s Washington Wizards and Orlando Magic.
Prior to being hired for his current position at PCC, Hitoto experienced what he described as “the hardest six months of my life.” During those 180 or so days, he sent out 10 applications a day to locations across the country. He said he had multiple interviews during this period but no success.
During this difficult period of life, he gives ample credit to his wife.
“I could not have made it without Naomi. Multiple times, you think, ‘I’m going to give up.’ Then you say, ‘Let’s see what the next day’s going to give,’” Hitoto said.
Finally, the next day arrived, and bright sunlight shone down upon the Hitoto family when Ritchy was hired by PCC after interviews with college personnel in August 2019.
Ritchy finally started his new position in January 2020, after going through many hurdles.
Since then, the Hitoto family has been settling into Pratt. Each member of the family has good things to say about their new home.
“What we have learned is, ‘Bloom wherever you are.’ So far we have met really kind and generous people. We’re looking forward to what spring will bring, because it’s supposed to be really beautiful,” said Naomi.
Ritchy echoed similar sentiments.
“As for me, I grew up in Paris. I’m a city boy but I like it here. It’s just good to be in a town where you have time to think. Everything is five minutes away. People are really, really nice,” he said.
The couple’s daughter, Keshia, who attends Liberty Middle School, offered her perspective as well.
“I like the school. The people are really nice here. I like this town because everybody knows each other,” she said.
Hitoto intends to apply his diverse background and experiences in the best way possible.
“My goal is for the Sports Medicine Department at PCC to be the best. The level of care I bring to the athletes at the college is the same level of care I brought to professional athletes,” he said.
While things have changed dramatically in sports scene at PCC, due to the coronavirus, Ritchy is busy teaching online classes, including “Sports Injury Prevention.”
Incidentally, the Hitotos are a multilingual family. Ritchy speaks French, English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole. Naomi speaks French, English, Spanish, and German. Keshia speaks French and English and is currently learning Spanish.
Pratt Community College will be hiring an assistant athletic trainer in the new future to work with Hitoto in the expanding program.