HUNTERSVILLE – Two years ago, North Mecklenburg High’s baseball program was heading in the wrong direction. The Vikings were a combined 18-28 in 2011 and 2012. Their facilities were drab and interest was slipping.
Then, athletic director Kevin Wilson struck gold. He reached out to Sean Ryan, whose son Ryder, was on the team. Fill our empty coaching position, Wilson asked.
Ryan, a former professional player who’d coached travel teams for 15 years, toyed with the idea. Perhaps there’d be a time struggle because he runs an electrical company. On the upside, he’d get to coach two of his sons – Ryder, a senior, and River, a sophomore.
Ryan jumped at the opportunity and the Vikings are flourishing.
North Mecklenburg is 12-7 overall and tied with Hough for the MECKA 4A conference lead. Both have 10-2 records with two conference games left.
The Ryan clan is smack in the middle of the success. Ryder is one of the state’s top pitchers. He’s signed with North Carolina. Or, he could jump to professional baseball depending on when he’s drafted in June’s amateur draft.
River, who pitches and plays middle infield, is talented enough to escape big brother’s shadow. Sean easily blends his two sons into the rest of the Vikings.
“It’s been great for me,” Ryder Ryan said. “My dad’s been coaching me since I was little. I’ve been playing baseball with my brother (River) forever. It’s great to have them at my side.”
Father-son combinations are rare in high school, even rarer when multiple siblings are involved.
“It’s an absolute honor for me to not only coach at North Mecklenburg, but have two of my boys play for me as well,” Sean Ryan said. “It’s very rare that it happens, and I’m blessed to be in this situation.”
The Ryans are a tight-knit family. The boys are Nos. 3 and 4 in age among five Ryan children (nod to mom Nina). After games, Sean, Ryder and River will dissect things hoping to find ways to improve the team.
“We talk baseball all the time,” River Ryan said. “Every day.”
Sean Ryan said he’s most pleased that his sons support each other.
“They push each other and compete,” he said. “But they don’t compete against each other, they compete for each other. That’s really nice to see, not only in a coach’s eyes but in a father’s eyes.”
“There’s no animosity after a game if one does well and the other doesn’t. That’s one of the biggest things that make this a dream job for me. They don’t butt heads when it comes to baseball.”
Both players, when asked to comment on their brother/teammate, didn’t hesitate.
Ryder (on River): “I love him to death. I look up to him and he looks up to me. He’s a great athlete. He’s funny and brings energy to the family. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my brother.”
River (on Ryder): “I love my brother. Don’t know what would happen if we weren’t on the same team. He’s a great athlete and a great person up here (pointing to his temple).”
Sean Ryan is quick to credit his support system for North Mecklenburg’s success. The Vikings family has raised money for several field improvements and hosted two benefit games that have netted thousands of dollars for needy families.
Ryan rattled off the names of players’ families that have helped behind the scenes - Coss, Loll, Fink, Comer “and a lot of others,” assistant coach Tristan Hollar, school principal Matthew Hayes and Wilson, the AD who gave him a chance.