For anyone who has participated in a youth sports league, memories tend to be strong. Some may recall their reign as the star athlete; but for others, the memories may be more grim — warming the bench game after game or perhaps finally scoring that basket, only to learn you shot on the wrong side of the court.
But if you were a youth athlete under the caring direction of Coach Walter “Bud” Ryan, it is almost certain your experience was a positive one.
“Bud was an original,” said his brother, Christopher Ryan, of Chestnut Hill. “Since we were young, he always possessed this spirit of fair-mindedness.”
Under Bud’s coaching, his young athletes were guaranteed equal playing time, scores were unimportant and all players — girls included — were given a shot.
So when the Northwest Philadelphia community learned that Bud had passed away suddenly earlier this month at the age of 74, they were truly at a loss.
Jodi and Mike Dawson had only recently had the chance to see Ryan in action.
“We had the privilege of having Coach Bud as our son’s T-ball team coach last spring,” they said. “Not only did Coach Bud welcome us with open arms, but he truly embodied a genuine baseball lover and cheerleader for all of the boys. We are so very sorry to hear of the sudden loss of Coach Bud. Our son, Frankie will always remember his enthusiasm and love for the game.”
The Arnold family also shared condolences on Ryan’s online remembrance page. “Our prayers are with the Ryan family at this sad time,” they said. “Mr. Ryan instilled the love of the game in the children of the 21st Ward for decades. His voice was not loud, but his message was heard. Equal playing time for all, games ending in ties and a few extra pitches for that kid who may have struck out — these were Mr. Ryan’s methods. It was about learning, success and big smiles at the early stages of sport.”
Ryan’s league was notorious for its no-score policy. His brother Chris shared that while other leagues tried to imitate the model, none were met with the success of Bud’s league.
“He had a quality about him that made it work… it just couldn’t be matched,” Chris said.
The Ryans grew up in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia and in 1967, Bud and his wife, Roseann, moved to Roxborough to start their family. Their first child, son Walter “Buddy” Jr. was born in 1968 followed closely by daughters Suzanne, Maureen and Theresa.
In 1977 he began coaching with the 21st Ward Junior League Baseball. His son was 8 at the time. He continued to coach as his son grew through the league. And then his daughters came in, and Bud coached them as well, until they too outgrew the league.
After that, he kept going. Over the course of his 40-year tenure, he coached over 10,000 kids.
Ryan’s death on March 4 was unexpected. He had been facing an infection following a knee replacement surgery, but ultimately succumbed to heart failure.
“I had been visiting with him just five hours before he passed,” Chris shared. “It was just one of our normal check-in’s with one another. I never expected that only a few hours later he would be gone.”
Ryan is survived by his wife and children as well as eight grandchildren and his brother Christopher and his wife (Aileen) and their three children, (Christopher, Brigid and Kevin).
“Bud’s legacy will live on in more ways than one,” Chris Ryan said, sharing that his brother had actually saved his life. “A few years ago I almost lost my life,” he said. “I needed a bone marrow transplant…my brother was my donor. That is the kind of person he was. He may be gone, but I literally carry his spirit through me.”
Continued donations in his memory may be made to Special Olympics of Pennsylvania, 2570 Boulevard of the Generals, Suite 124, Norristown, Pa. 19403.