Superintendent’s Spotlight: Rylee McDonnell


Superintendent’s Spotlight: Rylee McDonnell

April 18, 2024

It was a first when Warwick Valley Middle School seventh grader Rylee McDonnell handed Principal Jared Yapkowitz an absence excusal letter from Major League Baseball last week!

The letter informed Mr. Yapkowitz that Rylee had been selected to participate in the 2024 MLB Trailblazer Series in Vero Beach, Florida. The program provides invitees with opportunities to display and develop their on-field baseball skills alongside other female baseball players. The letter read, in part:

We ask that you grant an excused absence on Monday, April 15th and Tuesday, April 16th while she is participating in this unique event. If you have any further questions, please feel free to reach out to Sarah Padove (Manager of Baseball & Softball Development for Major League Baseball).

The Trailblazer Series is a collaboration between USA Baseball and Major League Baseball that launched in 2017. It is a skills camp and tournament for girls, scheduled each year to coincide with Jackie Robinson Day — recognizing baseball’s quintessential “trailblazer.”

“It didn’t surprise me! Rylee is a force to be reckoned with both on and off of the ball field,” said Mr. Yapkowitz. “Rylee has been a rock star in the classroom this year and is universally respected by her teachers and peers. It’s been a pleasure watching Rylee grow from the time she entered middle school until now.”

Rylee started playing softball in the Warwick Little League around the third or fourth grade, but by the time she started at WVMS, she’d already made the switch to baseball. She felt like softball wasn’t quite providing the challenges she was looking for.

“I can get pretty competitive sometimes when it comes to the sports I play,” said Rylee with a smile, “so it started to feel like softball wasn’t really moving as quickly for me as I wanted.”

While she loved being on the diamond, Rylee wanted a more fast-paced game that would, in turn, help her develop her skills faster, too. It was a tough adjustment right off the bat, but Rylee is a consummate gamer and wasn’t about to back out of the box.  

“It was hard for me at first, because I didn’t really get taught that much about baseball before I switched,” she said, adding that a lot of her baseball knowledge had come from watching games on television. “So I just went into it, [applied] my softball skills, and learned from there.”

In the short time since, Rylee has developed into a strong pitcher who can also play any of the outfield positions. She is admirably modest about her work ethic and baseball achievements when asked, but the fact the she was one of fewer than 100 players invited to this year’s Trailblazer Series kind of says it all.

Rylee is a standout player on her travel team, the Hudson Valley Hawks. She’s also a Wildcat, and competes in soccer, flag football, and track and field for Warwick Valley. With a ton of competitive experience already behind her, heading to a Major League Baseball training facility in Florida still felt a little bit daunting nonetheless.

“I was super excited and a little bit nervous, obviously,” she laughed, “but it was an amazing opportunity. I met so many new people, so many new friends, and I got to meet a person that I look up to a lot.”

That person was Ashlynn Jolicoeur, a young baseball player from Toronto who is universally recognized to be one of the strongest young ballplayers anywhere. Rylee went on to list more of role models and icons she met.

“I met Mo’ne Davis, who played in the Little League World Series a few years ago and has become a voice for girls’ baseball. [US Women’s National Team players] Malaika Underwood and Tamara Holmes were two of my coaches; there was [University of Washington Women’s Club Baseball Team Manager] Maggie Gallagher,” Rylee said. “Then, I got to meet Maybelle Blair and Jeanie “Lefty” Lesko, who were actually players in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League.”

Talk about icons and trailblazers! We all remember the movie A League of Their Own, right?

“Jeanie even threw out the first pitch at one of our games,” said Rylee. 

Rylee and her fellow trailblazers spent an initial day attending a getting-to-know-you meetings (in Room #42, of course), being shown to their lockers and getting their official uniforms. They were on the field bright and early for the official Day One, doing clinics and drills with their coaches. The games followed on Day Two, with a series of scrimmages and a culminating skills competition. Rylee’s coach for the games was Veronica Alvarez, Head Coach of the USA Women’s National Team.

Throughout the three days of baseball activity, players and coaches took time to reflect on the historical importance of April 15.

It was on that day in 1947 that Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, becoming the first Black man to take the field. Robinson played his entire outstanding major league career with the Brooklyn Dodgers. In April 1997, Major League Baseball retired Robinson’s #42.

“I learned that he was a trailblazer, and that’s what the point of the program was,” said Rylee. “That all of the girls who were there are trailblazers, too; the first people to do something. That’s what Jackie Robinson was.”


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