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Shirley Ryan: Mount Vernon Volleyball Coach, Iowa

As told by Stories: YES
Mount Vernon, Iowa

Story Narrative:


Friends and former players discuss Shirley's coaching career and what it was like to play for her. She became a coach in the 1970s at the start of girls high school sports in Mount Vernon, Iowa, when Title IX made it possible and took her athletes to multiple State Championships. Video created by Caitlin Babcock, Mattie Hansen, Lauren Hauser, Reagan Light, Kendra Streicher, Caroline Voss, and Catherine Yeoman, Mount Vernon High School. 


Brianna Strong: Shirley Ryan was such a great coach and mentor.

Kim Benish: [0:14] You will not find a more devoted and committed coach.

Shawna Rawson: [0:18] She was a good coach. I'm glad she was my coach.

Carol Woods-Boren: [0:22] We got to be great friends. We're still good friends now and stuff. We've coached her grandchildren together and actually, we retired in 2010 from coaching and now I'm coaching my granddaughter.

Brianna Strong: [0:34] She was always there as a really good coach and then as someone to talk to, as well.

Kim Benish: [0:41] Off the court, she is one of the kindest, most generous, most giving, most funny, loving person that you can imagine. And on the court, while she's competing, she is the most tenacious, fierce, just intense, amazing, focused woman. But she was fierce. She was fierce.

Carol Woods-Boren: [1:05] We didn't have a sports program to build on and so Shirley kind of started the whole program and so we were learning how to play. We played a lot of the same teams several times.

Shirley Ryan: [1:18] I served on a committee to study what sports would be the reasonable sports for girls in Mount Vernon to have and on the basis of that, it was decided that girls wanted to try a flag football. They wanted to play volleyball, basketball, softball. They wanted to run track. So the school decided to let whatever girls wanted to try out for whatever sport and they went about two weeks to a month in a lot of different sports and then the girls got to experience them. In that fall, then, when it was time to do volleyball, I went with Halsey down to Lickett Stanwood, which is North Cedar now, and we played in a couple of games there. As I look back at those 35 some years, of course your teams that won the state championship, that is absolutely unforgettable experience.

Kim Benish: [2:04] We were state champions in 1984.

Carol Woods-Boren: [2:08] My senior year, we won state.

Shirley Ryan: [2:10] We also had some unforgettable losses. Not only the three at the state championship level where we were second.

Emily Stamp: [2:18] My junior year, we were ranked 13th and we on to finish second at state and then my senior year, we also finished second at state.

Shirley Ryan: [2:28] There are so many years that the girls all bonded together so well and they liked each other and they did all of the things that you're supposed to do to be a great teammate and trying to play for each other.

Emily Stamp: [2:41] We had a lot of team meetings and team bonding time where we'd watch movies, eat too much food, and not really focused on volleyball, just focused on growing relationships with each other. And so because of our close knit relationships, it allowed us to be successful on the court.

Kim Benish: [2:56] What I remember is the feelings. The laughing on the bus. I remember just the interaction, the connection, this family.

Brianna Strong: [3:06] One of my best memories, I would say, didn't even happen on the court. Before every game, we would dance with each other, listen to certain songs. We listened to Mulan, "Make a Man Out of You", and we had a certain dance to that and we did it every single time and we had so much fun before we even went out on the court. We had a really good culture on the team. Everyone got along.

Shirley Ryan: [3:26] Some years, our opponent just had a real unbelievably skillful player that could dominate the court and take that match away from us.

Kim Benish: [3:37] We would get all the way through the conference, we would get through regionals or districts or whatever, however it goes, and then we would get to Clinton Mater Dei and we always had to beat Clinton Mater Dei to go to state and my freshman, sophomore, and junior years, they had a set of twins and another sister. They're called the Dye sisters, D-Y-E, and they were awesome. And so freshman, sophomore, junior year, we all got beaten by them.

Shirley Ryan: [4:04] Clinton Mater Dei was who we had to face in the regional final three years in a row and that was the three consecutive years they won the state championship. So we only got beat those years by the eventual state champion.

Carol Woods-Boren: [4:18] One game away from state, one game away from state, and Shirley, of course, was always devastated. But we would always come back the next years.

Kim Benish: [4:27] And so finally, the twins graduated and it was just Mary Dye and we finally beat them to go to the state as a senior.

Shirley Ryan: [4:46] Some years, we didn't play as well together as we could've. We maybe bailed a little bit in that final game or choked a little bit, but we always throughout all of those losses, that's been the coolest thing that still happens to this day in Mount Vernon volleyball is we've had tremendous student body support and tremendous fan support in this community. All and all, the teams that performed the best and that won and were able to do that was usually when there were one or two players on that team that were not gonna let that win slip away. No matter what the cost was, they were gonna work that hard.

Emily Stamp: [5:26] I think Coach Shirley Ryan was so successful because she was a lifelong learner. She always was going to extra drills, extra camps, clinics, and she was always on the cutting edge of what is current in volleyball skills and volleyball development.

Kim Benish: [5:44] She would go to every clinic. She would read every book. She would watch everything she could get her hands on and she would study the game and study the game and study the game.

Carol Woods-Boren: [5:53] And she's such a fountain of knowledge. She was a student of the game. She was so successful because she never learned something and then always did that same thing because there's always new developments.

Shawna Rawson: [6:06] She was always looking for new drills, new tests for us.

Shirley Ryan: [6:10] Many of us that were early head coaches in the 70s all went to Lamoni and then we started going to other universities and their camps and working one-on-one with university coaches to learn the sport because we didn't get to be players because we were before title nine.

Carol Woods-Boren: [6:27] She didn't have sports in high school where she was, either, so she had never played volleyball. So she just learned volleyball through studying it.

Shirley Ryan: [6:33] I always wanted the very best athlete to be the hardest working girl on the team. I think probably worked and learned over the course of time a lot more techniques and a lot more strategies for coaching psychology on how to get the most out of players. And so I think I improved, too. We would try to make sure that we were playing sport for fun. We wanted it to be something special that kids would enjoy and they would remember the comradery of the sport. We did care what the win-loss record was, but that was secondary to having fun. Having fun at the sport is still what it's all about. It is why kids play sport.

Asset ID: 2018.04
Themes: Sports, volleyball, women, Title IX, determination, coaching
Date recorded: 2018
Length of recording: 7:39 m
Related traveling exhibition: Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America
Sponsor or affiliated organization: Mount Vernon-Lisbon Community Development Group (CDG), Mount Vernon, Iowa
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