Eye on the Ball: All in the Ryan family

BOB DeSTEFANO PHOTO | Proud papa Michael Ryan with two of his favorite athletes, daughters Madeline (left) and Elizabeth.
BOB DeSTEFANO PHOTO | Proud papa Michael Ryan with two of his favorite athletes, daughters Madeline (left) and Elizabeth.

When I was a young golf professional on Shelter Island about 40 years ago, I always tried to say the right thing. In other words, no matter what I thought of what you were saying, I would just smile and say something agreeable.

That was until I was at a Lions Club meeting with Bill Ryan Sr.

Bill is originally from Long Beach and decided to move to Shelter Island with his wife Jeanne and their family in 1959. That family grew to 10 children and all attended school here. At the time, I was also on the Shelter Island School Board, and Bill was always on my back about the problems in the school. On one particular night, for the first time, I went crazy and started yelling at him, telling him he had no idea what he was talking about.

To my surprise, when I finished ranting, Bill put his arm around me and said, “That is the way a man is supposed to talk.” He loved me being myself and the issue we discussed was no longer all that important. This week, the column will be about his fifth child, Michael, who idolized his dad, who passed away 30 years ago.

While in school here, Michael, now 52, played soccer on the first varsity soccer team. He also remembered his eighth grade basketball team winning the Montauk tournament. That team was coached by Bob McNally and consisted of Dirk Willumsen, Billy Southwick, Jake Washington and Michael Ryder. In high school, Michael played varsity basketball as a point guard.
The kids wanted baseball but there was no team at the time. They petitioned the school, got their wish, and started the baseball program that we still have today. Michael pitched and played center field ; some of his teammates included Jay Card Jr., Jeff Bauer, Scott Cahill and Lance and Dirk Willumsen.

Michael made All-County and was the league’s MVP during his junior year. He treasures the fact that he was honored on the same plaque as the Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski that hung in Billy’s Triple Crown restaurant in Bridgehampton.
When asked about his childhood idols, he immediately said his dad, who motivated him from the beginning, followed him in all his sports and taught him everything he knew about baseball. Michael also admired Ed Sawicki from the Dory’s softball teams of the 70s. Ed was the captain and always very vocal and upbeat.

Michael’s favorite team wasn’t baseball, but Shelter Island’s 1969 basketball team, a group he remembers cheering on, especially his brother Bill lighting it up.

His best memories of his childhood always involved sports and especially his backyard buddies who he called the “Silver Beach 76ers.” That would be Gunnar Wissemann, Josh and Jon Mothner, Glenn Petry, Chip Cantley, Bill Southwick, Steve and Eric Popkin, Bob Feinstein and David Fujita.

Michael attended Allegheny College his first two years and is on the Wall of Fame there for both soccer and baseball. He finished college at Frostburgh State College where he played two years of baseball. While in college, he had the opportunity to play some semi-pro baseball for the Long Island Knights. After college, he played over 200 games of softball in one summer.

He was totally consumed by the sport.

The most exciting moment in sports in his life? In 1980, Michael tried out for the Mets. He pitched on the mound and struck out two players and walked one. I guess you had to strike them all out because he didn’t make the team.

Even though his greatest memories are right here, we haven’t seen much of Michael on the Island for the past 20 years. One reason is he made his home in Hoosick, New York where he’s been the athletic director at the Hoosac School for the past 26 years. He coached varsity soccer, boys and girls basketball, boys lacrosse and baseball. I think he should now know something about coaching since he’s coached over 1,300 games.

Shelter Island also has other connections to the Hoosac School. Richard Lomuscio of Midway Road was headmaster and Dean Foster of Manhanset Road is the current headmaster.

Michael’s dreams have always included a gym and ballfields around him. He accomplished that mission and loves it. He also loves to teach kids a skill they didn’t know they had and make them part of a team. Success to him is when he can make athletes feel good and confident about themselves. However, he said his father would kill him if he didn’t say he loves the rush of competition.

Michael met his wife Patty in 1993; they were married two years later. They have two daughters, Madeline, 16, and Elizabeth, 14. His favorite pastime these days is watching his daughters strive as competitors in sports. They’re both field hockey standouts; Madeline was captain of the 19-1 Section Champs and Elizabeth just broke the all-time school scoring record for a single season.

As I search each week for an Islander who has loved and played sports for his entire life, I don’t think I could have hit the nail on the head any better than Bill and Jeanne’s fifth child, Michael Ryan.