Behind home plate, decked out in his umpire’s gear, Ryan Englekirk keeps an expert eye on every move of a game. “I enjoy the challenge of having to figure out 10 different things in a half second,” he says.
Ryan played basketball, soccer and volleyball at Crossroads but
the gifted athlete, then known as Jennifer, was particularly talented at softball, usually serving as catcher. In 12th grade, when he blew out his right arm throwing to second base, he trained himself to play left-handed.
A few years after graduation, Ryan was asked to umpire a game at a local park and a new passion was born. Umpires have held a fascination for him since he was a child. “They have so much dignity even under pressure,” he says.
Ryan attended two professional umpire schools to hone his skills, and quickly became in-demand to umpire high school, junior college, youth and semi-pro ball. Now he has combined that passion with a lifelong love of history for his Ph.D. at American University in Washington, D.C. His topic: the fight over masculinity and manhood in America and how it manifests in the role of the umpire in Major League Baseball.
Ryan, who entered Crossroads in the seventh grade, recalls being teased and bullied at earlier schools. For the first time, school became a safe zone for him. “Crossroads nurtures a respect for others who are different than you,” says Ryan, who considers Max Brooks, Greg Bryan and Zoë Durrah Scheffy his closest friends from his class. However, he recalls, “All of my classmates were protective, kind and accepting to someone who was an outlier.”
His dissertation, which examines the umpire as a Victorian role model, is titled “Men Among Boys.” He’s found great role models off the field, too, among his teachers at Crossroads, including Bob Riddle, Tom Nolan
and Larry Wiener. “They are some of the most influential men I’ve been around,” says Ryan, “in terms of teaching me how to treat others.”