After several years of deliberation, Steinert icon Jean Ruppert steps down as Spartan softball coach

Steinert Head coach Jean Ruppert in a file photo from 2018.  Photo by Michael A. Sabo.

By Rich Fisher

Dec. 20: Jean Ruppert thought about it for a few years and finally realized, the time was right.

Effective on March 1, Ruppert will retire from her teaching job at Steinert High School and also relinquish her duties as head coach of the Spartans softball team — the reigning Tournament of Champions champ. It closes a 44-year career of coaching and playing in which she has accomplished pretty much everything imaginable from an individual and team standpoint.

Ruppert is one of the few who can say she is going out on top. Last spring she guided the Spartans to a 26-5 record and impressive post-season run that culminated with the first MOC title of any kind in school history; and the first softball MOC crown in Mercer County history. It also marked Steinert’s second Group III championship in three years

“It’s not because we won it, that’s not why I’m leaving,” said Ruppert, who made her decision in September. “I have mixed feelings. I don’t want people to think that was the driving thing. It’s nice it has happened this way but that wasn’t the plan. We always want to have successful team and put a quality program on the field, and winning it this year certainly enhances the retirement and the future. But I was kind of thinking about it when we won the first state championship (in 2016) but I felt there was more to do. I’m not sure why I felt that way but I did.”

Athletic Director Steve Gazdek said Ruppert had flirted with stepping down the past few years, and felt this would truly be it in the fall when she told him during the championship ring presentation at a football game “this is my last ceremony for softball.”

“I put it on the back burner (after 2016) and it’s just kind of been laying there,” Ruppert said. “Every time I think ‘Oh this is it, then I think I want to stay for this reason or for that reason. And I just finally decided that this was the time.”

A 1978 grad who excelled in field hockey and softball, Ruppert was considered the first true female athletic star at Steinert and was in the school’s first Hall of Fame induction class in 2006. She continued both sports at Pfeiffer University in North Carolina, becoming the school’s all-time leading field hockey scorer and winning an NCAA Division II hockey title and two AIAW softball titles.

Ruppert’s first stint lasted until 2003 and included two Mercer County Tournament titles and over 250 wins. She then served as an assistant at The College of New Jersey before returning in 2010 and guiding Steinert to the Mercer County Tournament title. In the nine years since her return, the Spartans went 166-60, and over the past three years Steinert went 75-9 (.893) with three trips to the state finals and an MCT finals appearance. Ruppert had no idea of her win total but from the records Gazdek could find, it is over 400.

The AD posted the job opening Wednesday and hopes to have a successor in place by January. Ruppert, who will continue to work at softball clinics while enjoying other things in life, feels he need not look far.

“I think there are extremely qualified people within the current staff that can answer that next call to lead the program,” she said. “If I didn’t feel that way I wouldn’t have walked away. But it’s time for someone else to have that fun, that experience, the journey and joy of it all that I got to have for 30-some years. Trust me if I didn’t think they were there, I wouldn’t have let go. I’m not the one making the decisions, of course. But this is my life. I put my life into this. It matters that much to me. I want to see it continue to grow. Just let it be someone else’s turn to do it.”

To see an expanded version of this story read Rich Fisher’s Trentonian article at

About The Author

Rich Fisher has been around the Hamilton Township sports scene for so long that he actually got Rich Giallella’s autograph when Giallella was still a player! Proud product of Hamilton YMCA and Lou Gehrig baseball leagues and former teammate of Jim Maher on a very average Barton & Cooney rec basketball team, Fish graduated from Nottingham Junior High and Steinert High school and has covered township sports since 1980. His goal in life is to convince Maria Prato that Jersey tomatoes are at least 100 times better than California tomatoes.

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