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Devoted father, positive coach Ryan recognized for giving back to others

Todd Dewan
Sports editor
Posted 7/26/22

Giving back. That’s what the late Joseph A. Ryan Jr. spent a lifetime doing and he will be recognized for his unselfishness on Sunday ...

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Devoted father, positive coach Ryan recognized for giving back to others


Giving back.

That’s what the late Joseph A. Ryan Jr. spent a lifetime doing and he will be recognized for his unselfishness on Sunday as a contributing member of the Rome Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020.

Ryan was born on July 12, 1947, in Rome, the second oldest of 14 children and the oldest son of nine boys, born to Joe Sr. and Claire Keese. Over the next nearly 50 years, Ryan would marry Nancy Nunn, coach his four boys — Joe, Marty, Brendan and Kevin — and hundreds of others in youth basketball and baseball, run a successful business as president of Nunn’s Home Medical Equipment from 1975 to 2012 and volunteered his time in numerous athletic and community organizations.

“He was always the man behind the scenes,” said son Brendan Ryan, who will be giving the speech on his dad’s behalf. “Coaching youth sports, he did all the little things to develop kids and he loved watching them thrive as high school players and college players. He coached kids in everything until they were around 12 and then watched them thrive at the upper levels. He enjoyed coaching them in Little League, just as much as youth hoops, which was his passion.”

“Basketball was my dad’s pride and love,” Ryan continued. “Up until his passing, in a family full of great shooters, he was the best at free throw shooting. We would beat him once in a while, but he won most of the time. He could just shoot.”

Also being recognized by the Hall of Fame for a lifetime of excellence are football star Calvin Griggs, former gymnastics coach Phyllis R. Niemi, the late Mike Orbinati, an outstanding player and coach; hockey star JR Purrington and three-sport standout Randy J. Williams. There will be a reception for inductees and other award winners at the Rome Sports Hall of Fame from 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Sunday. The Rome Sports Hall of Fame is located to the right of Erie Canal Village and parking is to the right of the building. The entrance is in the front facing the Village. Extra parking is available in the Village parking lot. The annual induction awards banquet is set for 5:30 p.m. on Sunday at the Vernon Downs Casino and Hotel.

Joseph Ryan was a coach in the Rome Federal Little League and Fran Allison Basketball League; he coached at St. Peters Elementary School and Rome Catholic School; was co-founder of the Sam Messineo Elementary Basketball League and also a player and coach in the Black River Basketball League. He also helped bring a national youth hoops tournament to Rome in 1991.

“He did it the right way,” Brendan Ryan said. “He wanted to make it fun, but he wanted to be competitive too. He wanted to win, but he wanted to make sure the kids had a great experience. He had the unique ability to remember one thing about each kid he coached when he ran into them later in life. He had the unique ability to tell a story. He had an unbelievable memory. We took our lumps when we were 9 and 10, but when we were 12 we were always pretty stellar. I think he did that on purpose.”

Son Kevin Ryan added, “He was always picking other kids up. It would be me, Brendan and three buddies. He never complained and it didn’t matter to him if he was driving all over town.”

Joseph Ryan also served as president of the RCH Boosters Club from 1989 to 1999 and was the pubic address announcer for RCH football and basketball from 1987 to 2009. He served as a board member of the Rome Sports Hall of Fame, the Rome Chamber of Commerce and the Griffiss Local Development Corporation. He was president of the Rome United Way in 1990, Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus from 1975 to 2019 and president of the Kiwanis Club in 1998, as well as write a weekly sports column first for the Rome Observer and then the Daily Sentinel from 1995 to 2018 and along the way serve as a valuable model for scores of Rome’s young people.

“Our dad loved Rome Catholic. He did the PA for RCH hoops and football, kept the scorebook for RCH baseball. He was always volunteering his time,” said Brendan Ryan, a 1996 RCH graduate. Brendan’s older brothers Joe and Marty graduated from RCH in 1992 and his younger brother Kevin is a 1999 RCH graduate. “He was always giving back. Doing bottle and can drives to help the programs succeed. He was the RCH Booster Club president. We were a small, Catholic school that didn’t have a ton of kids, but we always had the best uniforms and best equipment because of my dad volunteering his time. He was proud of being a Westmo grad, but I think deep down he wished he went to RCH. When he got older, he wanted to change young kids’ lives and help them go to RCH.”

Kevin Ryan said Sister Nora Gatto made him an honorary graduate of RCH in 1999, which “really meant a lot to him.”

Former RCH boys basketball coach Jim Kenny said Joseph Ryan was instrumental in the success of his program in the 16 years he coached the Redwings from 1989 to 2004. Kenny won four Section III Class D championships in 1990, 1996, 1999 and 2000 along with five Inter-Valley League and Center State Conference titles.

“Joe did a lot of stuff. Things like you wouldn’t imagine. You didn’t have to ask him, he took it upon himself,” said Kenny, a 2006 Rome Sports Hall of Fame inductee. “The program got the best of care because of him. He helped out a lot with the lower levels. He coached modified and freshman before I went back to Catholic high. He was very supportive of the coaches, school and kids. He was the heart and soul of Rome Catholic. Joe supported every facet of that school, academically and athletically. He made sure kids had what they needed academically and athletically. He was a good man and good friend. He’s still missed.”

Joseph Ryan graduated from Westmoreland High School in 1966, where he starred in basketball, and two years at SUNY Cobleskill.

“Our Dad grew up on a dead-end road in Westmoreland, where he grew to love sports at an early age. Dad would organize the family games of basketball, baseball and football and having seven boys within 10 years of each other, he didn’t have to go far to field teams,” Brendan Ryan said. “Basketball was the family sport of choice. Dad often talked about his times at St. Mary’s school where he developed the love of the sport. He spent hours in that gym with childhood buddy Greg Sees and then at the family homestead hoop with his brothers, just shooting hoops and playing games. Most of his brothers followed suit and were stars at Westmoreland High School from dad’s graduating class of 1966 through the youngest, Uncle Ed’s class of 1985.”

Ryan was drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam as an armored personnel carrier driver. Like so many Vietnam Vets before and after, Ryan was exposed to Agent Orange and 51 years later, on June 27, 2019, he died at the age of 71 after a courageous battle with leukemia.

“After he passed away, we were overwhelmed with calls and messages from dozens of people on how much of a positive influence our dad had on their childhood,” Brendan Ryan said. “Whether it was coaching them in Little League or elementary school basketball, we heard about all the lives he touched and how it affected every one of them. It will be hard to find a boy who grew up in Rome from 1980 through 2000 that my father didn’t coach and we heard from so many of them about the positive influence our dad made in their lives. I knew he was a great dad, but to see how many lives he touched in a positive way was eye-opening.”

Kevin Ryan added, “People from RCH flew back from all over the country to pay their respects. They came from Texas, Michigan, Maryland, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. That meant a lot to us.”

Joseph Ryan was an active member of Teugega Country Club for over 40 years and was instrumental in forming the Mike Reilly Tuesday Night Golf League. He was also a member of Thendara Country Club in Old Forge and enjoyed spending time with his family at his camp on Fourth Lake.

“He loved talking and playing sports, especially basketball, golf, pickleball and watching his New York Giants,” Brendan Ryan said. “Five or six years before he passed away, he was named most improved pickleball player. He was very proud of that.”

Brendan Ryan said his mom and three brothers are looking forward to the ceremony on Sunday.

“We would like to thank the Rome Sports Hall of Fame for bestowing this great honor for our loving father and husband,” said Nancy Ryan and the four sons in a statement. “There are some people who bring a light so great to the world, that even after they are gone, the light still remains. Having Joe’s/dad’s plaque hung in the Hall of Fame is a culmination of a life he loved.”


Coming Wednesday in the Daily Sentinel:  A profile of Hall of Fame inductee Randy J. Williams.


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