The End of an Era: North Penn AD Doc Ryan Retires

Donald ‘Doc’ Ryan retired as the athletic director of North Penn High School after more than 45 years working in the district, 33 of those as athletic director. Additional comments/memories about Ryan will be added as they are received and may be sent to SuburbanOneSports@comcast.net
To view photos of Friday night’s retirement celebration, please visit the Photo Gallery (School Events/Signings) by clicking on the following link: http://photos.suburbanonesports.com/g/010915_doc_ryan_retirement_ceremony_dlkc

By Mary Jane Souder

The scene is a familiar one.  And a reassuring one.

Doc Ryan – arms folded on his chest– is a placid figure amidst the buzz and chaos that is the end-of-day transition in the lobby outside the gymnasium. He has brief exchanges with some of the students, shares a laugh with others and simply nods and smiles at the rest.

The North Penn athletic director is in his element.

Ask Ryan what he has enjoyed most about his 33 years as athletic director of one of the largest high schools in Pennsylvania, and he needs just two words – the kids.

“When they get out of school, I try my darnedest to sit out in that lobby,” he said.

So it was only appropriate that Ryan was surrounded by “his kids” when he was honored for more than three decades of service between games of Friday night’s girls/boys doubleheader against neighboring Souderton.

Ryan’s farewell party played to a full house with countless former athletes and colleagues returning to pay tribute to a man they simply call ‘Doc.’

Words like professional and gentleman were used repeatedly when describing an athletic director who handled his position with grace and dignity. Ryan allowed his coaches to coach while he was content to do the thankless tasks to make their jobs as seamless as possible.

“We have a good coaching staff,” he said. “When parents come in and complain about play calling or who’s playing – that’s a coach’s decision. I may not agree and someone else might do something different, but that’s the coach’s decision.

“Neither myself or the principal or the superintendent will tell the coaches who to play or what to play. That’s their decision. That’s why we hire them.”

Ryan has made a lot of good hires over the years. His office walls are filled with newspaper clippings and photos chronicling the school’s many success stories. In 2005 and 2007, North Penn was named the best in the state by Sports Illustrated.

Under Ryan’s watch, the school has won 33 Bux-Mont League and 219 Suburban One League championships as well as 33 team PIAA State Championships plus numerous individual PIAA championships.

While Ryan is undeniably proud of his school’s accomplishments, it is the student-athletes who have walked the corridors of the school over the past three-plus decades that give Ryan the most pride. He recalls Billy Clugston, a football/track athlete from Ryan’s first year as AD who is now a speed coach for athletes.

“I found some pictures when I was cleaning out my office – Brad Carroll, who’s a teacher in our school district now, kicked for West Virginia and went to the Fiesta Bowl,” he said. “That was fun. Brad has helped our kickers.

“Larry Pijanowski was a super baseball player here and went to Rollins College in Florida. We went to see him play when we went down to Florida during spring break.

“Doug Pauls was our first All-Bux-Mont basketball player. He played at Dickinson College, and he went on to have a successful career in banking and business.”

On the girls’ side, he recalls Kathy Bruzas.

“Kathy ran track and went on to the U.S. Naval Academy,” he said.

He also points to Jami (Wilus) Behm and Tricia (Thomas) Pike as a dying breed of three-sport stars.

“We have less girls playing two or more sports than we had because they’re concentrating on one sport just like the boys are, and I think that’s a shame,” Ryan said. “I think any boy or girl who has athletic ability can play more than one sport and be successful. I look at (senior) Jared Melone – he’s a great kid and a good athlete. He’s going to play baseball at La Salle. He played basketball as a sophomore but didn’t as a junior to concentrate on baseball, but now he’s back playing basketball and is really a big help to the team.”

And seeing student-athletes succeed in school and in life is what matters most to Ryan.

***

Doc Ryan came to North Penn in 1969 as the athletic trainer and equipment manager. He accepted the job after a brief stint selling sporting goods on the heels his two years in the U.S. Army.

North Penn was one of the first area schools to hire its own athletic trainer.

“Coaches at that time did all the taping,” Ryan said. “And there was nobody to follow up on injuries. The job evolved from that.”

Two years later, his role changed to include assisting then athletic director James Crawford Sr and, after Crawford’s retirement, Russ Stewart.

On July 1, 1981, Ryan was named the school’s third athletic director.

“There wasn’t as much pressure on the kids back then,” he said. “There weren’t state championships in a lot of sports at that time, so you won your league and went on to your district for those sports that had district championships.

“Now everything is geared to getting to the state championships, getting a college scholarship. People don’t understand there aren’t that many Division One scholarships out there. You really have to be an outstanding athlete and hopefully student.”

Football state championships entered the picture in the 90’s.

“That did away with Thanksgiving Day football, which I think was one of the greatest things around,” Ryan said. “To me, the Thanksgiving Day game was every kid on the football team’s playoff game because of the crowd, the enthusiasm, and the games were all against rival teams.

“It was an event to go to. Some people only ever went to Thanksgiving Day games, and it was a big social thing. The night before you would have a pep rally, and Thanksgiving morning all the moms were wearing mums. It was just like a playoff game.”

Ryan, who has been a mentor to many athletic directors over the years, recalls an important lesson he learned from his mentor.

“I always remember what Coach Crawford Sr. told me,” he said. “We were at a basketball game, and I was yelling at the official, and he said, ‘Now Donald, not all officials have a good night every night.’

“That always stuck with me. I may have my own opinion and say it under my breath but never yell at officials.”

As for a typical day, that never changed a whole lot for Ryan.

“I come in at 8:30, and it’s 6-6:30 when I leave,” he said. “The winter is just more because you’re out two or three nights a week plus Saturdays.”

In the end, it was the prospect of another long winter and the increased pressures of the job that prompted Ryan – who pulled his final holiday shift over the break in December - to leave on Jan. 9.

“When I was younger, it didn’t get to me until the end of February,” he said. “That’s what really pushed my decision to go now – get the winter started and let somebody else do it.

“I would love to continue. I enjoy the job, I enjoy the kids, but the energy is not there any more. The hours and dealing with some of the problems has just zapped my strength.”

So the gentleman who for 33 years graced the sidelines of almost every North Penn athletic event – wearing a tie and his trademark suspenders – bid farewell to his North Penn family on Friday. ‘

“It’s been a great ride,” Ryan said.

Sharing that ride for the past 31 years has been his loyal assistant, Linda Law.

“Doc is a gentleman in all respects,” said Law. “He loves the kids, he loves his job, he loves working with the coaches.

“I help him, he helps me. We’re basically a team, and we work together. It’s going to be different, but Bill Bartle and I get along very well. I think it will be a smooth transition.”

Law will continue on as the athletic office assistant under Bartle.

“You don’t say good-bye,” Law said of Ryan’s retirement. “You say, ‘See you later, see you at the next swim meet. See you at the next basketball game.’”

Football coach Dick Beck – who insists the Ryan should have stayed four more years to make it an even 50 – echoed a similar sentiment.

I went into his office today to give him the end-of-his-career speech, and I said - look, I would say good-bye and give him a big hug, but I’m pretty sure I’ll see him Monday and probably Tuesday, and he’ll be at the game on Friday,” the Knights’ coach said. “I don’t think I’ll have to say good-bye to him.”

Ryan plans to travel to Florida with his wife Nancy for spring training and, of course, continue attending North Penn sporting events.

They said:

“I have a lot of mixed emotions through this whole process, but keeping myself busy made me forget that he was actually retiring. He has just been such an inspiration to me. He has helped me grow as an individual. I’ve learned so much for him. Unfortunately, he’s retiring before me, but he is one of the greatest individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing and working with.”
                        --Melanie Seeders, North Penn Assistant Athletic Director

“He’s definitely been a mentor to me in the world of athletics. Coming from Lansdale Catholic, I think he pushed for me to be an assistant with him, and it was an honor. He brought me in, and from the beginning, he just shows you the right way to do things. He’s just very calm, and he even said it in his speech – he wants to make this enjoyable. This should be enjoyable, and not a lot of people make it enjoyable. That’s one of the things I’ll remember about him. He enjoys the kids so much, he enjoys the games so much. I think I lose perspective sometimes where I see it more as a job, and I like to look at it as – I just want to watch the game, I just want to be a part of the fun. I don’t think that will change for him. He’s going to be a staple here, and he even said – it’s what he loves to do. He never lost his love for his job, and that’s what I want to take from him. If you don’t lose that passion and love for your job, you’re all set for life.”
                        --Dan Huston, North Penn Assistant Athletic Director

“He’s a class gentleman. He represents the school extremely well. The thing that stands out most is how much he cares for the kids. You walk by Doc during the day – he’s one of the few out in the hallway down here just watching the kids go by, making comments to the kids. You see the smiles on the kids’ faces. After school, it’s the same way, and he’s here right up until the end – he’s the last guy to leave. He knows what his job is, and he’s done it extremely well.”
                        --Bill Bartle, North Penn Athletic Director

“How many athletic directors have been working in the system for 45 years? Doc’s just been an inspiration for generations of athletes. I’ve truly appreciated his support, his advice. He knows athletics. Whenever there are concerns, Doc is the sage person who knows exactly what to say, how things should be approached, and he just commands an incredible respect from students, athletes, parents and other athletic directors. This is going to be a tough loss for North Penn. I’m just grateful for all the support that I’ve had from Doc over the years, and I wish him a long, happy and healthy retirement.”
                        --Burt Hynes, Principal, North Penn High School

“What many people tend to forget about Doc is – not only is he a fixture at every North Penn game/practice, but he is also seen around the community supporting American Legion Baseball, Tuba Christmas, Lansdale Day and many other local events. He might be retiring, but I don’t think it’s the last you’ll be seeing of this icon, especially if Nancy wants him out of the house!”
                        --Ted Heller, Former North Penn Knights’ Band Director & presently North Penn Assistant Golf Coach

“He is a true gentlemen and the consummate professional, and he’s such a great listener. He hardly ever raises his voice, so you know when he does, he’s really ticked off. He’s not confrontational, and he just listens. I’m just thankful that he gave me this opportunity, and he’s been just a great leader. Obviously, it’s not going to be the same without him.”
                        --Maggie deMarteleire, North Penn Girls’ Basketball Coach

“I met Doc when I was in eighth grade. Sports was always a big part of my life, and I would always come up to the high school. He was one of the first people I met. I played field hockey, basketball and softball for North Penn, and he was a huge part of my athletics in high school. I will miss him dearly. I can’t imagine coming to work every day and not seeing Doc Ryan. He played a major role in my life with athletics. He always had words of encouragement. He was at all the games – if there was one person you were looking for, you would always find Doc. When you think of North Penn High School and North Penn sports, the first thing you think of is Doc Ryan. He’s a legend here, and it will always remain that way.”
                        --Tricia (Thomas) Pike, North Penn Alum, Guidance Counselor at North Penn High School

“Doc is just an institution. There’s no other way to say it. When I was a student-athlete here, he was just this omnipresent figure in the lobby after school. You’d come in for practice, and he’d say, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ You’d see him standing up against the door on the far side of the gym at basketball and wrestling. He’s on the sideline of football games. It’s going to be really weird coming to a North Penn sporting event and not seeing him there because for 46 years, that’s all it’s been. He’s great.”
                        --Kyle Berger, North Penn Alum, Broadcast Journalism Teacher at North Penn High School

“He’s like a fixture in the building. He’s such good people, he’s got a lot of class, and he’s always supported the coaches. He don’t say many cross words about anyone, and it’s good to have a guy you know is going to go to bat for you.”
                        --Dick Beck, North Penn Football Coach.

“Doc is a living legend. When you read his bio and you see where he started as an athletic trainer and has risen through the ranks to really run and develop a phenomenal program that’s recognized nationwide - I’m just honored and humbled that I’m a part of the legacy. This is where I got my start. This is where I got to dribble the basketball and go on to (play in) college and go overseas and become an adult. It started here with him.”
                        --Ebiho Ahonkhi, North Penn Alum, Practices law in Philadelphia

“From my point of view and the reason I’m here is because he didn’t just care about athletes, and athletics was not just what he did, he cared about the academic piece and he cared about the youngster as a person, and I think that’s what separates him from too many sports figures.”
                        --Dr. Juan Baughn, Former Principal of North Penn High School

“Doc Ryan was the first athletic director in Suburban One that had a vision that Scholastic Ice Hockey should be used as a tool for students to improve academics, have better attendance and adhere to the code of conduct. We thank Doc for his many, many years of service.”
                        --Ken Haas, President, Suburban High School Hockey League

“Don helped to champion the cause to secure partial funding from the school district and was a valued adviser to us in dealing with growing pains of the organization. Today North Penn Ice Hockey is a better organization as a result of its relationship with Doc Ryan.
“Don was very supportive in helping North Penn Ice Hockey become more aligned with the rest of the high school athletic programs.  His support included having the club recognized at the Booster Club functions, getting selected games televised on NPTV, and integrating the club into the academic eligibility program.”
                        Dan Vaitis, President - NPIHA

“I think back to my first day on campus when Doc was showing me around.  He told me about how he got the nickname Doc Ryan, starting out as the trainer for football and then becoming the AD.  Doc Ryan is a fixture here at NP and within the Suburban One League.  There has rarely been a time where I’ve worked an event and he isn’t standing down at the corner of the field or court, avidly watching the kids play and chatting with people on the sideline.  Doc’s leaving will end an era that I am lucky to have been a part of, and we will all look forward to seeing him as a spectator around here!”
                        Melissa Jarkowsky, NovaCare Rehabilitation, Athletic Trainer at North Penn

“Doc was always a constant when I was at North Penn. I think I saw him on more holidays than his family did! To be honest, I think that endeared him to the athletes even more. If the athletes were there, they knew they would see Doc there too. He was in the trenches with them, and I think that means a lot to the kids. It meant a lot to me too.”
                        --Leanne Edwards, Concussion Patient Advocate, Jefferson Comprehensive Concussion Center, Former North Penn Athletic Trainer

“When we went out to Penn State for the 2013 baseball state championship, obviously the whole concept of going out there was both exciting and also unnerving. But I distinctly remember the bus pulling into the hotel parking lot, and the first thing I saw out of the front window of the bus was Doc standing in front of the entrance to the lobby, with his arms folded, ready to welcome us on our biggest day. There was something about that which was very special, and honestly, it kind of gives me chills every time I think about it.
“In fact, when I think of Doc, the image I always see is him standing, arms folded, presiding over his athletic teams. Whether I would see him standing behind the backstop at a baseball game, or on the sideline at a football game, he is as much of a fixture as the game itself. And that’s who he is. He is a steady, guiding foundation at NPHS. Consistency, pride, and poise are important and elusive qualities in today’s world, but Doc always embodied all three, and that’s why he has been so important to North Penn for so long.”
                        --Kevin Manero, North Penn Baseball Coach

“Mr. Ryan has been an incredibly supportive administrator and fan for all of the athletic teams at North Penn High School. All of the high school athletes know Mr. Ryan because he is always there supporting the entire athletic program tirelessly year in and year out.”
                        --Mike Werner, North Penn Cross Country Coach

“What I have always appreciated and respected most about Doc is how approachable he is. His office door is always open, and I always felt that I could talk to him about any concerns or share any ideas I had. He will be missed at North Penn because of his positive attitude and his friendly demeanor.”
                        --Shannon McCracken, North Penn Field Hockey Coach

“When I was in high school, I remember just sitting in Doc’s office hanging out and talking about life and sports. He was always a great supporter of the girls’ lacrosse program but, more importantly, of me as a person and athlete.  When I became a coach and a teacher at North Penn after I graduated college, we still had those sit-down talks. Although the topics changed, I still felt at home in his office.  It was always a place I could go to see a familiar face or get advice. 
“I have always admired Doc’s commitment to North Penn athletics.  He is a true family man and that holds true with his personal family and his North Penn family.  He will be missed tremendously at North Penn. The stability he brought to the athletic department is insurmountable, but I think the thing that everyone will miss about Doc is Doc as a person, someone who always asked how your family was and not what the score was.  Doc knew the coaches he hired put enough pressure on themselves to win and be successful, so there was always a calm and collected nature about him that made you confident.”
                        --Jami (Wilus) Behm, North Penn Alum, Former North Penn Girls’ Lacrosse Coach

"Three words come to mind when I think of Don Ryan. Wisdom, professional and class!!   It has been a true honor to call Don Ryan colleague and friend. The legacy of ‘Doc Ryan’ will live on forever and be remembered by all. Thank you, Don, and all my best in long and healthy retirement!!”
                        --Tom Quintois, Athletic Director, Souderton Area High School

"...a true gentleman...a great resource...good for kids!"
                        --Buff Radick, Athletic Director, Council Rock South High School

“Don was the finest of gentleman and an excellent AD. He would represent North Penn High School with class and honesty but also worked for what was best for the SOL. A voice of reason and fairness that will be sadly missed. We have lost a friend and valuable person in athletics.”
                        Charlie Forster, Athletic Director, Plymouth Whitemarsh High School

“He has always been willing to help out and answer questions from an inexperienced guy like myself.  He was a great mentor.”
                        --Dan Griesbaum, Athletic Director, Council Rock North High School

“Doc Ryan was not only my athletic director as an athlete but a great resource as a peer.  His demeanor, leadership, and professionalism made him a mentor for me.”
                        --Jason Pane, Athletic Director, Springfield (Montco) High School

“Doc was one of the greatest resources in the Suburban One League.  If you had a question about something he had most likely dealt with it before and could give you some insight.  He will be greatly missed by all of us.”
                        --John Reading, Athletic Director, Central Bucks East High School

“Today (Friday) is the final day in the storied career of Donald ‘Doc’ Ryan. He is a legend, not only at North Penn High School, but within the NP School District and the North Penn Community. His contributions to our students, our coaches, our teams and our school are countless. Doc Ryan has been in this building since it first opened, and his spirit will remain forever. He has truly been a ‘man for others’.
“As often happens when someone has a career that spans five decades, many of the present staff may not fully appreciate what Doc means to North Penn. Doc has been a source of comfort and consolation to so many of our athletes during their high school careers. Parents of present day students and athletes were influenced by the caring nature of this wonderful man. The athletes were Doc’s ‘Boys and Girls,’ and each of them had a special place in his life and in turn Doc had a place in theirs. Just think - DOC has had the opportunity to be working with a second generation of families having a part in the life of the children of his former ‘Boys and Girls.’ We should all be so lucky and blessed.
“I wanted to take a brief moment, on the last day of the North Penn career of Don ‘Doc’ Ryan, to make sure that (everyone is) truly aware of the impact and magnitude this kind and caring man has had on the lives of so many present and past. I know he has on my children and our family since I came to North Penn in 1985 to teach mathematics and coach football.
If there be any truer measure of a man than by what he does, it must be by what he gives.  Don Ryan has given his life to North Penn and he will be in our hearts forever.”
         Bill Travers, Former North Penn Football Coach and Mathematics teacher

“I have known Don Ryan for 33 years, and the thing I think about most with Don is his ability to keep his cool. He was always very much a gentleman and was able to keep his cool. He did an outstanding job as the chairperson of football and baseball. Anything I ever asked him to do – he was always willing to do it. He was a guy that I really had a lot of respect for. He wasn’t one of those flamboyant guys out making a lot of noise, but he did his job. The most outstanding thing – people really do not realize the impact he has had on hundreds and hundreds of young student athletes.”
                        Ray Coleman, Executive Secretary of the Suburban One League

To read a recap and view a video of Friday’s farewell celebration for Ryan, please click on the following Knight Criier link: http://www.knightcrier.org/news/2015/01/10/doc-of-ages-generations-turn-out-to-thank-north-penns-doc-ryan/  In October, Ryan was inducted into North Penn High School’s Sports Hall of Fame.

To read the story written for the Knight Crier on his induction, please click on the following link:  http://www.knightcrier.org/top-stories/2014/10/29/the-doc-is-in-hall-of-fam-induction-well-deserved-for-a-np-icon/