Bo Ryan receives a lot of letters. Old friends, school groups, other coaches, you name it. If you spend nearly 35 years coaching in the state of Wisconsin, your mailbox would probably look like the President’s inbox too.
Meticulously, he reads each and every one. Many get shared with the assistant coaches, even more get responses. Then there are special ones, like the letters from Elizabeth Cornell. One after another with classically-beautiful penmanship, her letters of praise and encouragement find their way into Ryan’s Kohl Center office and many times into his heart. Some fill paragraphs and others are just quick notes like you would find on a post-it.
Dear Wisconsin basketball team,
Thanks for all the pleasure you’ve given me during the basketball season. Seniors, you have been great mentors, underclassmen your time is coming. Stay strong.
Coach Bo, you are the best.
Beth, as friends call her, is not your average Badger fan. She will turn a spry 102 years old this June, and thanks to the generous Grant-a-Senior-Wish program at Home Instead Senior Care, she got her birthday present a little early. Joined by Home Instead owner Teriann Drobnick and care-giver Cindy Krueger, Beth spent part of Tuesday with the Coach she admires so greatly.
“I’ve seen a little bit in my time and you learn a few things over 102 years,” Cornell joked to Ryan from the cushy back seat of a stretched Hummer limousine. “I chose you for my grant-a-wish because you treat the boys with respect. I’ve never known you to embarrass them in front of a crowd.”
“You’re my number one idol,” Ryan responded to Beth. “I want to make it to 102 and look as good as you do. You’re my inspiration.”
Beth simply asked to meet Ryan for her wish and Drobnick and Krueger did the rest. Complete with door-to-door limo service, a corsage and bouquet of flowers Beth pulled up to the Kohl Center in style. When Ryan greeted her he joked that it felt like they were going to prom.
The conversation was far less awkward.
Like old friends, Beth and Bo chatted about everything from the UW team to teaching. Beth, a long-time middle school math teacher in Iowa and Illinois and Ryan a former social sciences teacher traded stories about mischievous students and classroom hysterics. At times, it was difficult to tell who was more excited to visit with whom.
Still living independently and quick as a whip, Beth said her secret to keeping nimble was crocheting blankets for children who are victims of fires and other disasters. That just keeps her busy until Badger basketball season rolls around though. While she loves to watch the players on the court, she admitted one her favorite parts of Wisconsin games happens on the sidelines.
“I love when you get that horrified look on your face,” Beth giggled to the Coach. “It’s like you’re saying ‘how can this be possible?’”
As a souvenir Beth brought a copy of the March 21st issue of the Wisconsin State Journal, which blared a celebratory photo and the final score of the Badgers overtime win over Florida State in the NCAA tournament. Coach Ryan signed the newspaper with the inscription:
To my favorite fan,
Ryan didn’t leave empty-handed either as Beth brought him a box of sugar-free chocolates. Like I said, then there are the special ones... like Beth Cornell.