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Coach plans to retire after 50 years at same school

Imagine having the same job at the same place for a half-century.

Ron Ryan doesn't have to imagine. He's served as head wrestling coach at Mount Olive High School in Illinois since 1969. Now the 73-year-old has revealed that he plans to submit a letter officially announcing his retirement after 50 seasons on the job.

Ryan owns the distinction of being the longest-serving high school wrestling coach at a single school in the state of Illinois, according to the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association.

Wrestling -- and the world beyond the mats -- has changed a lot since Ryan arrived at the school located between St. Louis and Springfield, the Illinois state capital.

The year Ryan became coach of the Mount Olive Wildcats, Richard Nixon had been sworn in as President. Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. The No. 1 TV show was NBC's "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In"; the top movie, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." A new home could be purchased for $27,900; a gallon of gas cost 35 cents.

As for the oldest and greatest sport, it's seen its share of changes during Ryan's tenure.

"You wouldn't expect a girl to come close to a mat back then," Ryan told the Springfield Journal-Record. "Back then they were statisticians and cheerleaders. That's all they were."

Just last weekend, Ryan took five girl wrestlers to participate in a tournament near Peoria.

Another change: back when Ryan launched the Mount Olive mat program for the 1969-70 school year, it was a single-school program. Now Mount Olive High -- which has just 131 students -- hosts a co-op program which includes wrestlers from three nearby communities.

Ryan did not come to the decision to wrap up his coaching career quickly.

"My wife and I have talked about this for four or five years," said Ryan. "But I wasn't going to leave until I knew someone would take it over and run the program and be here and keep it going."

The man who will take the helm: current assistant coach Don Harvill.

Ryan will host his last home meet on Jan. 9. But that won't be the last time the long-time, legendary coach will make an appearance. He will serve as Grand Marshall for the Grand March at the 2019 Illinois state wrestling championships at the University of Illinois in Champaign in March.

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