Jim Ryan ’72 is proof that that the motto “never give up” pays off. Jim always loved sports, but his time at Marist didn’t include any big plays or records. In fact, as a junior and senior on the football team, he never played a down. But that didn’t mean he didn’t benefit from being a part of the team.
“Athletics provide a sense of teamwork and the ability to work together to achieve a common goal,” Jim explained. “Athletics build character and discipline. Spectators love the competition and the ability to root for the team of their choice on the big stage. School rivalries provide excitement and get everyone involved.”
After graduating from Marist, Jim enrolled at Illinois Benedictine College (now Benedictine University) and then started a career in wine and spirits sales. He then built a career as a certified official in football and basketball in the Illinois High School Association for 40 years and recently retired from the Big Ten Conference as an on field official after 11 seasons. Jim is a member of the Central Officials Association Hall of Fame.
Jim said common sense is probably the biggest quality you need. “You start out working grammar school games, you move to high school, the next step is small college and then to Division 1,” he explained. “What you do at the lower levels is the same as you do at the national level. Judgement and common sense—it can’t be taught.”
Though the level of scrutiny is higher in big games, Jim says the need to eliminate mistakes, continue learning, and sport a positive attitude determine success. While there are challenges to officiating a game, the benefits are great. To be allowed to be an active participant in this great game of football and ensure that the game is played competitively and fairly by both teams is a great reward. “At my final game in the Big Ten at Soldier Field, Coach Pat Fitzgerald [of Northwestern University] came up to me before the game and thanked me for my contributions to the game of football and the Big Ten Conference,” Jim said. “To me, that was not only rewarding but quite a powerful statement from a head coach; one I will never forget.”
Jim looks back fondly on the great friendships with classmates, the Brothers and teachers, games, sock hops, and more while at Marist. The family spirit, community involvement, and faith aspects of Marist still stand out to him.
Jim and his wife, Linda, have been married for 36 years and live in Darien, Ill. They have three children, Lindsey, Joe and Andrew.
Pictured: Jim Ryan '72 receiving some feedback from then Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini.
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