April 24, 2023
Life At Witt

Family Affair

Women’s Basketball Standouts Follow In Their Parents’ Footsteps To Tiger Success

For Kelsey Ragan ’25 and Jazmyn Gaines-Burns ’25, playing basketball at Wittenberg University is a family affair. That doesn’t mean they were always destined to follow in the footsteps of their fathers, Luke Ragan ’94 and John Burns ’95, teammates on the Tiger men’s basketball team three decades earlier.

The elder Ragan and Burns both said they made sure to allow their daughters the opportunity to make their own college decisions, no matter how many great memories they have from their undergraduate days in Springfield. Matching a student up with the right college is no simple task, but halfway through their collegiate careers, it is safe to say that things are working out well for everyone.

A Friend’s Perspective

For Kelsey Ragan, whose mother Rachelle (Moore) Ragan ’94 was an All-American first baseman for the Tiger softball team as well, her initial instinct was to look elsewhere after completing a tremendous prep career at Anthony Wayne High School in suburban Toledo. However, Abigail Yunker ’22, also a graduate of Anthony Wayne, provided a convincing sales pitch after a shooting session with Kelsey at the Ragan’s home.

“Both of my parents graduated from Wittenberg, and I didn’t want to go somewhere that people might have had this preconceived idea or expectation of me either based on my last name or my parent’s achievements when they were students,” Kelsey said. “I had a handful of colleges interested in me, and I visited every one of them to make sure I was confident in whatever school I was going to choose.

“The one person who I talked with that really changed my perspective about Wittenberg was Abigail Yunker. We were family friends before all of this, and I have always respected her as a person and player. One day after shooting we just sat down and had a really good conversation about Wittenberg, my interests/concerns about it, and we just broke it all down. I knew I wanted to study marine science while playing basketball, and Wittenberg offered me both. I couldn’t pass up that opportunity, so after that talk, I scheduled my visit here and haven’t looked back since.”

Her father recalls the Wittenberg visit as well, saying that he “tried to stay out of her way and didn’t add much to that day as to my memories or experiences.

“When she finally made her decision, it was an exciting time for her just to know where she was going to be for the next four years,” Luke said. “It was a cool moment for Rachelle and me as it rekindled some relationships in Springfield and brought back memories from when we were there. It was a proud moment as Kelsey realized a goal of playing college basketball.

“Wittenberg has changed a bit since we were there, but the welcoming, charming nature of campus has remained intact.”

The Transfer Path

Gaines-Burns got her collegiate start playing for Morehead State University, a Division I program in Kentucky, as a walk-on. But “after a year that was both mentally and physically challenging,” she made the hard decision to transfer.

“After talking with my parents, they both had different encouraging words,” she said. “My father mentioned Witt and at this point, I was open to anything, even if it meant that my D-I scholarship dream would die. I had a visit, and to my ultimate surprise, I absolutely fell in love.”

Two weeks later, Gaines-Burns made it official.

“I haven’t turned back since,” she said. “This is the best decision I have ever made in my entire life.”

That’s music to John Burns’ ears. The initial recruiting process had been challenging, in part because so many experienced players were also seeking opportunities after gaining an additional year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Burns knew that his alma mater was a special place, and he hoped it would be the right place for his daughter to re-start her collegiate journey.

“I listened to her reflect on her freshman year, and I asked her to think about the ideal experiences she wanted for her remaining three years in college,” John said. “When she shared her desired experiences, I felt Wittenberg could be a viable option. I asked Jazmyn if she would be open to visiting Wittenberg. She said yes, and the rest is history.”

Tradition of Excellence

Their college decisions were complicated by significant turnover on the Wittenberg coaching staff. Former University of Connecticut and WNBA star Tamika Jeter was the coach who recruited both Kelsey and Jazmyn but she left Wittenberg after just one year to become the head coach at the University of Dayton. Former Tiger standout Melissa Kolbe ’99 took the reins next after a successful run as an assistant at the University of Cincinnati, and the program again exceeded expectations in her first year.

Ragan started 16 games and appeared in 19 overall as a freshman, helping the Tigers make a surprise run to the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) Tournament title with Jeter as the head coach. As a sophomore with Kolbe leading the program, Ragan started all 26 games, and the Tigers captured more hardware, this time in the form of the NCAC regular season championship. She was among three players to average more than 10 points per game.

Gaines-Burns made an impact as soon as she set foot on campus (fall 2022) as she led the Tigers in scoring at 13.4 points per game. Wittenberg was picked to finish fourth in a preseason poll but instead posted records of 21-5 overall and 13-1 in the league. Gaines-Burns was rewarded for her play with first-team All-NCAC honors.

The individual and team successes for the daughters are in line with their fathers in the early 1990s. Luke Ragan was a four-year letterwinner and two-year captain, and he helped the Tigers to a 98-18 record while winning three regular season NCAC titles and one NCAC Tournament crown. John Burns picked up three letters and succeeded Ragan as the team’s captain in his senior season. Wittenberg advanced to the NCAA Division III Tournament three times during each of their collegiate careers, and both were key contributors to the team that reached the Final Four in 1994.

“I had a great time at Witt and still do when I am there,” Luke Ragan said. “Some of the details of games played have become a little faded, but relationships that were built with teammates and coaches still remain strong to this day. Knowing that there is a group of guys that bonded going through the ups and downs of college, let alone basketball for four years, that I can still rely on is awesome. To know that Kelsey is forming those same type of relationships with her teammates and coaches is pretty cool.”

John Burns shares those sentiments.

“My experience was special because of the lifelong relationships I developed at Witt,” he said. “I view my friends from Wittenberg as extended family. When I listen to Jazmyn share her experiences I smile because I can relate to many of them – I experienced them there too! Because of the many positive connections and experiences, Wittenberg is a very special place to me and my family.”

Where to go from here? Kelsey and Jazmyn were both starters as sophomores for a team that surprised many around the league. While they are eager to build on the team’s achievements in the 2022-23 season, both are focused just as much on the entirety of the Wittenberg experience.

“Since I have been at Witt, I have played basketball, worked a work-study job in the library, and been a part of CBS (Concerned Black Students) organization on campus like he was,” Jazmyn said. “But one thing my father told me to keep in mind is to stay involved in my own way. He preached that Witt is a special place, but I need to make it my own and have my own experiences, which I have done.

“Simple fact: Witt is great. The key is how it is different for everyone and just because it was special for my dad and is special for me, we still have different extraordinary experiences.”

Kelsey said she is reminded frequently of how special it is to share in many of the same experiences her parents had. She has been taught by professors who remember Rachelle and Luke as underclassmen and one who was her mother’s teammate, and she appreciates the banners hanging in the rafters of Pam Evans Smith Arena that signify her parents’ achievements.

“I think I have a unique experience being able to share my life as a Wittenberg student with my parents,” she said. “I still think it’s kind of funny that I can reference anywhere on campus, and they know exactly what I’m talking about because that’s not common for most college students. It’s also cool that I get to confide in them about sports and know that they have felt exactly what I have at some point or another. It could be as simple as walking up the hill to HWA when you are sore from a game or if conditioning was the worst thing you could’ve imagined, they have gone through it, too.

“So we’ve gone through similar experiences, like practicing every day and having a busy schedule, but also I have been doing it in the same place that they have. I find it exciting to be a part of something that they both enjoyed, and that I have come to enjoy as well.”

Leading The Way
Wittenberg University has long been a pioneer in athletics and recreation, offering as broad-based an intercollegiate athletics program as possible and leading the way in offering women competitive opportunities.
Learn More
Ryan Maurer
Ryan Maurer
Senior Writer and Web Communications Specialist

About Wittenberg

Wittenberg's curriculum has centered on the liberal arts as an education that develops the individual's capacity to think, read, and communicate with precision, understanding, and imagination. We are dedicated to active, engaged learning in the core disciplines of the arts and sciences and in pre-professional education grounded in the liberal arts. Known for the quality of our faculty and their teaching, Wittenberg has more Ohio Professors of the Year than any four-year institution in the state. The university has also been recognized nationally for excellence in community service, sustainability, and intercollegiate athletics. Located among the beautiful rolling hills and hollows of Springfield, Ohio, Wittenberg offers more than 100 majors, minors and special programs, enviable student-faculty research opportunities, a unique student success center, service and study options close to home and abroad, a stellar athletics tradition, and successful career preparation.

Back to top