Debbie Ryan David Petkofsky

The world of ballet might be a better place if Debbie Ryan (Grad ’77) had made a different choice as a child, but the world of basketball would be poorer.

At the June ceremony where she was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, Ryan talked about skipping ballet lessons as a youngster.

“One day when my mother came to pick me up, she found out that for three weeks I hadn’t been there,” Ryan recalled. “I had gone to the local drug store and sat in the magazine rack and read comic books.”

Her father, now deceased, stood up for Ryan’s right not to be a ballerina—and she learned a valuable lesson.

“My dad always gave me the freedom to find my own way, and he constantly encouraged me to make a difference in the world.”

What a difference she has made.

Head coach of UVA women’s basketball for more than 30 years, Ryan has built one of the nation’s most successful programs. The Cavs have made 22 NCAA Tournament appearances, including three consecutive Final Four berths, in the Ryan era. She is the seventh coach in NCAA Women’s Basketball history to achieve 600 wins at the same school.

Val Ackerman (Col ’81), president of USA Basketball and former Cavalier basketball player, says Ryan has been an inspiration. “She’s instilled confidence into all of her players and turned us into women who were going to go out and do important things with our lives.”