He’d wander out from his put up behind Chaparral Excessive’s snack bar, and Maria Rittenberg would see her son sitting down not within the residence stands however within the visiting bleachers, placing up a dialog with anybody he might discover.
“That’s my sister over there, No. 16,” Sebastian Rittenberg would say, pointing to Chaparral standout Bella Rittenberg, who has dedicated to the College of Pennsylvania volleyball program. “You gotta cheer for her!”
Why would they cheer for Bella? They had been visiting followers. But there was no stopping Sebastian, Bella’s 22-year-old brother with autism who loves his sister greater than something and has by no means been afraid to point out it.
When their grandmother died once they had been youthful, there was Bella, sitting with Sebastian and watching their favourite film, “Sleeping Beauty.” When he fell, chopping his knee open, there was Bella, bringing him to their mom. When he was assaulted in a first-grade rest room, Maria telling the story of a boy who punched and kicked and ripped Sebastian’s shirt off, there was a younger Bella, asking, “Why?”
“My yin, my yang,” Sebastian mentioned of Bella. “My guardian angel.”
As she’s formed them, the Chaparral senior and out of doors hitter has been formed by her household — “little ducks,” her mom mentioned, that do every part collectively. Bella has 5 siblings, 4 adopted, 4 with particular wants. This previous season, earlier than Chaparral was eradicated by San Juan Hills in a Southern Part Division II playoff match Thursday, her household was the largest cheer part at most residence video games, dancing for his or her sister, the group captain, like no one was watching.
It’ll be robust to depart them when she heads to Penn. They’ve given Bella a novel perspective on volleyball — and life basically.
“A lot of people would get mad at someone if they kept messing up or they weren’t doing well,” Rittenberg mentioned. “But I wouldn’t … we’re all human. I think I’ve learned that from my family.”
There’s Sebastian, who lives out loud. There’s Harley, the caring 28-year-old who met Maria at 16 by a court-appointed particular advocates program. There’s the useful 18-year-old Nathaniel, who has epilepsy; the pleasant 17-year-old Natalie, who has an mental incapacity; the doting 15-year-old Naudia, who has developmental delays, all three siblings adopted directly.
It’s an “insta-family,” Maria calls it. Whereas it’s not at all times simple, they’ve touched Chaparral’s group, coach Gale Johnson’s favourite recollections of the season seeing them cheer within the stands.
“It’s not that we’re going to drink lemonade,” Maria mentioned, referencing the when-life-gives-you-lemons adage. “We’re going to make lemon-tinis, because if we’re going to live this life, we’re going to make it a party.”
Maria began Bella in volleyball to ensure her daughter didn’t get “lost in the shuffle” whereas caring for Sebastian. And welcoming 4 extra siblings would possibly’ve appeared arduous.
However Bella at all times needed an even bigger household. She’s at all times been pleased with having siblings with particular wants, Maria mentioned — orchestrating intricate dance productions with costumes and wigs and choreography when she was youthful, tossing her arm round her brothers and sisters at college, waving to them within the bleachers.
Now, don’t mistake her for a softie on the hardwood. Bella’s a “brute” of an outdoor hitter, as Sebastian described with a smile, unleashing a robust hit. But she brings a extra caring angle as a pacesetter.
“Some people get so down on themselves when they make mistakes or when things go wrong … but I feel just like she has this different perspective,” Johnson mentioned. “So her lows never get too low, because she understands what life’s about.”
On Oct. 12, the group’s senior-night sport towards Nice Oak, seniors and their households had been welcomed one after the other onto the courtroom, strolling out from below an arch of balloons to applause. When it got here Bella’s flip, she and her household took a couple of steps — just for Sebastian to strut out in entrance, waving his arms and blowing extravagant kisses to the gang just like the star on the shut of a play.
Not a care on this planet, and Bella wouldn’t have it some other manner. Sebastian is totally himself and her household is totally itself, and she or he loves it, as a result of it’s made her who she is.
“Even though it’s different, [it’s] amazing, and I’m very lucky to have the parents and the siblings I do,” Bella mentioned.