A local coach credits his years in the military with teaching him the keys to leading a team.

Steve Ryan, who is entering his seventh season as Woodstock North High School’s head varsity basketball coach, is a U.S. Navy veteran who served in the Gulf War. 

“The Navy has taught me trust, discipline, punctuality, respect and teamwork,” said Ryan, a physical education teacher at Mary Endres Elementary School who also coaches Northwood Middle School’s track team.

Previously, Ryan coached basketball and softball at Woodstock High School and basketball at McHenry County College.

Ryan, a native of Cameron, about 50 miles west of Peoria, visited a military recruiting station in Galesburg before his high school graduation in 1989. Intrigued by submarines, Ryan took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery and decided to enlist in the Navy as a sonar technician. 

After boot camp and additional training, Ryan was assigned to the USS Groton fast attack submarine, the oldest sub in the Navy at the time. Ryan was trained to listen for underwater “pings” and specialized in differentiating what type of vessel was in proximity. Serving during the Gulf War on a Mediterranean run with another battle group, Ryan was fortunate his crew was never called into active warfare. But weeklong Atlantic runs and six months out to sea submerged in a steel tube in close quarters forced Ryan and his crewmates to become a tight-knit group. Ryan remembers sleeping arrangements as being the worst part of his maritime experience. 

“Hot racking, was what they called it when we rotated two bunks between three crew members. That was the worst,” Ryan said. 

E4 Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan was honorably discharged from the Navy after four years of service and attended Western Illinois University on the GI Bill. 

Ryan’s coaching career began in college, when he coached junior varsity basketball for Colchester High School in Colchester. After graduating from WIU with a degree in physical education, Ryan took a job at Mary Endres, where he was recognized for 20 years of service this year. 

“Practice like you play” is what Ryan tries to instill in his teams when they step on the court, a trait he learned in the military.

Ryan said he is proudest of his teams “every year, when the team starts to gel and get along as one big family. It’s a joy to see them grow as young men.”

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