LINCOLN --- The official announcement came during the second week of January, but Dick Ryan didnât realize that he received one of high schoolâs most prestigious coaching honors until late last week during his first visit of the year to Lincoln High.
âWe had our spring coaches meeting,â recalled the Lionsâ softball coach. âI stopped into (athletic director Brian Finebergâs) office and he told me, âHey, congratulations.â I said, âFor what?â and he said, âYou didnât get this?â and he showed me a copy of a letter that was in my mailbox at the school.â
That letter informed Ryan, who in his two seasons at the helm, led the Lions to an unblemished 43-0 record and consecutive Division I state titles, that he was the National Federation of State High School Associationâs Coach of the Year for the Northeast Region.
âI had a bunch of stuff, like scorebooks, in my mailbox, and the letter was in there,â Ryan said with a laugh. âI found out sometime in November from the Interscholastic League that I was nominated for the award, but when I didnât hear back, I figured I didnât get it and it was no big deal.â
But for Ryanâs family and friends and the community, it has been a big deal, and while the Woonsocket native, who turned 58 on Valentineâs Day, said it was nice to be recognized for the honor, he chose to deflect the credit toward the players who made winning the programâs first two state titles possible.
âI look at it as a little bit more publicity for the team,â he said. âItâs an award more for the girls and what they accomplished. They worked hard.â
And Ryan didnât stop there.
âThereâs a lot of people I have to thank for this (award), especially my wife, Jean, because she let me do this after working 30 years (for the Woonsocket Housing Authority),â he quickly noted. âItâs been fun and Iâve really enjoyed doing this.â
Ryan began coaching softball 17 years ago when his daughter, former Mount St. Charles All-State pitcher Kelly Ryan, started playing it at the age of six, and while he picked up a thing or two about softball over the next few years, he furthered his education when Kelly joined the Rhode Island Thunder.
âI thought I knew a lot about softball, but then I spent about nine or 10 years with Dave Lotti and I learned a lot from him,â he added. âHeâs a good friend and we have a great relationship. We had really good players and good teams and we played all over the country, so that was a good learning experience.â
Ryan also acted as an assistant coach during the early 2000s for Woonsocket High, which won the Division II state crown in 2004, and Mount St. Charles and head coach Cliff Matthews in 2007 and 2008, which were his daughterâs junior and senior years.
After Kelly graduated and continued her career at Caldwell College in New Jersey, Ryan continued to spend his free time helping out with the Thunder and giving pitching lessons. But right before the 2012 season, he decided to âtry something differentâ and apply for a middle school coaching job.
âThat school never got back to me,â Ryan recalled. âBut Kelly said, âThereâs another coaching job open at Lincoln. Why donât you go out for that?â I said, âWhy not?â I ended up getting it and thatâs how everything worked out.â
In addition to coaching Lincoln during the spring, Ryan still spends most of the offseason scheduling pitching lessons at Serious Softball in Smithfield and DH Hitting in Pawtucket, and most of his pupils are currently enjoying exceptional high school careers.
âI was very happy to see Lexi Santurri from Bay View get a scholarship,â he said. âSheâs going to pitch for Trinity College. And I have another kid from Nipmuc who got a scholarship to Franklin Pierce and two from around here who were All-State last season, (North Smithfieldâs) Karissa Carlton and (St. Raphaelâs) Kaylee Sylvestre.
âItâs always great to see the kids that I teach do well, but the toughest thing is going up against them and theyâre on the other sideline. Thatâs not a good thing. You always want them to do so well because they spend a lot of time working with you.â
Ryan again expects to see quite a few familiar faces this spring trying to put away his Lions, and speaking of his team, heâs only a couple of weeks away from working with all his players and preparing for their title defense.
âIâm really looking forward to this yearâs team,â he said. âWe graduated two very good players, but we have seven kids back on defense and I think weâre going to be good again. Weâre going to have a nice year.â
Hopefully, for Ryan, as nice as the award he won.
âItâs a really nice honor,â he admitted. âIâm excited, but I think Kellyâs more excited than me about it. Itâs something I was able to do later in life, and Iâm really thankful for it.â
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