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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Ryden did more than coach

Rebecca Noble

Arizona gymnastics coach Bill Ryden speaks with team members during Arizona’s 196.850-196.850 tie with Denver on March 14 in McKale Center. Ryden stepped down from the program last week and will be remembered as a tough but loving leader.

In terms of NCAA collegiate coaches, Bill Ryden was different. It’s not every day you have the opportunity to grace yourself with a gymnastics coach who rode motocross for 48 years or was an avid country music fan. Or even one who graduated from rival ASU with a degree in aerospace engineering and worked on missiles.

When he stepped down as head coach of Arizona gymnastics and said farewell on April 9, his team was left heartbroken. Few had expected it, and news outlets around Tucson were shocked.

Ryden had held the reigns of the program for the past 17 years and spent 25 years total in some coaching capacity for the Wildcats. He was a master recruiter along with associate coach John Court and was the third longest tenured coach currently working for Arizona Athletics, only behind softball coach Mike Candrea and volleyball coach Dave Rubio.

There’s no doubt among analysts that he was one of the top gymnastics collegiate coaches in the country. Just take a look at his accolades. He was named 2002 South Central Regional Coach of the Year (the first to do so in Arizona history) and 2002 Pac-10 Conference Coach of the Year.

He finished his Wildcat career amassing a school record of 219-200-4 in his 17 years, holding the school record for victories.

He also trained 17 gymnasts to 36 All-American honors and 36 gymnasts to 75 All-Pac-12 Conference or All-Conference awards. Some include ring of honor gymnasts Katie Matusik, Randi Liljenquist, Anna Basaldua and Heidi Hornbeek.

Under his reign, the Wildcats never backed down from an opponent. You can’t if you’re playing in one of the toughest conferences in the country like the Pac-12. In fact, there were seven teams from the conference that finished in the top 25 this year, the highest number out of every conference.

Ryden’s road to the sport was different, too.

He followed his sister to the gym and practiced in his backyard on a trampoline. He took a break from motocross and has been in love with the sport ever since his high school years, competing for ASU in his college years.

I once asked Ryden what it was like to compete in one of the toughest conferences in the country. His first response was “amen” to the level of competition in the Pac-12.

It wasn’t hard to find Ryden during meets. He would always wear a bright pink or red collared shirt. He was the first to joke around after meets and spent roughly a half hour after meets speaking with fans or former GymCats.

His enthusiasm was contagious, and he always had positive comments to say about his team.

Yet, at the same time, he was tough when it counted.

Ryden always focused on his Wildcats “being a complete program.” From academics to athletics and community service, Ryden has succeeded in every part.

But the real factor about Ryden that sticks out the most is his willingness to never be afraid. He wasn’t afraid to go up against anyone. He cheated death three times, twice during motocross accidents and once in gymnastics.

When Ryden took over the program in 1998, Bill Clinton was president of the U.S. The cost of a gallon of gas was roughly $1.15, and “Saving Private Ryan” was the talk of the town in theaters.

“I feel that in reality, I am merely the captain of a ship that is built by a lot of people,” Ryden said in his 1998 volume one issue of Cat Scratches. “Certainly, the team is the focal point of the program, but the program was built by many people that came before. Being part of the program is much more than simply putting on a leotard on meet day.”

Times have changed, but Ryden will always be apart of the Wildcats program and should go down in history. Being a part of 29 consecutive regional appearances is special. Ryden was special.

Arizona Athletics will surely miss him.


Follow Matt Wall on Twitter.

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