When Captain Shreve head football coach Richard Lary died of an apparent heart attack at the age of 49 on April 25, it hit the Shreve and Caddo Parish communities hard.
Lary spent his entire 27-year coaching career in Caddo Parish, the last six at Captain Shreve.
Last Wednesday, Calvary Baptist Church was standing-room only for Lary’s funeral. The lower part was a sea of green as Shreve players wore their jerseys to honor him.
But the impact of Lary’s death was felt far beyond Shreve and Caddo.
Airline baseball coach Toby Todd was a close friend of Lary’s. The two coached together at Woodlawn from 1988-94.
Todd was with Lary when he suffered the heart attack at a baseball game at Shreve between the Gators and Southwood.
“Richard is easy to talk about because he was a special guy,” Todd said. “He was a huge competitor but he was also a compassionate man and that was the thing that made him what he was, that made him so special to so many people.”
In his long career at Woodlawn, Huntington, Byrd and Shreve, Lary coached and taught hundreds of students. He could recall the names of just about every one, Todd said.
“Richard remembered people, because he cared about them,” he said last Sunday. “I know in the last week I’ve seen probably a dozen kids that I hadn’t seen — I call them kids, they’re adults now — people that we coached in late ’80s and early ’90s. Richard is always the one that remembered their names.
“I can’t tell you how many times I called Richard and said, ‘Hey, what about so and so?’ and he’d say, ‘Oh, yeah’ and name them off. He was that kind of guy. He was special because of that. He built relationships with everyone.
“His sister-in-law said it during the eulogy — he was someone to everyone and that sums it up so well.”
Lary started his career coaching softball and football at Woodlawn in 1988. He went on to coach both sports at Huntington and Byrd before becoming Shreve’s head coach in 2009. He took softball teams at Huntington and Byrd to the state tournament.
“Richard was proud to be a coach, and it shows just because of the success he had in what everybody would consider his second sport — softball,” Todd said.
Lary always wanted to be a head football coach. Todd said that at one point in Lary’s career he was worried that he would be seen as a softball coach that also happened to coach football, and he might not get the chance.
“I said, ‘Richard, nobody is ever going to worry about that. What people are going to see is someone that takes the sport he’s given or put in charge of and makes it a success. It’s not that you win games but that you built a program. You built the facilities, you fundraise. And because you do those things whenever the chance does come for you to get a football job, that’s going to be a plus. That’s how he coached. He took ownership of it whether it was softball or girls basketball at Woodlawn he had for a couple of years.”
Lary, of course, was also a member of the fraternity of head football coaches in District 1-5A that includes Airline’s Bo Meeks, Parkway’s David Feaster and Haughton’s Rodney Guin.
Guin suffered a near-fatal heart attack a year to the day before Lary suffered the one that took his life. April 25 marked a milestone in Guin’s recovery, but he prefers to keep the focus on Lary and his family.
This week Guin is doing something he was unable to do last year — taking the Bucs through spring practice.
“He was a great competitor,” Guin said of Lary. “He did the best with the talent he had there. One thing I liked about him was that he was super honest. Whatever it was he would just shoot you straight about it.”
On a personal note, I first came to know Richard Lary when he was the head softball coach at Woodlawn in 1988 and I was just starting out covering high schools at The Times.
My memories of that time are hazy. But I do remember that Lary was eager to help me do my job and made sure his players received recognition when they deserved it.
Our paths crossed and diverged as he moved to other schools and my responsibilities at work changed.
When he became the head coach at my alma mater Captain Shreve, a place where my late mother was a longtime teacher and my father a longtime coach and teacher, I was thrilled.
About four years ago, when I first started working at the BPT, I ran into him in New Orleans after a night of state championship games at the Superdome. I hadn’t seen him for awhile, but he looked like the same young coach I first came to know at Woodlawn.
We had a long conversation about the challenges of being a head coach at Shreve. He was an easy person to talk to.
Lary leaves behind his wife, Becky, and daughters Ally, 15, and Camryn, 11.
Last week, Ally made cheerleader at Captain Shreve for the 2015-16 school year.
“He would’ve been beaming over that,” Todd said.
Lary would’ve turned 50 on Thursday. Todd said he and Fair Park head coach Mike Greene, a former Airline head coach, and some others are taking the Lary family out to dinner.
No doubt it will a celebration of a special man who will be missed by many.
Russell Hedges is Sports Editor of the Bossier Press-Tribune. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org