The Delta girls basketball program has grown accustomed to winning in the 11 years coach Ryan Ripke has been at the helm. He recently stepped down following this past season in which his Panthers claimed their second Division III district title in the last three seasons, as more lifelong memories were added to an already long list accrued by the mentor.
Ripke closes his Panther coaching career with a record of 182-82. He won three Northwest Ohio Athletic League titles for the program in 2015, 2018 and 2019. Prior to 2015, Delta had not won a league title in girls basketball since 1987.
Ripke was not sure what to expect when taking over all those years ago, but he says a little divine influence nudged him down the path he ultimately took.
“I didn’t have any expectations for the program. I didn’t really know what I was getting into,” he said. “I had never wanted to be a girls basketball coach but I really felt in my heart that this was something God wanted me to do, so I was just trying to be obedient.
“But at first, all I wanted to do was win,” he added. “And I was very proud of the girls on that first team because we won 10 games and, if I remember right, we doubled the number of wins they had the year before.”
The former head man steadily improved the program’s expectations early on, along the way learning how he wanted to run his teams.
“From there (after the first season), things just took off and we made it to districts 4 years in a row and even won a NWOAL championship,” explained Ripke. “But after a few years I realized that winning was fun but if I didn’t also invest in developing relationships with the girls, the winning wasn’t going to mean much. That’s when my expectations changed for the program and coaching became more meaningful. What’s funny is that when we started investing in creating a culture of meaningful relationships with each other, the winning went to another level. And you may think it started with that 2017-18 season when we won 23 games but it actually started the season before when we won 14 games. The girls on that team laid the groundwork for all the success we had the next 4 seasons by investing in each other and investing in the team.”
The connections made, even some outside of the program, are going to stick with Ripke for a long time.
“I am going to miss all the relationships and memories that were created over the last 11 years,” he said. “Obviously, I will miss all the amazing girls whose coattails I rode. We had a lot of fun throughout the season, but some of the best memories I have were from the summers at shootouts and team camps. I will also miss the assistant coaches who helped me guide this program. I was lucky enough to coach with some of the best people I know: Kelsey Girlie, Larry Bruce, Jon Mignin, Nate Ruple and Ron Rouleau. I’m also going to miss the relationships I had with the opposing coaches. I didn’t always enjoy competing against them but I became good friends with some of those coaches. And believe it or not, I even have good relationships with some officials. I appreciate them not taking it too personal when I offered my advice on how they could be better at their craft.”
Mignin, who served as Ripke’s assistant in some capacity for 10 of the 11 seasons, concurs that good relationships were the foundation of the program and its success.
“We worked very hard to promote a family atmosphere at all times,” Mignin said. “It all started with team meals at my house, that the girls nicknamed the “Mignin Compound.” We often did team building activities which sometimes didn’t even involve basketball. I remember in the 2018-2019 season when we lost a game on a Thursday, the next day we didn’t even pick up a basketball. We just played a game of Twister! We would read books together throughout the season. My favorite was “Lead For God’s Sake!”, which was very inspirational. We often had team Christmas parties. Finally, sometimes we had to just sit down and have heart-to-heart conversations with the girls. Respect and trust were top priorities and I think for the most part Ryan got that out of the girls.
“Making practice fun was also a key to our success. We tried to play games as much as possible in any drill we were doing. We motivated the players by giving them summer work out logs and other incentives. Ryan also spent so much extra time with open gyms, individual workouts, and staying after practice to work with anyone that wanted to work on their game.”
What also stands out to Mignin is the freedom Ripke gave his assistant coaches — himself in particular — to express their ideas.
“Ryan and I developed a very special relationship as a coach, family, and friend. Coach Ripke has often said, ‘I don’t want a coach that is a “yes” person. I want a coach that will tell me sometimes what I don’t want to hear for the betterment of the program,’” Mignin explained.
“Trust was the first thing that we both had in one another. Ryan trusted me enough to run the defense and listened to my suggestions. Sometimes we agreed and sometimes we didn’t, but I felt as my role as the assistant was to give Ryan options and I think he really appreciated that. We would joke and Ryan would often say with a smirk or a joke, ‘Jon, you were right again!’ That’s what made our relationship so great; there were never any egos. I will miss our conversations, some of which were happy moments after wins and some were pick me up conversations after a tough loss. I learned how to truly be a great scout, break down film, create a practice plan, design new basketball drills, the X’s and O’s of basketball, and so many more basketball-related topics.”
Not only was Ripke able to establish trust with his players and coaching staff, he did so with community members and supporters of the program as well. And they were fully behind him. That could not have been more obvious than during big games throughout the season with the Panthers contending for a league title.
“I have really grown to love and appreciate the community of Delta,” Ripke said. “I couldn’t believe how much they supported girls basketball over the years. When I took over, we only opened up one side of bleachers and I told my AD that I wanted both sides opened up because I wanted to fill both sides — eventually we did. One specific memory I have of the community’s support is when we played Archold at home in the last game of the 2018 league season and both teams were undefeated. I was sitting on the bench talking with Ryan Holdgreve, Archbold’s assistant coach and the Delta fans just started streaming in and before the JV game started, the Delta section was full. Ryan looked at me and said, ‘Is this normal?’ I took a picture and sent it to my wife saying, ‘You better get here quickly or you might not get a seat!’”
Ripke wants that support to continue for the program — and all Delta sports for that matter — although he will not be the one leading it going forward. Which is why he hopes voters flood the polls on May 4 to vote yes on the income tax levy.
If not, all extra-curricular activities including sports would be eliminated for the 2021-2022 school year.
“I want to take the opportunity to urge all Delta residents to get out and support our students by voting for the school levy,” Ripke explained. “Our students will be losing out on memories like this or they will have these memories in some neighboring school (possibly taken away) if this levy doesn’t pass. I think the girls returning to the basketball program have a lot of potential and it would be a shame for them not to be able to finish what they started in the Delta girls basketball program.”
The former Panther mentor is unsure what his coaching future holds. If he does get another opportunity, it will be important that it is the right fit.
“I don’t know what God has in store for me. I’m just going to try and be obedient to what He wants me to do. I think it worked OK in this situation! At this point, I hope to have another opportunity to coach, but the timing and the situation has to be right for me and my family,” said Ripke.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010.