After 11 successful seasons at the helm, Evanston High School cross country coach Ryan Berger has decided to step down from the position.
The Red Devils finished fourth as a team at last fall’s 4A State Cross Country Meet in Casper, while the Lady Devils placed fifth. Berger’s decision to resign wasn’t a surprise to his team, whom he told prior to the start of the season.
“I told the team at the beginning of the season that this one would be my last, and to keep it between us,” Berger said. “It’s been an awesome experience. But I’m stepping down from cross country — I’m not stepping down from coaching. Something will come up again, and I want to keep my options open. I’ll still be doing all of the Special Olympics stuff, as well as giving all my efforts to my classroom, as well as my family. It wasn’t an easy decision — it’s more family-driven than anything. I’ve been coaching in the fall for over 20 years, and it’s just time to get back to my family.”
EHS activities director Bubba O’Neill said Berger — a special education instructor at EHS — was the right fit for the program when he took over the reins 11 seasons ago, and that was proven out by his success.
“You look at coach Berger’s record, and what he’s accomplished as the cross country coach — he took a cross country program that was not in great shape, and he turned it around,” O’Neill said. “In the end, his teams were able to compete with anybody, anytime, anywhere in the state of Wyoming. That says a lot.”
O’Neill went on to say that cross country became a popular choice for kids looking for an activity in the fall, largely in part to Berger’s coaching style. Berger took the time to get to know each and every runner that turned out for him, and by the beginning of the 2020 season, that number was impressive.
“The sheer number of kids that came out for cross country to be a part of his program also says a lot,” O’Neill said. “The kids wanted to be a part of what he was building there. Probably the most important thing to me is that each and every kid believed that coach Berger cared about them — as a member of the team, but as a person, as well. I think that’s the reason they were willing to trust whatever he asked them to do. I can’t say enough good things about him, as a person, and as a coach.”
Red Devil senior Siler Weaver — who finished runner-up at state last fall — said Berger is the type of coach that constantly challenges his runners to be the best they can be.
“He [Berger] supports you in that endeavor,” Weaver said. “He never dwells on past wins or losses, but gets us to focus on the present. Running for him is always a challenge worth taking.”
Asked to reflect on a career full of memorable moments, Berger said two in particular stand out for him: The Lady Devils winning their first-ever 4A West Regional Championship in 2015, and the Red Devils winning a 4A state title in 2018.
“Winning a conference championship with the girls, the first-ever in program history, that was big,” Berger said. “Winning those firsts are huge moments — what a moment, and we did it right here in Evanston. It was so much fun. That was probably my biggest moment.”
That’s not to say the 2018 state title wasn’t just as enjoyable. Weston Wiley won the individual title that season, and the Red Devils had three runners finish in the top five, with Dawson Crofts (fourth) and Dallin Cardon (fifth) rounding out that list.
“That was huge, as well,” Berger said, laughing. “How those teams really came together, how close we were and what it takes to win titles, because it’s not easy. You better have that team camaraderie, and that togetherness and that leadership. Those kids lean on each other — you have to lean on each other, and trust each other to win, in any sport, even the individual ones. Individuals that win state titles have to have a partner to help them compete better in practices.”
As for what he’ll miss about the cross country program, Berger said the kids, first and foremost.
“No. 1 is obviously the athletes, the kids,” Berger said. “Those kids just worked very hard. The staff as well, I get to coach with Coach Conrad and Coach Barton — I really appreciate all their hard work and camaraderie, the friendships we’ve formed. All of the friendships I’ve made in the coaching community, that’s really stood out, as well.”
Having the opportunity to coach his own kids was also a highlight he’ll cherish, though he’s close with every runner he’s coached.
“And all of the awesome kids I’ve coached — not just the champions, it’s about every kid that came through that program, and believed in the vision I set,” he said. “It was fun to see that they were excited about what we were doing as a program. We’re a family, and that’s huge. It means a lot.”
“I’ll miss it, I’m not gonna lie,” he added. “But I’m also excited for the steps ahead, and the time I’ll get to spend with my family. My wife and I are already excited about what we’re going to be doing during the summer.”
Though the final chapter of his coaching career has yet to be written, Berger said the timing felt right to take a step back, enjoy his family and reassess.
“I knew when I took the cross country job that it wouldn’t be a 40-year career,” he said. “I knew I could do it for 10-15 years, somewhere in there. Got to 11, and it just felt like the right time. My thanks go out to everybody — the parents, the kids, the administration, the community support we have. It’s all been awesome.”
“The hardest part will be not being around the team,” he added. “But I’ll see the kids around, and the next coach that comes in, I’ll be there for them. I’m cross country for life — to me, it’s the best sport out there. I gave my all, I’ll tell you that.”