By Greg Ritchie
GRAPELAND – The Grapeland Independent School District (GISD) honored 38-year Grapeland coach Jerry Richards by naming their newly renovated field in his honor, complete with his widow and sons in attendance and a helicopter to deliver the game ball.
Richards was a beloved GISD coach and teacher before he retired. Richards passed away in 2021 at the age of 66. Richard’s wife Cindy and sons Clay and Ty were on hand to receive the plaque and take part in honoring the coach. Richards was a member of Grapeland Methodist Church and remembered by many in the community – especially those who studied and played under his leadership.
Richards graduated from Trinity High School in 1972, before completing a Bachelor’s degree in education from Sam Houston State University in 1977. Wife Cindy met Richards in college and said he loved sports and loved working with the kids.
“He loved all sports. He coached everything at junior high, seventh and eighth grade football, seventh and eighth grade basketball, seventh grade track and well as JV,” Richards said. He coached tennis for a while and started the golf team.”
The golf team, both boys and girls, were highly successful, counting many among their members, including Messenger Publisher Kelly Nicol.
Richards said her husband’s disposition was key in how he approached the job all those years.
“He pretty much never met anyone he didn’t like,” Richards remembered. “When the kids would come in and begin the year, he would tell me, ‘Oh, I’ve got this little group of kids who are going to be great athletes!’ He just enjoyed them. They would grow up and he would continue to coach them in junior high. But every year, he would tell me how athletic all these different groups were.”
The GISD board members knew Richards would be an ideal candidate for the honor, given so many of them had learned with him and considered him a pillar of the community, according to GISD Board President Chance Huff.
“It was the thought of how many years he served with the school district, which is almost unheard of,” Huff said. “Being that he coached elementary, he had us boys from kindergarten all the way through graduation.”
Richards was described as the quiet type, although he always told a good story and could inspire the kids, when needed.
“He didn’t talk a lot and had a dry sense of humor. But he was always listening. I think the kids felt like they could talk to him,” Richards recalled. “He didn’t scream or holler – he didn’t do that. He was soft spoken. But, if he decided to say something, he could give a good speech.”
Richards accumulated a lot of stories over the years working with the kids, stories he told his wife he should write a book about, someday. Unfortunately for history, he never wrote that book, instead retiring to help take care of the grandkids. Those memories live on, though, in the hearts of his former student athletes and so many in the community. Huff remembers Richards relating some of those stories over the years.
“He was just a genuine guy, and I loved to listen to his stories about so many different kids,” Huff said. “One story was about a young man Richards was coaching in golf. The young man said, ‘Coach I’ve figured out what’s wrong with my golf game! I’m standing too close to the ball after I hit it!”
The Richards family along with GISD school board members and Superintendent Dr. David Maass presented the family with a plaque which read, “This field is dedicated to Jerry Richards, in recognition of his dedication and commitment as a teacher and coach. His passion and enthusiasm for Grapeland will never be forgotten.”
Richards was excited and surprised when she got word the coach would be so honored by GISD and got emotional at the ceremony last Friday night on the Grapeland field.
“We were very humbled by that – to know he had touched so many lives and they had considered naming that field for him. It was emotional for us, because it’s been a couple of years since he passed away. We were just honored. And glad that he truly touched kids’ lives throughout the years he was there.”
Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]