By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
ANDOVER TOWNSHIP —
Ohio State wrestling coach Tom Ryan understands that his is a position of influence. He makes a point of using that influence to inspire youth wrestlers across the state.
“When I accepted the position at Ohio State, I did so in prayer,” Ryan said after a Premier Technique camp at Pymatuning Valley on Saturday. “I said should I be hired here, I would do everything I can to expose people to His brilliance. It was a commitment I made to Him that I want to fulfill.”
With that statement, it’s easy to say Ryan is pushing his faith on young, impressionable minds. Of course, those saying that would have missed Ryan’s message completely.
Ryan wants to inspire the youth he influences. He wants them to become good people. He wants them to search for answers themselves. Ryan doesn’t ask the youth he speaks with to believe in what he is saying or to blindly follow his lead. He asks that they go and look for the path themselves.
“Are we here by loving a creator or by accident,” Ryan asked the 40 or so kids circled around in front of him. “We’ve each got to search to find that answer for ourselves. I believe each of us is created by a loving God. That just makes more sense to me.
“It’s critical to inspire the younger generation or wrestlers on so many levels, none more important than they’re own development as a wrestler and as a human being.”
It’s an unusual way to talk to kids varying in age from 4 or 5 up through 18 years old.
“In saying that, getting young people to think outside the basic thought process is critical,” Ryan said. “If you want to impress things on young people, it’s to have a plan. Why are we here? Where are we going? How do we get there? I realize how important that is with every thought I have.”
Helping to steer young wrestlers in the direction of being good people is important to Ryan.
“At the end of the day, wrestling will end,” he said. “No one will care about the trophies you have in your office. They care more about how you treat others. The journey is as critical as the destination.”
Through the camp, Ryan lays the groundwork for his message with his approach. He starts with the most parts of the sport and spends five hours teaching as much as he can along the way.
He relates stories all the while teaching technique. He halts a story at different points to let the wrestlers practice what he is teaching. He shows techniques step-by-step, often showing the right positioning then displaying the wrong positioning to illustrate what he believes are important steps.
He gets into a position that is wrong and shouts, “No!” Then gets into the right position and shouts, “Yes!” He repeats that several times giving everyone in the room the chance to see correct from incorrect.
He engages the youngsters the entire time with questions, often halting a demonstration to offer the opportunity for questions to be asked, though no one dares to interupt.
“You see this?” he asks the group gathered around him in the center of the mat. “Everyone see this?”
Wrestlers have to work in pairs or learning the techniques are pointless. Ryan makes a point of making sure the person who is not attempting the technique is more than just a living, breathing dummy.
“Defensive guys, you’re not attacking him,” Ryan bellows. “You’re just making sure he gets better. Make him work.”
Ryan runs the camp efficiently. He’s a high-energy guy while teaching the sport.
“Young people feed off energy,” he said. “With my title as Ohio State coach, there’s a lot of potential for impact there. I knew when I got the job, I wanted to fulfill that role.”
Ryan even seeks out individuals to roll around with throughout the camp. He has fun with it. He treats all of the grapplers as if they are his peers. Watching him interact with the boys, if you didn’t know better, you’d think it was a father helping his sons.
At one point, Ryan had seen a boy of no older than 4 or 5 and who was clearly the little brother of one of the campers and not a camper himself on the mat, trying the different techniques Ryan was showing.
Ryan didn’t hesitate to make his way to the boy, drilling the technique with him. Later, as the boy went to sit in the stands to simply watch, Ryan called him out to the mat.
“Where’s the little stud at? Come on out here,” he said.
Going further, after the camp was completed and he addressed the kids, Ryan posed for pictures with every camper. He had but one stipulation, all in keeping with having fun.
“If you want to get a picture,” Ryan said. “You’ve got to flex your biceps. That’s the rule.”
In turn, each of the wrestlers approached. And true to his word, Ryan made them flex for the camera. But he went one further. He also took a picture with each kid in a normal pose, his arm around them, smiling.
That’s the personal touch with which Ryan approaches the camp.
“As a young person growing up in the sport, I remember coaches getting down on the mat with me,” Ryan explains. “To some degree, those are life changers for you. They had an impact for me. I just give back the way people gave to me.”
After having garnered the admiration and respect through five hours of teaching the sport, Ryan addresses the wrestlers and their parents. Every eye and ear in the room is riveted to Ryan.
It’s at that point that Ryan impresses upon the youngsters the message he is trying to pass along. He understands his title gives him an audience. He also knows the small towns of the Buckeye State are important to his program.
“The most important thing to me is exposing the kids to the faith side of life,” Ryan said. “For whatever reason, wearing the scarlet and gray, people listen to me more than if I weren’t. On the competitive side of things, it gives me a chance to get to know all of the communities in Ohio.
“Some of our toughest guys have come from small towns. Wrestling is a small town sport. Farm boys train hard and listen.”
Ryan talked about different crossroads in his life as he addressed the kids at the end of the day. The first was his choice to put in the work it took be a great wrestler.
“There was a time in my life I got beat quite a lot,” Ryan told the young wrestlers. “If you want something bad, what’s the price? We’ve had guys come in who were 195-1 in high school and it’s too hard for them. Every person reaches a crossroads at some point in their lives.”
He made a point of tealling the kids they were cared for by their parents and families.
“I want you to know how much you’re loved,” Ryan addressed the kids. “You might think it’s silly for a big, strong wrestling coach to talk about love, but it’s the most important thing in the world. That’s why your parents get on you. They want you to learn the things you need to in life.”
Ryan addressed decision making and doing what was right.
“There are two choices, we’re all blessed to make choices,” Ryan told the kids. “I could wrestle one of the guys. When we leave here, he could go home and tell his buddies he beat my butt. I could go home and tell my friends I beat up on a high school kid. Somebody is lying. Only one of us can be telling the truth.
“We all have a responsibility to mold ourselves into somebody who makes a difference.”
Those statements brought Ryan aaround to his faith.
“Why do I think there is a God,” Ryan asked. “Because I studied it. I put the time into it.”
At that point, Ryan told a very personal story. A story that has led him down the path he is currently following.
“I have four kids,” Ryan said. “On Feb. 16, 2004, at our dining table, my 5-year-old son, Teague, died of a massive heart in my loving arms. I was wondering where my son was, how could I be with him. That’s what forced me to look (for an answer). The more I looked, the more I fell in love with God.”
“This really changed my life,” Ryan said. “I share it with you because everything that goes into your brain is your responsibility. If you let the bad stuff in, you become a bad guy. Some of our wrestlers are still struggling with that. They’re struggling with that because they’re human beings. Every night, you need to put something positive in your brain. You stay to stay positive and have positive thoughts. You are the landlord of your mind. You are responsible for it. You can throw things out and keep things in.”
Ryan then encouraged the youngsters to llok for their own answers.
“Go look for yourself,” Ryan said. “Search honestly and openly.”
Ryan finished his talk with the kids by telling them he loved them before he said he guaranteed that at some point, the Buckeyes would beat Penn State. Then he backtracked.
“I can’t guarantee that,” he said. “The only thing I can guarantee is that we’re not going to be here forever. We need to make the most of it.”
Ryan isn’t looking for immediate results through his approach at the camps.
“I hope, if nothing else, the seeds are planted,” Ryan said. “Many seeds were planted in my life. It wasn’t until the loss of my son were they watered. That heartache brought me to reflection.
“I’m just a seed planter. Hopefully, at some point, those seeds are watered.”
It’s quite a seed Ryan plants if the way he carries himself, the way he teaches the sport and the way he delivers his message is any indication.
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula. Reach him at email@example.com.