One minute, he was rolling around on the wrestling mat with 288-pound Chase VanHoef.
Moments later, he’s on the ground grappling with pint-sized 10-year-old Matthew Zelenka.
Tom Ryan may not be your typical big-time college wrestling coach, and that’s exactly what makes him one of the best wrestling coaches in the country.
Ryan, the head coach at Ohio State University, spent this past week in Grand Haven, leading the Buccaneers’ wrestling camp.
Instead of standing up in front of the kids and lecturing them on various wrestling skills, Ryan put on his gear and got down and dirty with the kids.
“I don’t know how many football coaches can tackle their top running back, but I try to tackle our top wrestlers,” Ryan said with a grin while taking a break between sessions on Friday.
While he’s paid big bucks to mold collegiate wrestlers into national champions, Ryan loves making an impression on younger wrestlers as well.
“I really embrace this age,” he said. “The beauty of this sport is, no matter what level you get to, you remember your roots. Whether you’re an Olympic champion, a national champion, you remember that at one point in your life, you got your butt kicked — a lot. So I love to help kids out, to share with them that it’s a journey.”
That’s part of Ryan’s philosophy — concentrating on life lessons, not just on wrestling techniques. That’s something he has in common with Grand Haven varsity wrestling coach James Richardson, and it was a bond the two formed during a camp at Ohio State that led to Ryan coming to Grand Haven.
“Coach Richardson came to camp and we really connected,” Ryan said. “He’s a great guy, and we have the same philosophy. You can learn wrestling moves anywhere. He’s really about character, some of the things that transcend wrestling. Those are some of the things that I share with the kids at Ohio State, and he wanted me to share them with his kids.
“It’s as much about culture as it is about skill.”
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