Glenbrook South standout's love of sports hasn't waned
As a coach, you're not supposed to have favorites.
Easier said than done, though, when talking about ex-Glenview resident and Glenbrook South star Shawna Ryan (Godzik back in her Glenview days). The unabashed joy with which she competed, her ability to inspire her teammates, and a smile that could light up a ballfield -- they all made her one of the most enjoyable athletes I have ever had the pleasure of coaching.
With all that "sport cred" going for her, one could have predicted, even back then, that Ryan was going to somehow, some way make a successful career for herself in the world of sports.
"One" would have been right.
Fast forward some 30 years later, and add in a few "interesting" experiences along the way, and Ryan has moved up the career ladder to where she is now: Director of Youth Sports Programs and Partnerships for Gatorade. Literally, the face of sports drink powerhouse Gatorade when it comes to youth sports.
Not bad for the kid from Glenview.
A quick rewind first. As a youngster in town, Ryan played everything. Baseball with the boys, soccer, basketball, softball, you name it -- she played it. There may have been better, more gifted athletes that have competed in Glenview sports, but very few could ever match her pure love of the game and sheer joy in competing. She thrived in it all, in a way rarely seen.
I still remember snatching Ryan up from the boys baseball field and getting her to try out for our Glenview Travelers girls softball team. One of my best coaching decisions ever, as she became a leader and star for many of our successful teams, including a state championship team that went to Florida to compete in the national tournament.
Not surprisingly, Ryan went on to great success at the high school level, starring for Glenbrook South in both basketball and softball. She was good enough in softball to become a recruited walk-on for a very strong Northwestern team.
After a couple of years of college softball, though, it was time to concentrate on her future business career. After graduating Northwestern, she started working for McDonald's in the area of large-scale marketing and promotions. Things were going along swimmingly until controversy struck. The big McDonald's Monopoly Game, which she helped to organize and promote, got caught up in a huge controversy -- in which she was not personally involved -- that became national news. You might have seen the recent HBO series "McMillions," which told the story.
"It was a little crazy at that time," Shawna remembers, "even to the point where I had FBI people coming and talking to me and asking questions."
Moving on from that "fun" experience, Ryan then got a job with Quaker Oats, which later was acquired by Gatorade. She started out in marketing and promotions, but when a big youth sports position became available, Ryan jumped on it like she used to jump on a fastball right over the middle of the plate.
"Oh, yeah," Shawna said. "As soon as I heard that position was available, I pursued it all out. I was really excited when they offered it to me, as youth sports is something I have always been drawn to."
The job was literally made for Ryan. As director of their youth sports partnerships, she could take her perpetually infectious enthusiasm and true love of the sporting experience and use it to positively influence coaches, players, and even entire leagues and programs -- all while promoting the product, of course.
It keeps her busy and then some.
They partner with over 200 youth sports programs, which roughly includes about 3.8 million young athletes. So Ryan's sphere of influence is vast.
"We kind of set the strategy for athletes and coaches to improve performances and try to make them feel better about themselves. We want to assist and help anyway we can and, of course, give the athletes the fuel and replenishment they need to compete at their best."
They also provide coach training, motivational techniques, and conduct large special events throughout the year.
I asked Shawna about recent trends she's seeing in youth sports.
"Specialization is a big one," she said. "Kids playing sports year-round. We at Gatorade aren't necessarily big fans of that. We like to promote the young athletes trying and playing all different sports, especially at early ages."
Also, a trend I found a bit surprising:
"Girls are dropping out at about 1.5 times the rate that guys do by the age of 14," she said. "That is something we are looking at and currently analyzing."
"One more recent trend" adds Ryan, "is the difficulty in finding quality available coaching. Definitely a shortage here, and that is a concern."
I asked her about the effect of the pandemic on her job and youth sports in general and, not surprisingly, the answer was that it has been quite drastic.
"Pretty much everything that we do has come to a screeching halt," she said. "No special events, no big promotions. And many of the high-profile leagues are on hold."
Finally, I asked her the toughest question of all. Which of Gatorade's now 25 flavors is her favorite? Her answer: Orange.
Old school, vintage, original. I would have expected nothing less from one of Glenview's finest.
• Jon Cohn of Glenview is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official and just an all-around local sports fan. Any topics you'd like to see him tackle? Email email@example.com and include "Coach's Corner" in the subject line.