Through the lens of her video camera, Kathi Yanamura watched and recorded nearly every game of the Juneau-Douglas High School football team's run to the state championship.
For the first time in 14 years, her husband, the late football coach Reilly Richey, wasn't on the sidelines. The Crimson Bears, however, were too much of a part of her life for her to let go just because Richey passed away five months before the season.
They were still her kids out there.
"This varsity group, especially the seniors and some of the sophomores, were the mass group of kids Reilly worked with," Yanamura said. "I really wanted to see them be successful for their sake and for the team. It really meant a lot and I felt very attached to them."
Richey passed away on March 5 after a long bout with hepatitis and cancer.
His legacy, however, proved stronger than any sort of ailment. Richey's ability to not only provide a positive role model for students - a byproduct of his spiritual life - but to create an atmosphere where teenage students looked out for their own, created a powerful force on the field.
"I think on certain individuals I could see the direct influence on their spiritual life, and if not on their spiritual life then on the choices they make," Yanamura said. "He would work on them and made sure they were keeping their grades up, going to class, having good attendance, having a good work ethic and made good personal choices. He emphasized with them to have good character."
Richey's legacy may not have been in the X's and O's or game planing, but getting 14- to 18-year-old boys to become accountable to one another.
"You want to have great chemistry and look out for each other on and off the field, and that carries on to the game," said Juneau-Douglas running back Tres Saldivar, an All-State first-team selection.
"What makes us different - we just don't look out for ourselves. We look out for other people. Most teams are out to get their own stats; we want to get the 'W.' That's why this team was so special."
According to JDHS head coach Bill Chalmers, the team did not have one suspension due to academic or disciplinary issues.
The Bears conducted themselves with a business-like manner. The team never got too up or too down following games. The Crimson Bears exhibited an intense focus that they used to fight any sort of situation.
"I don't know if you can overestimate what Reilly's character had on this team," Chalmers said. "He was an exemplary model of goodness. He was just a great human being and demanded goodness from his kids, too. That's something you don't demand. That's something you model and get back."
While the team may have ran through the Alaska portion of its schedule in dominating fashion, the maturity and focus was probably best exhibited during the Crimson Bears' lone loss.
The Crimson Bears had their seven-game win streak snapped on Oct. 1 with a 48-7 loss to Pasco, Wash.
The Bulldogs rushed out to a 41-0 halftime lead. Juneau-Douglas continued to fight, however. Despite the loss, JDHS maintained that level-headed cool it exhibited throughout the season.
"Even towards the end, when they knew they weren't going to win, they got up," Yanamura said. "It kind of makes sense, because in times of adversity our true character comes out. Whether it's a loss in a game or the tragedies of life, you can see what someone is made of."
Following the Pasco loss, Juneau-Douglas went into the playoffs and outscored its three opponents 109-39 en route to the state title.
Richey's influence and legacy didn't just stay in Juneau, however.
After the Oct. 22 state championship victory over Palmer, Alaska's football coaches named the coach of the year award after Richey. The coaches also named Chalmers the first recipient of the newly named award.
"They always worked together really well," Yanamura said of the team. "I think that's something Reilly was good at - getting them to work together well even if they have huge differences."
© 2017. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us