Position: Business Teacher and Head Football Coach
School: North Bend Central High School
School District: North Bend Central Public Schools
City, State: North Bend, NE
Music that Describes Ryan
Ryan Stieren was nominated by his colleague, Katie Wright.
Mr. Stieren is a coach, teacher, father, husband, friend, colleague, and so much more in North Bend Central Public Schools and the greater community. His commitment to his students and athletes is what makes him so special, but there are so many more layers to who he is as a leader in his school and community.
When you walk into North Bend Central High School, you may not see Mr. Stieren in the halls cheering on kids at any given moment. You might find him in his classroom, mentoring any number of young students from sixth grade to seniors. He can be seen joking with them and having fun, or sometimes talking through some of the darkest moments of their lives in quiet conversations at his desk. You might see him giving a boisterious high five or hug to a kid who has achieved a simple personal success in the classroom or on the court, field, or track. You might see him teaching any number of business, entrepreneurship, or personal finance courses. No matter what role he plays, he has prioritized building positive relationships with all of his students, which creates a different atmosphere and builds a sense of purpose for his students.
"Our faculty and staff are some of the best, but Coach Stieren has developed his football program and helped foster a culture that has made some pretty big changes for many kids and his colleagues," said Wright. "That influence has spilled over into our hallways, classrooms, and other activities as a result."
It's no secret that a football team and its success can "drive the hype" as students and staff move through the early stages of a school year, looking forward to Friday nights and building up to a championship season. Coach Stieren is at the helm of his school's football program. He has not only demonstrated the best leadership traits for his student athletes, but his professionalism and expectations for his staff and team have helped maintain a level of performance that the other athletic teams can aspire to.
Coach Stieren has been integral in building an environment where students are like a family. In a district that spans 450 square miles (a very large district land-wise), it can be hard to get kids to show up for each other when it comes to all their various activities, whether it's attending the Tuesday night softball game, Thursday night volleyball game, Saturday afternoon band showcase, or Sunday matinee performance of the one-act. Coach Stieren has made it a priority for his team to represent the notion that we "show up for each other" and support one another. His expectation is that if other students and their parents are attending Friday night football games, his team is also going to be there for them, whether it's by cooking burgers in the outfield for the softball game taking place after football practice, or making the loudest cheering section at any high school softball game you've ever seen. His team can be found in the front row at the volleyball tournament and supporting students in the one-act play (if they aren't already in it as cast or crew members). They're high fiving other kids in the hallways and congratulating their coaches, directors, and sponsors in person and on social media.
"This has proven beneficial to our school culture and makes each kid feel like a part of something bigger than themselves," said Wright. "It has does wonders for creating a sense of purpose and pride in our activities, which translates to students' academic drive in the classroom. 'We show up for each other,' has translated to a number of different facets and certainly some of the biggest life lessons our students will ever learn."
The biggest reason why Coach Stieren is a LifeChanger is his commitment to the community in its darkest hour. On Friday, March 15, 2019, North Bend, Nebraska was hit by a devastating flood. The flood followed a four-day "bomb cyclone" that locked the nearby Platte River into a thick sheet of ice and caused its surrounding tributaries to flood and break through a levy system west of town. The town was awash in feet of murky, freezing floodwaters within minutes, and North Bend Central High School became the evacuation site.
In the days prior, leadership met to prepare for what they predicted would happen, and they came up with a plan that not only saved millions in potential damages, but ultimately, the community's safety. School was let out on Wednesday, March 13 and Thursday, March 14 so students could help prepare their homes. The football coaches rallied their troops, and for two days straight, they scooped sand at the local co-op and distributed pallets chock full of thousands of sandbags throughout the community to save businesses, homes and our schools. Then, the flood hit early Friday morning, but Coach Stieren and his boys weren't done helping.
In the days following the devastation, community leaders assessed immediate needs. Feet of water and mud remained in homes and the streets. Some basements, crawl spaces, and entry-level homes had 6-8 feet full of mud, and even raw sewage from an overloaded water/sewage system. Homeowners came in droves to the high school to submit desperate requests for help and gather needed supplies to begin the cleanup.
"The first call I made as a Flood Relief volunteer was to Coach Stieren," said Wright. "I told him, 'We need strong boys. Lots of them. And we need them now.' Ryan didn't hesitate. 'We're coming' was his answer."
Again, Mr. Stieren rallied his coaches and his athletes, and they showed up. And more showed up. And they kept showing up, day after day, for the community of people who had shown up for them every Friday night in the stands. They showed up for the little old ladies who couldn't get out of their homes with their walkers. They showed up for a single mom of three who came in to the school with a Thank You note and tears in her eyes, saying "I have no way to repay them. Please tell them how much this meant to us."
The boys and coaches spent countless hours in people's flood-soaked basements, pumping out water and lifting out soaked freezers, pianos, washers, dryers, water heaters, couches, beds, and basically people's array of wordly possessions out onto their front lawns. Every day, they walked into the volunteer center to eat lunch or dinner soaked, muddied, and tired, but they continued to load, lift, and support the community.
"A lot of our guys would have said no to most people asking us to come do that day after day," said Gavin Peterson, the football team captain, "But with the connection Stieren makes with each of his players, there was no way we were going to tell him no. He put his community first in a situation when other people would have eventually given up or said no."
"One of the players came in overwhelmed, almost in tears, and said 'They've lost everything. How do we even begin to help,'" said Wright. "I told him 'You do what you're doing. Stieren will show you. You help them clean out. This will help keep their homes safe and get them the help they need to clean up and stay healthy. That's how you help right now. Keep showing up for them.'"
In an emotionally traumatic time that students were struggling to process, Mr. Stieren was a pillar of commitment, persistence, and moral character that the kids and community so desperately needed while literally out in the trenches. Without the help of him and his boys, the community would have been in much worse shape over the long term.
When FEMA representatives finally showed up after a number of days, one of them told a city council member after a community tour, "I've been doing this for 15 years, and we've never seen a town do this much work on their own. It's uncanny all the work you've gotten done in such a short amount of time." This was a direct result of the work of a number of city leaders in addition to hundreds of volunteers, in terms of what they were collectively able to accomplish. Mr. Stieren's boys, however, were a huge part in that and learned some important life lessons as a result.
Mr. Stieren's influence is apparent, from a large-scale impact on the community to an individual impact on each of his students, especially some of the fringe students and his athletes.
"It's hard to describe the impact he's had, to put it into words," said Peterson. "Obviously in football, he has played a huge part for a lot of reasons. If I were at a bigger school, who knows if I'd have even played. I probably wouldn't have. Isn't that crazy? But he's like a father to me off the field. I can't even imagine where I'd be if I were at another school or with another coach. It's crazy to think who I'd be without him. I wouldn't be the same person I am today, without a doubt."
"As a teacher who shares a classroom door with Coach Stieren, I've seen his impact on many of these students personally on a day-to-day basis," said Wright. "He is often sitting, working with them on homework for other classes, talking through personal issues that are not only time consuming, but emotionally taxing, as well. Before school. After school. During his plan period. During homeroom. He puts in that work day after day with each kid, seeing them through and giving each a lifeline to another caring adult. That is leadership. That is excellence. That is commitment. That is nurturing. That is making the difference in the lives of students, but it is also inspiring to those around him. As a fellow professional charged with the same job of influencing young lives in our school and community, it is a standard he has set and one to which I aspire to rise to each day. That standard is Ryan Stieren."