Saturday, January 2, 2010

Reflecting on Ryan Jobes...

(L-R) Neil Slotterback, Brendan Regan, Pete Norquist,
Hunter Willis, Mike Stubbs and Jon Molz
...and the Band of Brothers he formed

In 2003 my oldest brother Mike was a track & field/cross country coach for Williamstown High School in Williamstown, West Virginia…We talk often and he and my brother Clifford keep Lori and I posted on the athletes within the state they believe have the ability to compete at the NCAA DI level. I recall a time when Mike mentioned that he had a young man he felt would be someone to keep an eye on in the years to come. That was when I first heard the name, Ryan Jobes

Later that school year I attended the WV State Track & Field Championships and first watched Ryan race. It was pure…that unique and rare talent that is obvious to a coach as soon as you see it. When he stepped onto the Laidley Field Track in Charleston you could see that he was different. He had “it”….A weird aura surrounds the best ones. As a coach, you know it when you see it. Ryan had it.

He led his Yellow Jackets to the state team championship that weekend and impressed me with his running form, competitiveness and absolute desire to win. When you watched him race, it was obvious that he refused to lose and that he believed no matter how far behind he was when he got the baton he could anchor his team to victory…and…he did.

That summer Ryan attended our high school cross country camp and I realized quickly that he was also simply put, an exceptional person. He had a good sense of humor, got along with everyone, was polite, always had a grin and seemed like he could do everything...

One of our counselors, Howard Nippert, was undefeated at ping pong in 6 years of camps. That summer Howard once again stood in front of the campers and announced he would take on all-comers in ping pong. Knowing Ryan was an All-State Tennis player, I looked at him as he took in Howard’s words and the challenge with an ever-so-slight little grin. I asked Ryan later if he could play ping pong and he responded, “Not really”. He was being modest like he tended to be. I guessed he did not want to come off as cocky or over confident. So, I asked my brother Mike, his high school coach… "Can Jobes play?"…My brother never answered me…he just laughed.

Later that week the ping pong tournament became a reality. I watched as Howard swept through the rounds and Ryan did the same. When Howard and Ryan faced off it was a classic…What you might call epic in the world of camp ping pong. Ryan either learned quickly or he knew what he was doing. The ping pong ball would come across the table with lightning speed…The next stroke it would cross the net, hit the table and spin off to the right… On the following stroke it would cross the net, hit the table and spin off to the left. I chuckled and shook my head as I watched. Ryan was stoic throughout...All business. I believe the final score was roughly 21-5, 21-7, 21-8 for a best of 5 series.

We recruited Ryan his senior year in high school to join our University of Richmond Track & Field and Cross Country team's. After a very good regular season in cross country it ended with him coming down with appendicitis right before the state meet, so he did not get to run…He went to the state meet to cheer on his teammates…

As winter arrived he played basketball and as an example of his ability, he scored 34 points against Doddridge County High School…Then as spring rolled around it was track and field season for Ryan. We felt good about the recruitment process and eventually got the commitment from Ryan. He would join our Spider program. At the state meet his senior year he once again led his team to the State Championship title. He won the open 400M, 800M, 1600M and anchored the winning 4x400M victory in what can only be described as remarkable to those that saw it. I sat in the stands thinking how excited I was that he would be on our team (watch him anchor his 4x400M relay team here).

As Ryan began his career as a Spider, he grew as a young man. With “Jobes” as I called him, it was quickly obvious that he pulled people together. During his freshman year he excelled in the middle distance events. At the Duke Invitational, he anchored our 4x400 relay to their season-best performance with a 48.2 split and he was twice honored as the Atlantic 10 Conference Rookie of The Week. As his freshman year came to a close he was gaining confidence. At the 2005 Atlantic 10 Conference Outdoor Track & Field Championships he came from back in the pack of the 800M closing over the final 150M to place 3rd, earning All-Conference and nearly stealing the race title.

The following fall Ryan completed his sophomore cross country season. We had a successful season and another very strong semester academically for our team. Life was good and all was well. Then on Tuesday, December 20th, 2005 our world changed...

I recall sitting at home in our living room with Lori and our son Luke, excited for Christmas and the Holidays. Our team members had just finished the semester and most were already home. A few had finals late into finals week, but in all the semester had come to a close and Lori and I were looking forward to spending time with Luke and our family and friends. Luke had recently celebrated his 2nd birthday… On this particular evening I had just gotten the fire in our fireplace going and sat in a chair with Luke asleep in my arms. That’s when I received the call that would forever change our lives and many of the athletes at the University of Richmond at the time.

It was 8:20PM when my mom called. We get very few calls on our house phone, so when the phone rang I looked at Lori and said "uuh oh, this isn’t good”. I can't explain why...I just knew it was not good...I picked up the phone and the pit in my stomach started turning. My mom started right into the reason for her call. No small talk, no way to break the news gently. She said, “Steve… I have bad news.” Words you never want to hear from your parents. She continued, “Your runner…the Jobes boy from Williamstown…was killed this afternoon in a car accident”. I paused…my head was spinning and my thoughts were reeling. 15 seconds earlier the world couldn't have been a better place…With those few words everything changed…Everything.

I couldn't think…all I could say was, “What!?!...What do you mean?” Then I repeated out loud what my mom said to me, not thinking that Lori was standing in the living room holding Luke. As I repeated my mom’s words out loud so I could hear myself say them…helping me grasp what I was hearing, Lori cried out “No…no…no…no!” My mom continued and explained that a family friend of ours that is a policeman in WV called to tell her and to ask if I knew. My mom gave me what details she knew, which was very little at the time. I remember asking, “Are you sure it was Ryan?” She confirmed it…I might have asked her a few more times… I couldn’t think…I couldn’t breathe…I couldn’t comprehend. I mumbled something into the phone and hung up.

I walked over and sat down on the couch speechless…looking at Lori while she held Luke…my head in my hands. For the first time in my coaching career I didn’t know what to do. What do you do when you are told one of your athletes has been killed in a car accident? What do you do?

I realized I had a lot of tough calls to make. His parents and family were suffering and in shock for sure and his teammates were at their own homes completely unaware of what happened that afternoon. I can’t begin to express how difficult picking up the phone and calling his parents and his teammates was. I couldn’t grasp that Jobes was gone. It felt like someone had stolen a piece of us. We all struggled…We all felt the loss…What can you do? You do what grown men and coaches don’t talk about…. That weakness that you never show as an athlete…The thing I’d done 4 times in my adult life…We cried…We wept…alone.

The next few days are still a blur. Everything up to that moment is vivid in my memory. As we drove to Williamstown, WV for the funeral and to see his family, friends and teammates we would drive the same exact route that Ryan drove. As we traveled, I pictured Ryan’s drive knowing that we would reach Sandstone Mountain where he crashed about halfway to his home. Still all we knew was that Ryan had hit the back of a slow moving semi-truck while going up Sandstone Mountain outside of Beckley, WV. Reports were that he died instantly. I knew Sandstone Mountain well. I drove it countless times going home to visit my parents and family in the town next to Ryan’s hometown. It is one of the most scenic places on the 6 hour drive. I tried to understand how it could have happened. Did the setting sun hit his windshield and blind him?…Had he fallen asleep? We all tried to make sense of it. We all tried to grasp the loss. We all wanted an explanation. We all needed an explanation. We all wanted to know what happened.

The days and weeks to come were not good for anyone. I wanted to help his family…his friends…his teammates but there didn’t seem to be anything that could give relief to the pain and loss we were each feeling. It was the same pain but expressed and shown differently by everyone. It was about the time of his funeral that I finally thought of my brother Mike, his high school coach…The man that knew Jobes better and longer than I had known him was going through the same things we were.

“…This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother…”
William Shakespeare-Saint Crispin's Day Speech.

As the days, weeks, months and now years passed a ‘Band of Brothers’ formed within his graduating class. To go into everything Jobes’ Band of Brothers experienced in their time at UR would be hard to explain or describe and would not do justice to the men and the others that have been along side them during their journey. They pulled together in a way that could only happen in the worst of experiences, like the loss of a teammate, friend and brother. They were calloused and hardened while clutching compassion for each other...

(L-R) Hunter Willis, Ryan Jobes, Jon Molz, Pat Barkhuff,
Pete Norquist, John Ciccarelli, Brian Gildea,
Brendan Regan and Michael Stubbs following the
2004 UVA XC Invitational (9/18/04) 

There’s his roommate Brandon Regan…who suffered a career of injuries to battle back to compete at the conference championships his senior year. Countless hours and years of cross training pointed to that day his senior year when he pulled on his Richmond uniform and stepped onto the track in Massachusetts. The moment can’t be described….Mike Stubbs, who miraculously found he had a rare heart defect and days after having heart surgery insisted that he be there at our conference championships with his Band of Brothers. When he walked into the facility I got chills up my spine… Pete Norquist who also had heart surgery. He needed to fix a defective heart valve after a miraculous discovery that likely saved his life. Although his competitive athletic career was over he stayed on as an assistant coach to be with his brothers and to see it to the end…Jon Molz who quietly took care of business with passion, intensity and desire to also finish what Jobes could not winning many championship titles in pursuit… Neil Slotterback, our javelin thrower, who worked every day with an inspired work ethic driven by purpose and focus on the goals… And there's Hunter Willis, another of the Band of Brothers from Jobes’ class that would never, ever quit… I watched him throw move after move in the 10K at the conference meet two years in a row bringing pain to the competitors in his race…When it appeared it would not be possible to elevate his pain tolerance and deliver more to the competitors, he dug deeper within himself to find even more mental and physical strength.
Ryan Charles Jobes

These men are a Band of Brothers and they are men that will not quit and they will not forget their friend. They are Champions. They are the men that, like me, still look for an explanation that will not come and yet they stand firm. Confident in who they are. Better people for an experience that we all wish we could somehow fix. They are a Band of Brothers connected ultimately by a common thread…Ryan Charles Jobes.


  1. Great post, Steve. Even though I didn't really know Ryan, I still remember when I heard about his accident and I think about him every time I go up Sandstone Mountain. He was a definitely a great kid whose inspiration will live on for a long, long time.

  2. Steve,
    What a testimonial to Ryan. Margy and I too vividly remember that day. Our family had just arrived in Florida for a Christmas vacation after a long drive from Ohio the day before. Kim gave me a call on my cell and I also needed for her to repeat the tragic words about Ryan. It was too hard to believe. Our family packed the van in about 40 minutes and started the long drive north. I agreed to stop in Beckley to remove Ryan's belongings from his car. This was probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I will never forget it.

    I can so strongly relate to your comments about Ryan. He was such a talented and humble young man. His friends were everything to him. As you state, his Band of Brothers has created a bond that will not broken but has helped the Jobes family and all of Ryan's friends in so many ways. All of the BOB members have evolved into tremendous individuals who will excell in all aspects of their lives.

    God Bless You for your passion and support,

    Mark Royce

  3. Thank you Steve,
    You have given us great insite into the tragic events and the resulting connection that you all had/have with Ryan. I never had the honor of meeting him, my son and I moved here to Williamstown in 2008. My son has heard so many great things about this young man while competeing in XC and Track. It has been my privalige to work the 5K held in Ryans honor and hear first hand the lasting effect he has had on others.
    God bless you and the Band of Brothers.

    Clarence Antill