Retired coach Bo Ryan returns to campus

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Amber Haack

Bo Ryan came to campus on April 19 and talked to students, staff, faculty, and alumni about the “power of the hill.”

Bo Ryan, retired head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers and University of Wisconsin-Platteville Pioneers four time NCAA Division III national champion, spoke on Bo Ryan Court in the Williams Fieldhouse on April 19 as the 2015-16 distinguished lecturer.

“Because the university celebrates its 150th anniversary this year we have invited an extra special speaker to help us celebrate this anniversary,” sophomore criminal justice major, Tyler Hammil said. Hammil worked with the Pioneer Student Center assistant director Valerie Wetzel to sponsor the event.

“The vote was based on, if we could get Bo Ryan, would the community support having him [as the distinguished lecturer],” Wetzel said. Ryan got 86 percent of the student votes.

“I came to hear Coach Ryan because he is very old school,” adult education and human services graduate student Jeremy Payne said. “I’m very excited to hear him speak.”

Every year, the Segregated University Fee Allocation Commission offers the Pioneer Involvement Center up to $15,000 for the distinguished lecturer event if the university matches their spending. Wetzel said she sets aside approximately $3,000 for logistic reasons and the rest can be used for the event speaker. Ryan asked for his salary to be the average of the last three distinguished lecturers, approximately $14,000.

Since such a familiar face was coming to campus to speak, the PIC wanted the schedule of events to feel up-to-speed with the “man of the hour.” They planned to have the lecture set up in a question-and-answer style. Ryan sat on stage joined by UW-Platteville men’s basketball head coach Jeff Gard who led the discussion with questions for Ryan to answer.

Gard’s first question was about how Ryan always brings up his hometown and Platteville in interviews. “Why is this place so special to you?” Gard asked.

Ryan responded with how grateful he was to learn and grow in Platteville. “It’s important for me to come back to a place like this, where I had a chance to make all those mistakes I made in the first three years,” Ryan said.

Gard also asked Ryan about his teaching memories from UW-Platteville. Ryan talked about teaching a basketball class. He asked the audience if anyone had ever had him as a teacher. A couple of hands shot up and then he asked if anyone got an “A” in his class. One hand was still in the air, the hand of former UW-Platteville student Joanne Merriam.

“I remember you,” Ryan said. “You dove for that loose ball.”

Gard went on to discuss his older brother, Greg Gard, the new head coach of the UW-Madison men’s basketball team.

“You did a pretty good mentoring job,” Jeff said. “You also did a pretty good mentoring job with my older brother. What can you say about him?”

Ryan was under the impression that Greg was not going to be able to attend. As Ryan was talking about Greg and his success he appeared from behind the curtains to surprise Ryan. Greg then proceeded to join in on the lecture questions.

“I think that Bo Ryan was a good fit [for this year’s distinguished lecture] because he was able to bring back so many memories of the university and engage with the students and alumni.””

— Morgan Henriott

The two of them hugged, talked about their fondest memories working together, and the opportunities they had together. “Thanks for the ride coach,” Greg said. “Thanks for the ride.”

There was time for questions towards the end of the event.

Five students who won the Bo Ryan’s Starting Five competition—a competition to determine who could ask questions first—

each asked him a question. After the first five asked their questions, the floor would be opened up to other questions.

One of Bo Ryan’s Starting Five, junior animal science major Morgan Henriott, asked Ryan, “As a coach and mentor I’m sure you’ve taught your players many life lessons, but are there any life lessons they have taught you?” Ryan said life is a lesson in and of itself.

“I think that Bo Ryan was a good fit [for this year’s distinguished lecture] because he was able to bring back so many memories of the university and engage with the students and alumni,” Henriott said.

After the five students asked their questions, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Mittie Den Herder presented Ryan with the distinguished lecturer plaque, which read “Thanks for sharing your story and returning to one of your first hills.”

The phrase “your first hill” comes from Ryan seeking out a grass hill where his basketball teams would practice at. The hill would not only help the boy’s individual strength and conditioning, but also with the emotional aspects of the game like teamwork and leadership. Ryan has used “the hill” as his guide through life and recently decided to write a novel, Another Hill to Climb.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported in March that Ryan was investigated for alleged misconduct after an email was sent to UW-Madison by the woman Ryan allegedly had an affair with. The email states that Ryan was misusing university resources during the affair, but the university later issued a statement saying Ryan had not misused university funds.

“We’re not interested in bring [the affair or alleged misconduct] up,” Wetzel said. “We want to celebrate what he did here, academically and athletically.”

Ryan ended the lecture talking about his life obstacles and fondest memories and said, “That’s the power of the hill.”

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