Faces In the Crowd: Ryan Pace

June 28, 2018

By Aaron Michell

All things considered, Ryan Pace has had a pretty decent year.
As head coach of the Marion Varsity Softball team, Pace led the Eagles to one of their best seasons ever, finishing with a 21-10 record and their first district championship since 2011.
As assistant coach for the McBain Varsity Football program, Pace helped lead that group to a 7-3 record and their second playoff berth in the last three years.
But the true highlight of the year for Pace, a ’96 McBain graduate, was his wedding to Cara (Wheeler) on August 5th, 2017.
So it’s been a pretty good year for the Pace family.
We caught up with Ryan recently at his home just north of Marion. We talked about Marion, McBain, softball, football, the Marine Corps, and most importantly to him, his family.
We found out just a few of the reasons why Ryan Pace is more than just another face in the crowd.

Ryan Pace

Ryan Pace

Marion Press: The softball team finished 21-10, that has to be one of the most successful seasons in school history?
Ryan: We haven’t really dug deep into it to see if it is or not, but according to some people I’ve talked to it’s probably the most wins the program has had. And we think it’s the third district championship. 2011 was the last, and before that was in ’99, I think.

MP: You’ve been here for three years, and it seems like your team continues to improve.
Ryan: The first year we only won 8 games; last year we won 16, and this year we won 21. So I feel that the girls were young when I started and I still have the same girls, and so now they’re buying into the process of doing the little things – [using] proper technique, proper fundamentals. Now, I think we’re seeing that, on the field.

MP: What were the keys to success this year?
Ryan: I think it was just the hard work that the girls put in during the offseason, buying in and believing in each other.

MP: Your team got off to a fast start and then hit a little bit of a rough patch before finishing strong.
Ryan: We did. We kind of had to step back a little bit, and I gave them a couple days off. It kind of went from the offseason, straight into games, and I think it was a little much for them and mentally they lost track. So I gave them a little break. We regrouped and got after it at the end of the year.

MP: Any big wins that stood out on the year?
Ryan: I would say at the beginning of the season, when we went to McBain. In the first game we faced Karley McGillis – she’s going to Saginaw Valley – and she’s their number one pitcher and we beat them 8-2. And it’s funny, the girls were all excited… and then going into game two we were ahead 7-2 and then McBain strung together some hits and came back and beat us.
But knowing that the girls could play at that level – that’s really what kicked off the season to go out and finish the season strong. We had some games that we should’ve won – I think we lost four games by one run. And last year we lost probably 10 or more by one run – so we’re getting better at that as far as being able to finish a game!

MP: Good. That’s frustrating, it sounds like the Detroit Tigers all over again!
Ryan: Oh, my goodness. The Tigers blew a 6-1 lead yesterday.

MP: You came to Marion three years ago. Had you coached softball before?
Ryan: Yes. I’ve been all over coaching, really. I’ve coached JV baseball at McBain for a little bit. I coached JV softball at McBain for a little bit. I coached one year of JV softball in Florida at a 5A school. And then I took over down there as the varsity coach. Moved back and wanted to coach football again. Got ahold of (football coach) Pat Maloney and he welcomed me aboard. Coach Kurt Gillespie, he was on the (football) staff then and said the job was open here at Marion for softball. So, I applied for it and here I am, already three years in.

MP: What are your expectations for the offseason and next year?
Ryan: I’ve got a handful of girls doing travel ball and summer ball. I think some are playing in the Traverse City league, the Cadillac league, some are even down in Mount Pleasant. And they’re young girls. Nicolette Maddox and Payton Raymond are going to be sophomores, and Teagan Cox, Riley Richards, and Aspen Lagrow are going to be juniors.

MP: What got you into coaching softball? Did you play baseball growing up?
Ryan: I did play baseball in high school, but really what got me into fast pitch was watching my dad as a kid, he played in McBain for McNally’s. And then when I got out of the Marine Corps back home I started coaching junior high football and just worked my way up as it went on. But I played fast pitch in McBain with McNally’s.

MP: And you joined the Marines out of high school?
Ryan: Yes. From ’96 to 2000. I was stationed in Twentynine Palms, California. I was with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines. Actually got to play a little bit of basketball and football in the Marines so that was fun. But it was weird because as often as I’d look around out there, there were no adult softball leagues! I’m sure there were, but not where I was.
And when I was in the Marines, I got to go and see Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
Right after I graduated high school, I got to go over to Spain and play in a basketball tournament – it was called the World Sports Exchange – so I got to go over there for two weeks and play basketball.

MP: That had to be pretty cool!
Ryan: It was fun. It was interesting. I was 18 years old and you’re playing against semi-pro basketball players from Spain and Portugal. So, it was different.

MP: Tell us about your family.
Ryan: Taylor, she’s 19. She just finished her freshman year at NMU (Northern Michigan University). And then there’s Hannah, she is going to school to be a P.A. (Physician’s Assistant), and she’s still deciding where to go to school at. My son, Chase, he just graduated from McBain, he works for his Uncle Pete right now. I got to coach him in football, which was a lot of fun.
Taryan, she’s going to be junior. She loves band, which is kind of frustrating to me because of all the work I put in with her for softball and basketball! But she’s going to try to play softball this year at Roscommon.
And then there’s Braylon. Like Braylon Edwards (former wide receiver at the University of Michigan). He’s going to be an eighth grader at Roscommon.

MP: So he’s going to be a wide receiver then?
Ryan: He is. He’s tall, lanky, still working on his speed. He plays basketball, baseball and football – he plays them all. That’s the kids. They keep us busy. And Cara, she’s my rock.

Ryan Pace and family

Ryan Pace and family

MP: And you coach football at McBain too. How have those teams been doing?
Ryan: Pretty good. Since I’ve been coaching with Pat – this will be my fourth year – two out of the three we’ve made the playoffs. My first year, which was Pat’s first year too, we were co-conference champs and we won the district. We ended up losing to Ishpeming in regionals and they went on to win the state championship.
Our first year we went 8-4. The second year we were 4-5 and last year we went 7-3 and lost in the first round of the playoffs.

MP: And you graduated from McBain in ’96. What was McBain like growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, from your perspective?
Ryan: I don’t even remember. It’s been a while! I just remember going into my 7th grade year and there was a new football coach who came, Coach (Brett) Foerster, and he was pretty tough. Just being on the practice field and watching the varsity, and listening to varsity while we were practicing in junior high. And I remember it was kind of intimidating to know that’s where you’re going to be in a couple years, playing for that guy.
I give him all the credit in the world, because a lot of my coaching comes from him, and just how I live my life in general: you’re going to get knocked down, and you have to get right back up. I still talk to him to this day, I owe a lot to him. He’s been a great mentor and father figure to me.

MP: So Coach Foerster was one of your mentors. Anyone else who’s helped shape you into who you are today?
Ryan: Bruce Koopman. We butted heads a lot when I was playing for him, but now looking back, the stuff that I would do that he’d correct me on – I’m not saying I was a perfect kid – so we banged heads quite a bit when I was in school.
But it was nice, when I was coaching football for a while, Bruce came up to me and asked me to be part of the basketball staff. So I coached with him quite a while and helped him out with varsity boys’ basketball. So he was a mentor of mine too, as far as doing things the right way. He taught me that you have to watch what you do because there’s always someone watching. He was like a mentor and father figure to me.
My grandma, she raised me from sixth grade until I graduated.

MP: Really? Is she still around?
Ryan: Yep. She lives in Falmouth. Her name is Deeana (Pace), but everyone calls her Grandma Pinky. She’s a short little lady who has reddish-pink hair, at least back in the day. Not anymore though, it’s gray.

MP: Well she must’ve done something right.
Ryan: Yeah, she’d get me to practice; pick me up from practice. And my cousin, who lived right next door, somehow we’d get to practice and get home from practice when we were kids. My grandma, whatever I needed, she’d do.

MP: What is your favorite part of coaching? And what is your least favorite part?
Ryan: My favorite: It’s when you teach and then you see the success – and then you see how happy the kid is. Whenever I instruct [how to do something], and then they actually do it, and it’s done right – it’s amazing how big their eyes get and how happy they are. They’re like: ‘Oh my gosh, you really do know what you’re talking about!’
To see the kids be successful is the most achieving part for me.
My least favorite is watching the seniors – and it doesn’t matter which sport it is – but watching it be their last game. These last two years, I’ve had Hannah as a senior, and the year before that it was Taylor. And this year in football it was my son. And a lot of kids you see from freshman to their senior years, and it’s such a small group of kids, and so you know all those kids. You’re working with them from 9th grade all the way through, so when you actually see them leave… that’s probably the toughest part of coaching. It’s like you wish you could just coach them forever.

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