Heartbreak over the loss of beloved suburban athlete, coach Ryback

By Marty Maciaszek
Special to the Daily Herald
Updated 9/22/2017 6:20 AM
  • Wauconda's football players are among the many trying to come to terms with the sudden loss of assistant coach Joe Ryback.

      Wauconda's football players are among the many trying to come to terms with the sudden loss of assistant coach Joe Ryback. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

Because Joe Ryback was such a big baseball guy, the line famously linked to the legendary Shoeless Joe Jackson comes to mind.

Say it ain't so about Joe.

Please, say it ain't so.

On Saturday night a friend from Island Lake texted about some sad news and asked if she could call. Thoughts about friends from the Wauconda area raced through the mind while waiting for the call.

Joe Ryback is gone?

Shocking and heartbreaking is an understatement. It was a common reaction as those who knew him got the news.

It doesn't seem like it was that long ago covering him on the baseball and football fields in a Palatine Pirates uniform. He was a heck of a catcher, hitter and competitor. And one of the images that came to mind was a great reaction shot in the Daily Herald of Ryback bear hugging pitcher Dan Mang after they won only the second regional title in program history and went all the way to the sectional finals in 2001.

Ryback went on to play college baseball at Northern Iowa, John A. Logan College and Quincy College before coming back to the area to teach and coach. He was part of John Wendell's staff when Buffalo Grove made a magical run to the 2007 state quarterfinals behind current Anaheim Angels farmhand Zach Borenstein and future Valparaiso players Ryan O'Gara and Steve Godawa.

A few years later, when Jeff Grybash became BG's head coach, Ryback helped develop a number-coded pitch-calling system for the catchers. And then he went over to St. Viator to become an integral part of the baseball program's success under alum Mike Manno.

When Viator won the state baseball title this year it was wonderful to see guys you covered as athletes and spent a lot of time talking with as coaches get rewarded.

Assistant Brett Kay was also an alum of the school with Manno. Alongside them were Ryback, former BG standout Brian Mucha and former Prospect star and longtime area high school and American Legion assistant coach Eric Porter. The shots of Ryback kissing the state championship trophy were fantastic.

And people I know who worked with Ryback, or had kids who were students of his in the Wauconda school system, held him in high regard. He was teaching physical education at Wauconda and Matthews middle schools, teaching adapted physical education at Robert Crown School and was an assistant football coach at the high school.

Not surprisingly, the impact Ryback made was evident in many ways.

On social media, students and players talked about how much help and time he gave them athletically and in life. Friends mentioned how much he did for them through the years. A prayer service Sunday night at the Viator baseball field was attended by 50 baseball players and 50 parents. Messages were written on the Viator dugout.

With a family and two young sons everything seemed to be going well.

If only Ryback, who was 33 years young, knew so many would have been willing to return the support he routinely gave. Then, maybe we wouldn't have such profound sadness from someone who helped provide a lot of happiness.

Too much tragedy has hit this area's high school sports community the last few weeks. It was completely unexpected for those who left us too soon.

The loss of former St. Viator, Schaumburg and Fremd basketball coach Ron Cregier in a car accident downstate.

The loss of former Rolling Meadows standout athlete Erick Louis-Charles to the senseless gun violence in Chicago.

And now the loss of Joe Ryback.

So many wish someone would say it ain't so.

• Visitation for Joe Ryback will be from 3-9 p.m. Friday at Glueckert Funeral Home, 1520 N. Arlington Heights Road, Arlington Heights. The funeral will be at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Viator's Cahill Gymnasium.

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