By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Jim Richards was never a head football coach at Jefferson. He was never a head football coach at any school.
For 18 years, Richards, who passed away in September of last year, was a gridiron assistant in the County Seat. He was so widely respected in that role, he will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Football Hall of Fame tonight at the annual Touchdown Club Banquet on Monday at Mount Carmel Community Center.
“One of the best things about him being recognized is that he is the first assistant to be inducted in the Hall of Fame,” Richards’ brother, Ron Richards, said. “He was never a head football coach. He was a head track coach and helped with basketball, but he was never a head football coach.
“For him to go in as an assistant is tremendous,” Ron Richards said. “It shows what other people thought of my brother.”
Richards’ family is touched by the induction.
“It means a lot to the family,” Richards’ Wife, Mary, said. “I wish he were here to receive it. It would have meant a lot to him. Football really was his passion. He loved football. He loved all sports, really. He really loved football.
Richards would have enjoyed the honored and been humbled by it at the same time.
“He would be very humbled by this,” Ron Richards, an Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame member said. “He came and really supported me and then our cousin, Tim, when we went into the (basketball) Hall of Fame.”
“It’s hard that he’s not here to get it,” Mary Richards said. “I know it would have meant so much to him.
“I think he would have been totally overwhelmed because he didn’t look at himself as that important. He always felt he wanted to do the right thing and be fair to all of his students. He made a good impression on them, too. He wanted them to understand that working together would help them later in life.
“He would’ve been very grateful. I’m glad Ron will be there. He’s been there for our family. He’s been a great support during a very difficult time.”
On the sideline
Richards coached football for 18 years, track for 22 years, basketball for 16 years and wrestling for a season. He also served as athletic director for a year.
“He was very well known and loved by all the coaches,” Mary Richards said. “He loved the kids and coaches on the teams. Being a coach was very important to him.”
So was being a teacher at Jefferson.
“I think he loved working with the students,” Mary Richards said. “He enjoyed teaching.
“We always loved the Jefferson school district. We love the people there, the families there. We are Falcons. Our children, Natalie and Eric, graduated from Jefferson.”
Richards spent long hours, as every teacher and coach does, working at his craft. He did so with his family’s full support.
“Being an educator and coach was just part of our lives,” Mary Richards said. “I don’t regret (the amount of time Jim spent away from home). He got that much enjoyment out of it. He was happy so I was happy. I was there for backup and support at home. We did things together.
“You know being a coach is a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week job. It truly is. He would mentor the kids in his own way. He would help steer them in the right direction. Jim always wanted to mentor his students on ethics and being good human beings so they would be successful outside the classroom in life itself. He had opinions. He believed in right and wrong. He would listen to them, but ultimately he believed you should take the high road. Kids are so impressionable. I was so proud of him.”
Even Richards’ children understood their father’s love for coaching and the time he spent working at it.
“I think the children, as they’ve grown up, fully understand and realized he had a good work ethic. He believed hard work would pay off in the end and would ultimately make him a better human being.”
In fact, the Richards kids got to see the enjoyment Jim Richards got from the sideline as spectators and from the inside as students in Jim Richards’ classroom and athletes on his teams.
“I know Matt Hatchette and our son, Eric, were on the football team together,” Mary Richards said. “Those were some of (Ron’s) most fun times. He coached basketball with our daughter on the team and he was their teacher at one point.
“It was so beneficial to our son and daughter. He was always there for them, even if they didn’t want him to be. They couldn’t get away with too much.”
Jim Richards earned the respect of his players the old-fashioned way.
“His work ethic was fantastic,” Ron Richards said. “He expected the kids to perform on the athletic field as much as he did in the classroom.
“It was phenomenal how the kids wrote about how they loved having him as a teacher (when he passed away).”
Jim Richards earned respect from his students and athletes with his approach.
“He was always fair with the kids,” Ron Richards said. “I don’t think he asked them to do anything he didn’t think they could do. That’s why he had the respect of the kids. He was always fair with them.”
Having coached mostly boys, moving over and coaching girls was a bit of an adjustment for Richards.
“It was so different for him, doing girls basketball,” Mary Richards said. “It was so different from coaching boys, but he had such a good group of girls. Girls and boys are quite different. Girls are worried about having the right kind of shoes and ribbons for their hair. They have different routines. He loved it.”
Jim and Ron Richards actually coached against each other at rival schools.
“I was at Pymatuning Valley and he was at Jefferson,” Ron Richards said. “We both wanted to win, but whether we won or lost, we were still close. For many years, he would come down to the Laker Invitational. He would win and we’d be runners-up or vice versa. He had great kids, great teams. We always enjoyed it.”
Richards had such an influence on his players and students that many of them followed him into the teaching and coaching ranks.
“A lot of his kids are in the teaching profession and his athletes are coaches because of him,” Ron Richards said.
When he finally had to retire for health reasons, Jim Richards struggled with not being in the middle of things. That didn’t mean he stopped following his teams or helping out when he could.
“He would have loved to have returned to coaching,” Mary Richards said. “It just wasn’t in the cards. He would go over to the school and see Steve Locy, Larry Daniels, Bob Ashba and Glenn Sutherin. He had so much respect for them. He enjoyed that part of his life. He missed it when it he retired. He would check in on them after he retired. He thought the world of them. He enjoyed that a lot.
“He was always watching the paper for what was going on. Sometimes, he would call his students and check in on them. To the end, they were very, very important to him.”
The hardest part for Jim Richards was staying away.
“It hurt him tremendously,” Mary Richards said.
Jim Richards enjoyed having his grandkids around as much as possible. He may have been their biggest fan.
“He had four blessings,” Mary Richards said. “He had four grandsons, Jackson and Carson from our son and Sean and Tyler from our daughter. They were very much a part of Jim.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.