KENNEBUNK — A man can do plenty with a 29-year chunk of his life. Marty Ryan certainly did.

In all those years as a high school Athletic Director — 22 at Wells followed by the last seven at Kennebunk — Ryan lent a firm, guiding hand to scholastic sports in Maine.

Brought it to a place of influence throughout the country.

Made sure it kept up with the dizzying pace of athletics and youth culture.

Struck an imposing, broad-shouldered, round-faced figure, while performing every imaginable task.

And had a great time doing all of it.


He did, that is, until this week, when the retiring Ryan turned over the Rams reins to his successor, Thor Nilsen.

“(The coaches) have a phrase we use around here,” said Ryan recalling his early days at Kennebunk. “It’s ”˜BMR. Before Marty Ryan.’ They’d say, ”˜we used to do it this way,’ and I’d say, ”˜well, that’s BMR.’

“For Thor, they’ve made a sign, ”˜WWMD. What would Marty do?’”

Ryan will indeed be a hard act to follow.

By every measure, his career has been remarkable.

After all, hiring somewhere in the vicinity of 1,000 coaches, scheduling and supervising some 6,750 athletic events, and working with more than 15,000 referees and umpires, is no small feat.


That’s a lot of balls, and pucks, and javelins to juggle.

Then there are the student athletes.

By Ryan’s estimate there have been 9,725 of them.

Some of them brought state championships back to York County.

One of them — Wells football player Nate Dingle — played in the NFL.

Others barely made varsity and never got into a box score.


But each one of them an individual in his eyes.

“I feel the best about the kids who worked their butts off,” said Ryan, “who finally got a chance to play as a senior. I give those kids a lot of credit.”

That’s a lot of young lives enriched, and characters molded.

Not surprisingly, Ryan has seen a revolution take place in high school sports.

Most of the change, he said, has been for the better.

“Certainly the science of coaching has changed,” Ryan said. “The awareness of the needs of kids is different than it used to be. Sensitivity as to how you speak to kids. How you handle them. Those things were never thought of. The tender nature of our youth.”


Ryan has seen that tenderness evolve over the years since he first arrived at Wells back in 1980.

“In the old days,” he said, “you didn’t worry about water breaks, or the seriousness of head injuries, the state mandates about practice and equipment. Those were not in existence, then. Coaches had free rein to do what they wanted. There’s a lot more involvement and awareness of care for the kids.”

Ryan has been on the ball field since his schoolboy days back at Narragansett High in Baldwinville, Mass.

He began his 40 year professional association with athletics at his alma mater, when he added coaching duties to his teaching portfolio.

First football, then basketball, and finally baseball.

That was his first taste of extreme multi-tasking, skills that served him well when he moved his family to Wells to take over the Class B Warriors.


“In a smaller school system,” he said, “you’re asked to do a lot more things, because there is less staff to do the things that need to be done. You start at 7:30 in the morning, work all day, then come back and cover events until 9 or 9:30. You’re the show. You’re the set-up person. You’re the break-down person. For a while at Wells, I was painting fields in the middle in the day. Thankfully, near the end, we had help to do that.”

As 2001 was winding down, Ryan thought he was entering “the twilight of my career.”

It didn’t work out that way.

Just five miles up the Coast, Kennebunk was in need of an athletic director who could add stability to what had become an unsteady situation.

The school, had gone through five ADs in a four year span.

“It was dysfunctional,” said Ryan.


Regardless, he decided to become AD No. 6.

“I always wanted to work in a Class A school,” said Ryan. “Coming to Kennebunk, without having to change residences, moving to a situation where there is more support staff, more programs, more kids, that was attractive to me.

 “It’s been a good move.”

He might have felt differently after he first day on the job.

Ryan hadn’t even unpacked his briefcase when the school principal entered his office and closed the door.

“I thought ”˜this is nice. He’s come to greet me,’” Ryan said.


Instead, Ryan was informed that he had a figurative fire burning on his desk in the form of a ringworm epidemic that was spreading wildfire-like through the Rams wrestling team.

That led to a two-week suspension of the program, which eventually cleared up the problem, even if it ruffled a few feathers.

“That wasn’t met with a lot of applause, I’ll tell you right now” Ryan said. “By some parents in particular. They were very upset.”

Since then, Ryan has brought stability to the school, upgraded the track and football stadium, and helped sports such as hockey and lacrosse mature into strong programs.

He’s also become an important voice within the athletic community, both in Maine and nationally.

Ryan was voted Athletic Director of the Year in 2005 by the NIAAA, and will remain a member of that organization’s wrestling committee.


“You get a flavor for what’s going on across the country,” Ryan said, “and you find out that some of these issues that we think are monumental in our part of the country, are as big or bigger in others.”

True to his tough-minded, soft-hearted Irish nature, Ryan will take to retirement on his own terms.

One that includes plenty of fly fishing and time for Judy, his wife of 40 years.

He also hopes to help the MIAAA develop a mentoring program for younger athletic directors.

“An AD knows what another AD is going through,” he said. “We’re hoping to have an older AD assigned to a younger AD. I hope to do some consulting to help a younger AD get through the first semester, or first year. Those are the kinds of things I’d like to do.”

That could keep him busy enough.

For the next 29 years at least.

— Contact Dan Hickling at 282-1535 ext. 318 or

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