By Bailey Pennycuff
Hutchinson Community College computer drafting instructor Ryan Ewy is also a coach for the Fairfield High School boys basketball team. However, it was a winded road that led him to his current position.
Growing up, Ewy’s friends were like family and his family like friends. He spent most of his childhood next to his brother Aaron, his twin cousins, Eric and Wayne Schoenecker and their sisters Christina and Hannah Schoenecker.
The band of brothers and cousins held a meaningful relationship, mostly by playing sports together their whole lives.
“My older brother Aaron and I played sports with Eric and Wayne from grade school all the way into college. We all suited up for the Arlington Recreation Commission together when we were little, playing basketball, t-ball, softball, and I think even some soccer. We transitioned to Fairfield High School sports playing alongside each other,” Ewy said. “The type of brotherly-bond that is built on a football field and basketball court is a strong bond that will forever link us all together, regardless of relation.”
After their high school careers ended, the boys all accepted scholarships to Sterling College to play football. They all eventually transferred to HutchCC after playing at Sterling for various semesters.
“Regardless of the duration of our stay at (Sterling), it was still really cool to strap up the chin strap at a college football practice knowing that your brothers from back home would be strapping up theirs with you every day,” Ewy said.
Their fun-filled adolescent days seemed almost perfect. However, it has been known that bad things happen to good people.
In 2016, Wayne’s girlfriend, Esther Jenkerson, and his college roommate, Xavier Bradford, were killed in a car accident. Then in 2018, Christina, who was in the military, died.
“Somehow, even after so many traumatic experiences, Wayne seemed so strong. How did he do it? I have no idea,” Ewy said.
In September, the bad things kept happening to good people. Wayne died in a single-car accident in rural Reno County, near Arlington. Wayne’s death impacted the lives of countless people, especially his close-knit family members.
“Wayne was more than a cousin to me,” Ewy said. “As cliche as it sounds, he was my brother. My siblings and I were lucky enough to grow up in the same small town of Arlington with our cousins, the Schoeneckers. This allowed us to spend a lot of time together growing up. A lot of our time as little kids was spent over at Grandma Marsh’s house in Arlington.”
Although the world seems a bit darker without Wayne’s light, his memory lives on.
“Wayne-O was a really funny, humble, super friendly, enthusiastic and loyal guy. His loud cackling laugh, that he got from his mom, Amy, could light up a room,” Ewy said. “I can’t say a bunch of adjectives that describe him without mentioning the word, leadership. All throughout high school, Wayne-O was a leader on and off of the field/court. He had ‘it.’ His consistent drive for us to be better than we were, was inspiring. It didn’t matter if we were up by 30 or down by 30, he was going to bring ‘it.’”
This trait followed him onto the football field and basketball court as a coach. After transferring to HutchCC, Wayne helped coach football for a couple of years at Fairfield High School before taking the middle school basketball coaching job.
“I think back in 2019, as the middle school coach, Wayne and coach Michael Treat made a huge run in the Heart of the Plains League basketball tournament. In the opening round with the 7th seed, FMS topped the second seed, which was a huge upset,” Ewy said.
The team made it to the championship game, where they fell short.
“Wayne was super proud of that tournament run, but genuinely knew they had a shot to win it all. His ability to instill that type of confidence as an underdog, was truly inspiring to watch as a spectator,” Ewy said.
After he finished college, Wayne started working full-time as a finish trim carpenter for Engelland Construction. With this position, he was not able to coach the middle school team anymore.
“With his work schedule in mind, he accepted the assistant coach job for the high school instead. This was a pretty cool fit, because the players that he coached in middle school had moved up to high school with him at that point,” Ewy said.
Shortly after Wayne’s death, Ewy was contacted by Fairfield, asking if he was interested in taking the job that was once Wayne’s.
“My initial response in my head was, ‘Hell no. There’s no way I can fulfill those shoes.’ I later reconsidered, because I remembered something. I remembered a moment back in a high school football game, Wayne looked me in the eye in the huddle and said: ‘We need you, now.’ All of those years of sports, and Wayne never backed down from a challenge. I couldn’t walk away from this – he taught me better than that,” Ewy said.
Ewy has now been the Fairfield boys basketball assistant coach since November.
“I am not looking to take Wayne’s place as a coach, but rather, pick up where he left off and continue his success,” Ewy said. “When I say success, I don’t necessarily mean win/loss record success. I saw the difference Wayne made in these players lives, the short amount of time he had with them. Wayne was there to make them better people. Yes, he indeed wanted to win, but if he gained a win, and simultaneously produced bad people, he had not accomplished what he had set out to do. That is something that I will take with me moving forward. I don’t know if I have ‘it or not, but I am honored to at least sit on the bench next to some great guys, where he used to go to work every day.”
Ewy’s strength is proof that life will go on. Through hardships and tragedies, the strong-willed will find a way to live on, and make a difference in peoples’ lives.
“I learned a lot from Wayne even though his time here was cut short. For me, at the age of 25, I feel like I have a lifetime of stories to tell, and a good majority of them involve Wayne and his siblings. I know I speak for the whole family, and all of their friends when I say (that) we deeply miss Wayne and his sister, Christina being around. I will cherish them and the stories forever.”