Caspersen: Still feisty
Track & field official keeps competitors laughing with quick wit
George Ryan’s black and orange “Tiger Track” hat and blue CHSAA windbreaker are no doubt older than most of the kids he’s surrounded by these days.
Grand Junction High School shot put and discus phenom Deshaun Harris laughs.
“Probably,” he says.
Harris and countless other athletes have had the pleasure of knowing Ryan throughout the years. The soon-to-be 81-year-old is a fixture in the shot put pit that sits just beyond the outfield fence at Suplizio Field.
With his clipboard and pencil in hand, Ryan is the man responsible for charting the athletic efforts of youngsters like Harris. He’s in his 45th year as a track and field official. He’s a regular at both local meets and the state meet.
His quick wit and genuine passion for high school athletics make him more than just a volunteer.
Sean Henry’s face lights up at the mere mention of his old friend George.
“George is awesome,” the Grand Junction head track and field coach said. “George is one of my greatest memories here.”
Henry is a Grand Junction grad and relishes the fun-spirited volleying that comes with knowing Ryan.
“George is one of those guys where you can just talk to him about throwing or anything,” Henry said. “You can just BS with him, and he’s got an opinion or some story from 30 years ago he wants to tell you about.”
And that wit?
“He’s feisty,” Henry said, grinning as he referenced Ryan’s prowess as a jokester.
Ryan’s early life helped mold the present-day sense of humor he’s perpetually putting to use. He fought in the Korean War, an experience that added perspective to everyday life.
“That’s why I’m always so happy,” Ryan quipped. “There’s nobody shooting at me. And I love the sunrise. I learned that at least I know who’s shooting at me. I can see them.”
Nothing makes him happier than his wife, Mary Ann. She’s the one who brought him to the Grand Valley.
“She’s a sweetheart,” he said of the “Grand Junction gal” who has been his wife for almost 58 years. “She knows every weekend where I’ll be.”
The two met while George was still in the Army and stationed in Fort Carson. Mary Ann was enrolled in nursing school at nearby Beth-El College.
They maintained a long-distance relationship after Ryan returned to his native state of Ohio.
“We wrote letters for about a year and a half, and we thought it was cheaper to get married,” he recalled. “And stamps were only three cents back then.”
Ryan taught and coached track and football at Grand Junction High School for a few years, but he soon turned to a more lucrative career.
“I had four kids that wanted to eat,” he said, “so I had to get a job.”
So, he spent more than 30 years as a claims adjustor for State Farm, always finding time to chip in his services at the shot put pit. He wanted to remain connected with the kids.
And Ryan always finds time for sporting events, be it the Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., the collegiate national track and field championships where he met Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Herschel Walker, or a Grand Junction-Fruita Monument basketball game.
“I go to all the basketball games, all the high school stuff,” he said. “I’ll to college games once in a while, but I prefer the high school kids because they do it for fun.”
Track and football were Ryan’s sports growing up. And, yes, he competed in the shot put.
“Not very well,” Ryan joked.
He may have been a novice at tossing the shot, but, by all accounts, he’s a pro human being.
“He’s an institution around here,” said Russ Means, who runs the discus at local meets. “He’s probably one of the most easy-going people, and most knowledgeable. The No. 1 thing with him is it’s always the kids first, and the kids respect him so much. I hope someday I’m at that point, where I have that kind of respect.”