Yuleska Ramirez-Tejada has options, all of which are weighing on the mind of the engaging 21-year-old former three-sport Globe All-Scholastic from Cambridge Rindge & Latin.
A first-generation American who is the first member of her family to graduate from college, the South Boston resident was a Division 3 All-American on the basketball court at Emmanuel College this winter as a senior. An opportunity to play professionally in Ireland is now on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If travel restrictions stay in place, she could return to Emmanuel to work on her master’s while using her final season of eligibility for the women’s softball team, where she was a .579 hitter through 10 games before the season was canceled because of the coronavirus. But there is also the reality of financing a graduate year of study.
And finally, with a degree in criminal justice, she has career aspirations of working in law enforcement. But in light of the nationwide protests following the recent death of George Floyd, at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Ramirez-Tejada acknowledged that she has “struggled a lot, especially over the last week or so.”
“I’m a Black woman who wants to be a cop and that can be controversial at times,” she said. "A lot of the reasons I want to do that is I want to be a part of the change, to help the world understand that being Black isn’t a crime.”
Ramirez-Tejada participated in two peaceful protests in West Hartford, Conn., along with Sarah Hoisl, one of her softball teammates at Emmanuel whom she has been staying with during the pandemic. She was inspired by a speech and the actions of Vernon Riddick, the police chief in West Hartford, who is Black, and knelt with protesters.
In the future, and seeing recently how some of those in law enforcement have stood alongside protesters has made Ramirez-Tejada reconsider what she would do as a police officer.
“I think I would go to the protests and kneel because I do understand the pain, I do understand what people would be going [through],” Ramirez-Tejada said. “I think it’s such a tough situation when you’re on that side of law enforcement and you’re Black. I’d let them know that I understand what you’re going through and I know the pain.
“Cops don’t just turn bad, they have to have someone that’s turning them bad and that has to stop — everywhere.”
She will continue to voice her message, and stay involved, while pursuing her immediate goal of continuing her basketball career.
“If they do open the league [in Ireland] and basketball happens, obviously I’m going to go and pursue my dreams.”
On the court, the 5-foot-7-inch Ramirez-Tejada is a rare talent, a walking double-double who initially earned a full Division 1 scholarship to Purdue University Fort Wayne. But after an unfulfilling freshman season, she transferred to Emmanuel, a D3 program in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference under the direction of a New England coaching treasure, Andy Yosinoff.
“When you go Division 1, sometimes they transfer to Division 1, but did I ever think I was going to get her? No,” said Yosinoff, who has 853 career wins in 43 seasons with the program. “I always tell certain kids, like her, ‘I guarantee you’re going to be back playing for me.’ It’s just incredible how it worked out.”
Returning home and competing at the Division 3 level, with a less taxing schedule, has also allowed Ramirez-Tejada to play softball. She was the GNAC Player of the Year as a junior after slugging 10 homers with 33 RBIs for coach Olivia Berry.
“Her natural ability to hit the ball is just outrageous. Her swing’s not pretty, but just when she touches the ball, it rockets off,” Berry said. “We’re incredibly lucky she landed in our lap.”
On the hardwood, Ramirez-Tejada put up one of the best careers in program history. After averaging 19.3 points and 12.0 rebounds per game in a 21-8 senior season, leading the nation with 23 double-doubles, she finished third in career points (1,596 points) and second in rebounds (935) at Emmanuel in just three seasons. She was just one of seven players in the country to earn D3hoops and CoSIDA Academic-All-America honors this season.
“What distinguished her is, she may be athletically the best athlete I’ve ever coached,” Yosinoff said. "Do you know anybody 5-foot-7 who scores basically all of their points within 5 feet of the basket?
"She jumps out of the gym. She's a quiet leader and lets her play be her leadership."
In Yosinoff’s lengthy career, only four of his players have gone on to play professionally. Ramirez-Tejada hopes to be the fifth.
“Ever since I can remember, that’s the career I could always imagine myself doing,” Ramirez-Tejada said. “My plan was always to play pro basketball and play as long as I can. I’m just going to keep playing until my body can no longer go.”