Her Best Self
Vandal Scholarship Fund offered junior volleyball player the financial support she needed to be successful, on and off the court
In a way, volleyball is the perfect outlet for DeVonne Ryter.
The fast-paced nature of every spike, dig and serve prevents the 20-year-old University of Idaho middle blocker from focusing on any one aspect of her game and pushes her to grow.
“The sport itself, physically, is so fast-paced,” she said. “If you make a mistake or something happens, you have to move on.”
It’s a framework Ryter has learned to live by. A junior from Sedona, Arizona, Ryter credits her coaches and other supporters — including financial support from the Vandal Scholarship Fund — with her growth as a person and athlete, especially when the hard reality of life was volleyed in her direction.
Ryter’s father, a U.S. Army veteran, committed suicide when she was 2. Her mother remarried and divorced several times, moving Ryter and her older brother, Jake, to houses that were often colored by alcohol and abuse. In the sixth grade, after missing an entire month of school to care for her family, Ryter’s grandparents took her in.
Her home life eventually settled down, and Ryter moved back in with her mother and stepdad, Daryl Abbott. It was Abbott who provided the direction and the motivation for Ryter to take up volleyball her freshman year of high school.
“He encouraged me to get involved with volleyball,” she said, even paying for training and camps.
She was an awful volleyball player at first, the result of beginner struggles and an awkward growth spurt, she said. But practice and constant work paid off. By the end of her freshman year, the 14-year-old was invited to join the 17-year-old club team on a trip to the national competition in Florida.
“I focused in on volleyball,” she said. “That’s when I really started developing as a real player. I’d step up on the court, and I’d leave reality off the court.”
Volleyball kept her afloat when turmoil returned to life. The family moved from Flagstaff to Sedona after her sophomore season and Abbott and Ryter’s mother divorced the next year. The family limped along, but Ryter had volleyball, her coaches and teammates to lean on.
She moved out of the house again, and eventually Abbott adopted her.
“That was a huge blessing,” Ryter said.
The teen’s on-the-court success was noticed by UI volleyball coach Debbie Buchanan, who offered Ryter a full-ride scholarship through the Vandal Scholarship Fund to come to Moscow.
In addition to gaining self-confidence, Buchanan said Ryter has contributed as an outstanding member of the Vandal volleyball team. She works hard for the team and in the classroom.
“In life, she’s growing. She’s not even the same person from when she got here,” Buchanan said. “I’m super proud of her.”
Now a junior studying organizational sciences in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, with a minor in communications and interior design, Ryter hopes to go into the dental field — something she never dreamed possible had she not been offered a scholarship.
Ryter graduated high school in December 2014 at age 17, and she found her new home in Moscow the next month.
“That’s when I started growing the most is when I started gaining in my independence,” she said. “The coaches at the University of Idaho helped build me, both as a person and as a player.”
That first year away from her home state was tough. Ryter said she learned a great deal about life in her first semester, but also got a full slate of classes under her belt before her freshman season. Volleyball became a full-time job, to which she dedicates several hours a day.
In her sophomore year at UI, major family issues began to arise again in Arizona, but Ryter worked hard not to let negativity influence her, relying instead on the drive that comes from being the first member of her family to attend college.
“I stuck through it because I knew a lot of people were counting on me to get my bachelor’s,” she said.
She’s grateful for the constant encouragement she receives from her coaches, as well as the hope she finds in her Christian faith and through the Idaho families who treat her as one of their own.
“They taught me to be the best version of myself, both on and off the court,” she said.
About the Vandal Scholarship Fund
Student-athletes at the University of Idaho receive scholarships through the Vandal Scholarship Fund, the result of gifts from approximately 1,600 donors each year. The fund supports 206 scholarships to approximately 300 student-athletes. Gifts through the VSF cover about half of the cost of those scholarships. Learn more about VSF and donate at uidaho.edu/vsf.
Article by Brad Gary, University Communications & Marketing