Joe Ryback (back row, far left, wearing sunglasses) was a beloved coach on the St. Viator baseball team. He also coached football at Wauconda. (Mike Mantucca/Naperville Sun). Bob NarangContact ReporterPioneer Press. St. Viator athletic director Martin ...
St. Viator athletic director Martin Jennings fondly recalled Joe Ryback's profound care for his baseball players, as well as his ability to stand out in a crowd.
Ryback, an assistant baseball coach at St. Viator and an assistant football coach at Wauconda, died unexpectedly on Saturday. He was 33.
Ryback, an Island Lake resident, had been an assistant coach at St. Viator for the last seven seasons, including the last three seasons as the head coach of the sophomore baseball team. He taught physical education at the elementary and middle-school levels for Wauconda Community Unit School District 118 in addition to being an assistant football coach for the varsity Bulldogs.
Jennings said Ryback made his mark at St. Viator and noted that he enriched the lives of many students through his dedicated and caring nature.
"He had a larger-than-life personality," Jennings said. "He was always noticed. He had a unique way about him, just from the way he dressed. He had a rugged appearance at times, but he had a heart of a lion. He made a tremendous impact on our kids and community these seven years.
"He had different phrases, little things he said that made the game fun for our kids. Kids loved playing for him. He made the game fun. He was a very skilled coach, but he had a zest for life and for coaching. He made a big impact. He's going to be missed."
Ryback was a 2002 graduate of Palatine, where he played baseball and football. He went on to play baseball at Northern Iowa, John A. Logan College and Quincy University. He spent four years as the hitting and catching coach at Buffalo Grove and helped guide the Bison to the Class AA state quarterfinals in 2007.
He is survived by his wife, Christina, and his young sons, Logan and Reid.
Monday evening, the @ViatorBaseball Twitter page shared photos of messages for Ryback that had been inscribed with chalk on the Lions' dugout. One person wrote, "You made me fall in love with the game." Another message said, "You're the man I aspire to be."
Besides his lively personality, Ryback was easy to spot because of his lengthy beard.
"He just had some quirks. He was a hunter," Jennings said. "You could have moved Joe into the middle of the country and woods, and he would find a way to make that home and dive into that culture.
"Our kids loved 'Fear the Beard.' There's so many sad aspects to this. He ... could make anyone smile and light up a room with his quirky comments and witty sense of humor."
Wauconda football coach Dave Mills said Ryback played an instrumental role in helping the varsity players at Wauconda. He said the coaches met with players over the weekend to share the news of Ryback's death and held practice on Monday, because "Joe would have wanted us to move forward."
"Coach Ryback was greatly respected and loved by his athletes and fellow coaches," Mills said. "Losing him will be tough on the Wauconda football program family. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Ryback family.
"We all feel blessed to have worked with Joe as a coach, as a teacher and as a friend."
Frank Kmet watched both of his sons play baseball for Ryback at St. Viator. Cole Kmet, a freshman tight end at Notre Dame, was a football and baseball star at St. Viator. Casey Kmet, who committed to play baseball at Notre Dame this summer, is a junior linebacker and third baseman for the Lions.
Ryback helped the Lions reach the Class 3A state tournament the last two seasons. They won the state championship in his last game with the team.
"We were so lucky to have our boys coached by Joe Ryback," Frank Kmet said. "The best way to describe Joe was 'impactful.' Joe had the ability to make players discover and bring out what they had within themselves. It's not luck that St. Viator baseball has had success: The kids had to go through Joe first. Joe Ryback was just a remarkable person to so many."
Visitation will be 3-9 p.m. Friday at Glueckert Funeral Home in Arlington Heights. The funeral will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Viator's Cahill Gym.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Joseph Ryback Scholarship Fund.
Friends also have set up a YouCaring page to raise funds for the Ryback family.
Bob Narang is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.
sporting kc sports clips sportsmans warehouse sports sports illustrated sports authority sports news sporting goods sports bar near me sports cars