Carmel Catholic's Ryan carries on after mother's mysterious death

She never showed up.

Which had to be more worrisome than strange, because why would Kathleen Ryan miss an opportunity to watch her son Zack coach his Carmel Catholic varsity boys basketball team and then visit her three small grandchildren?

No phone call. No text message. Nothing.

But just a couple of days after Lake County authorities confirmed that the body found inside a burning car near Gurnee was, in fact, Kathleen Ryan, Zack Ryan returned to the basketball court in Mundelein.

"Being at practice was what she would've wanted," Zack said. "My team has been great."

Kathleen Ryan was great to Zack's team.

"She loved basketball and loved my Carmel team," Zack said. "She'd come into Salvi (gymnasium) with treats for my kids and sit right in the middle across from our bench. When she was early enough, I got to go give her a hug during warmups."

That hug never came last Saturday afternoon. Zack never spotted his mom in Carmel's bleachers.

Kathleen was driving her black 2007 Pontiac G6 GT Coupe from Wisconsin to see Zack's Corsairs tip off against visiting Chicago Sullivan at 4:30 p.m. Just before 10 p.m. that night, firefighters were dispatched to the 36500 block of North Route 41 in Warren Township - about nine miles north of Carmel - for a report of a vehicle on fire. It was Kathleen's Pontiac. A body was discovered inside. It took a couple of days to confirm it was her.

A business teacher at St. Augustine Prep in Milwaukee, Kathleen Ryan, 56, was also the sister of former Mundelein boys basketball coach Dick Knar.

"My mom was beloved by her sons and husband," said Zack, whose dad is Peter and whose brothers are Sam and Max. "The outpouring I've received from her students current and former is unbelievable."

A basketball team needs its coach. Carmel took a 17-10 record into Saturday's game against Burlington Central at Indian Creek, and the state tournament starts in two weeks. While he and his family try to process what happened to his mother and deal with unfathomable grief, the man in Zack Ryan surely knows he must carry on.

He must be strong for the Corsairs, his kids, his wife, Heather, his brothers, his dad.

"Right now, we don't know much," Ryan said of his mother's death. "The investigation is ongoing."

An explanation might come later than sooner, or maybe sooner than later. Regardless, it likely won't heal the large number of hearts broken by Kathleen Ryan's mysterious passing.

Zack Ryan is also a math teacher at Carmel, a problem-solver, a man of faith. Hired at age 28 in 2014 to be Carmel's head varsity basketball coach, he's proven to be mature beyond his years and a more-than-capable leader of people.

He will keep leading by example because this is who he is. This is the son his mother raised.

• Anyone with information about Kathleen Ryan or her death is encouraged to contact investigators at (847) 377-4159.

• Follow Joe on Twitter: @JoeAguilar64

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