LINCOLN --- The official announcement came during the second week of January, but Dick Ryan didn’t realize that he received one of high school’s most prestigious coaching honors until late last week during his first visit of the year to Lincoln High.
“We had our spring coaches meeting,” recalled the Lions’ softball coach. “I stopped into (athletic director Brian Fineberg’s) office and he told me, ‘Hey, congratulations.’ I said, ‘For what?’ and he said, ‘You didn’t get this?’ and he showed me a copy of a letter that was in my mailbox at the school.”
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 Association’s Coach of the Year for the Northeast Region.
“I had a bunch of stuff, like scorebooks, in my mailbox, and the letter was in there,” Ryan said with a laugh. “I found out sometime in November from the Interscholastic League that I was nominated for the award, but when I didn’t hear back, I figured I didn’t get it and it was no big deal.”
But for Ryan’s family and friends and the community, it has been a big deal, and while the Woonsocket native, who turned 58 on Valentine’s Day, said it was nice to be recognized for the honor, he chose to deflect the credit toward the players who made winning the program’s first two state titles possible.
“I look at it as a little bit more publicity for the team,” he said. “It’s an award more for the girls and what they accomplished. They worked hard.”
And Ryan didn’t stop there.
“There’s 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),” he quickly noted. “It’s been fun and I’ve really enjoyed doing this.”
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.
“I 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,” he added. “He’s 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.”
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 daughter’s 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 “try something different” and apply for a middle school coaching job.
“That school never got back to me,” Ryan recalled. “But Kelly said, ‘There’s another coaching job open at Lincoln. Why don’t you go out for that?’ I said, ‘Why not?’ I ended up getting it and that’s how everything worked out.”
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.
“I was very happy to see Lexi Santurri from Bay View get a scholarship,” he said. “She’s 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 Smithfield’s) Karissa Carlton and (St. Raphael’s) Kaylee Sylvestre.
“It’s always great to see the kids that I teach do well, but the toughest thing is going up against them and they’re on the other sideline. That’s not a good thing. You always want them to do so well because they spend a lot of time working with you.”
Ryan again expects to see quite a few familiar faces this spring trying to put away his Lions, and speaking of his team, he’s only a couple of weeks away from working with all his players and preparing for their title defense.
“I’m really looking forward to this year’s team,” he said. “We graduated two very good players, but we have seven kids back on defense and I think we’re going to be good again. We’re going to have a nice year.”
Hopefully, for Ryan, as nice as the award he won.
“It’s a really nice honor,” he admitted. “I’m excited, but I think Kelly’s more excited than me about it. It’s something I was able to do later in life, and I’m really thankful for it.”
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24