Gone the distance: Deborah Ribbens retires as U-High coach after 18 years


Miriam Bloom

U-High Coach Deborah Ribbens (far left) takes a group photo with her boys cross country team during the 2019 season. Ribbens is retiring from coaching after 18 years.

Amanda Cassel, Editor-in-Chief

Despite having left the house nine hours earlier, when the clock strikes 3:30 on a weekday, trackand cross country coach Deborah Ribbens makes a beeline for Kovler Lobby to meet her team. With coordinated leggings and running shoes, a smile on her face, and a palpable amount of energy, Ms. Ribbens is ready for an exciting afternoon of coaching and training.

After 42 years of coaching teams and watching athletics opportunities expand for young women, 18 of which were at U-High, Ms. Ribbens is retiring from coaching.

Ms. Ribbens first became invested in athletics as a high school student playing basketball, hockey and softball and running track. For her, athletics was more than just physical activist. It was about how it improved her quality of life.

“It kept me organized,” Ms. Ribbens said. “The comradery between me and my coaches and my teammates — many that I’m still close with now.”

When Ms. Ribbens was first a four-sport athlete, she wasn’t on varsity teams. It wasn’t for a lack of skill — at the time girls lacked equal access to opportunity.

“I’ve seen women’s athletics really grow and expand throughout my entire career,” Ms. Ribbens said, “Because when I first started, girls sports was not a varsity sport — it was the girls athletic association.”

As someone who experienced the evolution of athletics for young women move toward equality and has been involved for more than four decades, Ms. Ribbens has unique and insightful perspectives for the young women on her team. 

Viviana Glick

For junior Viviana Glick, Ms. Ribbens is a great resource in handling coed team issues. 

“It’s nice to know and have someone that understands the problems that we face as girls and is always there to talk about any dynamics that are going on on the team that might make the girls uncomfortable even if the boys aren’t aware of it,” Viviana said.

According to senior Franzi Wild, distance running can often lead to physical and mental struggles for young women in particular. For Franzi, having someone who understands these issues makes all the difference.

“Having someone who knows what those issues are, how to talk about them and the psychological motivating factors behind them, like Ms. Ribbens does, is incredibly important for distance running,” Franzi said. “Having someone who understands that at a different level than male coaches do is really important and really helpful.”

As much as Ms. Ribbens is a great coach in a time of need, she goes above and beyond for her team on a daily basis. 

“Whether it’s snacks or Gatorade after a rough workout or running or working out with us,” Franzi said, “Ms. Ribbens always goes the extra mile for us. A lot of us call her our second mom.”

Franzi Wild

Alex Clark, who has coached alongside Ms. Ribbens for the last three years, will be taking her role as head coach next year. According to Mr. Clark, it’s hard to imagine what the team will be like without her.

“She was the one that kind of set the tone and feeling of each and every practice,” Mr. Clark said. “I have some big shoes to fill in this role. I am just happy that I was able to learn from the best and will try my hardest to continue to lead the team in the same way she did every day.”

For Ms. Ribbens, it is the team — as she calls it, “family” — and the set of personal relationships that she is going to miss most. 

“It’s never just about the sport,” Ms. Ribbens said. “It’s about the entire person, and that’s just how I’ve always coached.”

As Ms. Ribbens retires from coaching, she is looking forward to spending more time with her children and grandchildren and dedicating more time to volunteering with organizations important to her. But despite stepping back as a coach, Ms. Ribbens says team members can still expect to see her around, whether it’s through the halls of the gym building or supporting from the sidelines of a meet.

“This isn’t goodbye,” Ms. Ribbens said. “It’s ‘see you later,’ because I’m not retiring from teaching, and I’ll still be around to be their biggest cheerleader.”