Juneau remembered Reilly Richey on Sunday and gave thanks - thanks for his strong faith, for the impact he had on local youths, and for just having the chance to know a man who touched so many lives.
Hundreds of football players, colleagues, friends and family members gathered in the Juneau-Douglas High School main gym to celebrate the life of Richey, coach of the JDHS football team and teacher at the school, who died a week ago of liver disease at age 51.
Stories shared at the service reflected the many facets of Richey's life - as coach, teacher, father, husband and search and rescue volunteer, among others. But they shared a common bond in communicating his devotion to God, his family and his team; revealing the way he changed the lives of his players and students; and demonstrating his compassion for others, even as he waged his successful battle against cancer and later dealt with hepatitis.
"Reilly's courage and unwavering spirit were like a compass to so many people (and) helped guide people through some of their own challenges in life," said Gary Cuscia, a friend of Richey's for more than two decades.
"Coach Richey had the heart of a lion. Reilly would want all of us here today to be thankful for what God has given us. Above all, I am truly thankful to God for the life of such an amazing man."
The crowd filled hundreds of chairs set up on the gym floor, while hundreds more attendees sat in the bleachers. Large photos of Richey on the sidelines were displayed at the front of the crowd, along with a scrapbook, awards and a pair of Crimson Bear football helmets covered with the signatures of his players.
Richey's football team sat together, a sea of crimson and black jerseys.
"He loved mentoring the kids who played for him," said Dan Carothers, another longtime friend. "He cherished his camaraderie with the players and fellow coaches, and he loved the cheer and the roar of the crowd."
With that, Carothers invited the gathering to give a final cheer for Richey.
JDHS assistant football coach Rich Sjoroos said he learned a lot from Richey about coaching, and about life.
"There's really something I want to give back to him, and that's to do whatever I can to help our team win a state championship this upcoming season," Sjoroos said, drawing applause from the crowd. "When August rolls around, the teams up north better watch out, because we're going to be on a mission. And even though Reilly's not going to be with us on the field, I know he's going to be there every step of the way."
In addition to scheduled speakers, toward the end of the gathering the microphone was turned over to current and former students and players. They shared memories of football team trips, of Richey making his classes fun and inviting, of his smile.
"I always hear that Reilly was a great guy, and that he had a huge impact on his teams, but it's overwhelming to see this outpouring of love and support," Richey's wife, Kathi Yanamura, said after the service.
Yanamura said her husband's memory will live on in the accomplishments of his players and his son, Naash.
"Their personal success was so important to him," she said. "He wanted them to be successful in life - that was his goal as a coach. ... They could do him proud by taking the right path in life."
Senior football player C.J. Keys said he'll always remember his coach's lessons.
"He put me down the path I'm going right now," Keys said after the service. "If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be where I am today, who I am today. He didn't just make you a better player. He made you a better person."
Andrew Krueger can be reached at email@example.com.
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