Many athletes thrive on pre-game rituals. Grace College’s Maddie Ryman needed one to keep her emotions in check.
So her routine became simple yet purposeful: writing “Control” on her wrist prior to every game. And perhaps that small nod towards discipline has been a key to her success.
Path to basketball
Before settling on hoops, Ryman tried her hand at volleyball, soccer, track and field, cross country and even hunting. She had her first hunting experience at just 10 years old with a turkey her intended target. She found a group of three turkeys lined up in a row.
She aimed for the middle one and pulled the trigger. Could she possibly get one with her first ever shot? Nope. She got all three.
While hunting remains as a hobby, Ryman dropped all of the other sports to focus on basketball when she hit high school. She first started playing basketball at 5 years old at her local YMCA in Warsaw, Ind.
“I didn’t like any of those as much as I liked basketball,” Ryman says.
That love for the game seems almost inevitable considering the history of basketball in Ryman’s family. Her father, mother and grandfather all played basketball at Grace College. Both her mother and grandfather hold the school’s record for the most assists in a career for their respective teams.
Soon it was full-time hoops for Ryman between high school and her Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team.
“I decided, when I got to high school, I was going to quit every sport and focus on basketball because I joined an AAU travel team, so that’s a huge time commitment,” Ryman said.
She took to her AAU coach, Larry Wright, right away. Most players in AAU leagues will hop around to different teams, but Ryman felt the need to stay put.
“I stuck with Larry for the rest of the four years just because I liked how he coached, how he treated me and I felt like I became a next level player with him as my coach,” she recalls.
The respect between player and coach was mutual.
“Everyone thought their positions were kind of safe. Well, when Maddie came in, she kind of rocked the boat,” Wright says. “When you see her play and you get right up next to her, you’re going, ‘how does somebody your size do what you just did?’”
The fight for control
At times, Ryman’s competitive nature and passion for the game of basketball got the best of her.
During a summer league game coached by her high school coach, Lenny Krebs, Ryman got visibly angry at an opposing player — angry enough that her mother, Nicole Ryman, noticed and told the coach to take her out of the game.
Krebs kept her in, saw the rage continue, and soon realized that Ryman had an internal struggle that needed mending.
“I got angry easily and I feel like I would let that overtake me,” Ryman said. “I think it’s when I feel like I have to do too much and it overwhelms me.”
Before Ryman started her junior season at Warsaw High School, Krebs met with her to explain that she needed to slow down on the court and manage her emotions better. This is when she thought it would be helpful to write “Control” on her wrist before every game.
The biggest helping hand for Ryman came from her faith in God. Praying, drawing in her Bible and reciting verses always made her feel relaxed.
“God’s the only one who can help with that,” she said. “When I was in those moments I could recite verses in my head and I could just let God help me.”
Ryman’s favorite Bible verse is Isaiah 43:2: “When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not consume you.”
She felt so strongly about this verse that she got it tattooed on her right bicep – one of the five tattoos on her arm.
When she got to Grace College, Ryman knew she would have to fight for minutes and she would not let her emotional issues get in the way of her playing time.
She started to become more aware of the speed she played at and worked on taking control. Little by little, Ryman’s mentality shifted and her maturity grew.
“I’ve definitely come a long way from high school,” she says. “Some people say I'm too calm now.”
The need to serve
Ryman had limited free time in high school but constantly involved herself with different service groups. She volunteered with Feed My Starving Children, an organization that sends food to the less fortunate, and her school’s Octagon Club, a group that helps raise funds for the school.
She also has spent time fighting against sex trafficking and making bracelets to raise money for Allowing Christ To Shine, a mission driven group that helps children in Haiti.
“I’ve always been someone who wants to help people,” Ryman says. “I feel like I’m called to and I feel like I should.”
Even when it comes to basketball, helping others remains at the top of Ryman’s priority list. Winning and making sure that her team succeeds in any way possible is more important than any personal accolade.
“Maddie would sacrifice her points or the honor she’s getting if it means that her team is going to achieve more,” Wright says.
In her first varsity game as a starter for her high school, she did not play to the best of her ability and the team lost. Ryman felt like she disappointed the team.
“She was full of nerves and they lost,” Wright said. “She was so upset that she let her team down because she played badly.”
Wright, who came to watch Ryman’s game, sat in the bleachers with her after the game as the two shed tears. “Her first words were ‘I let my team down,’” Wright recalls.
Current status at Grace
Her undenying need to give back to others continued in college in different ways. During her freshman year, Ryman and the team visited elementary school kids in the classroom.
“We talked to them about whatever they want to know and how we got to where we are and why we play basketball and what our mission is,” Ryman says.
The team will also be taking part in a mission trip to Alabama in the summer of 2022. They plan to provide whatever help that the people there need. Ryman could not be more excited to fulfill her need to help and to give all the glory to God.
Over the last three years at Grace, Ryman has learned to balance her emotions while still giving maximum effort on the court. Her grit nor her work ethic have been tarnished and the results on the court prove it.
As a junior, Ryman averaged the sixth-most points in the league with 17.1 points per game. She also ended the season by earning First Team All-American in the NCCAA. Her coach at Grace, Dan Davis, gave her the goal of earning that honor at their exit meeting for her sophomore year.
“That was one of the goals he wanted me to get so when I ended up getting it I was really excited and really proud,” Ryman said.
The goal they agreed on for her upcoming senior season: become a better leader. Ryman already radiates positivity within the team and leads by example. Now, Davis says he needs her to be more vocal on the court.
“Maddie’s work ethic is phenomenal,” Ryman’s father Matt Dick says. “She’s always been that way. She’s very driven and very competitive.”
When Ryman went through the college recruitment process, Davis visited Ryman’s home and told her that she would not be a contributor until her junior and senior year of college. That only made Ryman want to grind even harder to prove Davis wrong – and she did.
In her freshman year at Grace, Ryman played in all 32 games and averaged the fourth-most points on the team despite coming off of the bench. She only improved her sophomore year, averaging 13 points a game (second on the team) and leading the team in free throw percentage.
“I don’t get these struggles in academics, I didn’t get these struggles growing up,” she says, “but when I go through tough times in basketball, it taught me how to handle it for my future.”
Ryman’s control no longer derails in the face of adversity the way it used to. She gives God all the credit for her improvement, but maintaining her emotions will always be something that requires her focus.
In her words: “I’d say it’s something that I’m always going to have to work towards.”
Though clearly, working hard poses no problem for Ryman.
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