Longtime Booker High football and track and field coach impacted hundreds of young men and women during his career

Recently, Booker High School, Sarasota High School, and the city of Sarasota lost a local legend.

Coach Larry Richardson, a 1979 graduate of Sarasota High, and a longtime coach of Booker football and track and field, passed away on June 21.

I was fortunate enough to have coached alongside Coach Larry in track and field for about 10 years at Booker and am proud to have called him a friend.

Coach Larry welcomed me onto the Booker High track and field coaching staff about 15 years ago. I was a fairly new teacher at Booker and had run cross country and track in high school and college. Coming on to the staff I knew a little about distance running, and not a whole lot about anything else.

Coach Larry mentored me and taught me a great deal. I learned that the 400 meters was not a sprint but in fact a very strategic event, that the relay exchange zones in the 4x100-meter relay could be legally manipulated to take advantage of certain runners’ strengths, and that the 100-meter dash, though lasting only 10 to 12 seconds, was a race that must be broken down into very specific phases.

But I learned so much more from Coach Larry. Anyone who has ever met him quickly became aware that they were in the presence of someone very special — a man whose light shined a little brighter, whose passion ran deeper, and who had a charisma that pulled you to him like a magnet. He had an energy and a positive attitude that was infectious.

He was a man of principle. He would not tolerate on the field celebrations such as fist pumping or raising one’s index finger by an athlete after a race or event, but strongly encouraged all of his athletes to enthusiastically support one another.

Coach Larry welcomed high school athletes of all races and backgrounds to join the team. But he also had clear expectations and high standards. He expected commitment and self-discipline, and he would not tolerate quitting — “No one walks on my track”, he’d say.

He was stern but fair. I sometimes saw him get in an athlete’s face, but within minutes he’d inevitably have an arm around the athlete’s shoulder.

Larry’s coaching went far beyond the mechanics of track and field. He taught his athletes about the importance of cross training, nutrition and healthy living. He stressed that his athletes must keep academics as their first priority. And he required that athletes carry themselves with dignity, self-respect, and professionalism at all times.

Coach Larry helped make boys into men, and girls into women. I have no doubt that between football and track and field he impacted literally hundreds of young men and women during his coaching career.

He was a man of strong faith. It was clear that God and faith were cornerstones of his life, and his coaching was an extension of that faith, reflecting a desire and purpose to positively impact the lives of others. He was an inspiring leader, who truly believed his athletes could accomplish anything they put their minds to.

He assembled a coaching staff that over the years included many other outstanding leaders including Billy Ray Phillips, Lorenzo Williams, Brian Ryals and Sheldon Cantrell. What I’ve learned from coaching with these men will stay with me the rest of my life.

Coach Larry was a motivator. His powerful voice and eloquent words inspired athletes to dig deep and to perform at their best. In a time of so much division in our society, Coach Larry was a “uniter.”

He was was a vocal and demonstrative leader and yet, I will always have one memory of Coach Larry that will stand out. That was when Booker High’s 4x100 meter relay team won the state championships years ago in Winter Park, with Sam Shields passing a couple of runners towards the end of the race in a very unexpected victory for the Booker squad.

I’ll never forget looking back at Larry and not hearing a word but instead just seeing him with an ear to ear smile. He didn’t have to say anything. I knew that he was feeling tremendous pride, satisfaction and love.

Coach Larry was all about love; love of his family, love of his athletes, love of God.

The last time I spoke with him was a few weeks ago. I lost my mom in April, and a few weeks after she passed I got a call from Coach Larry. We hadn’t spoken in a while, but he called to support me, to tell me that he was my friend, to have faith, and that God would help me though this challenge.

We reminisced, shared updates about our families, and shared how much our friendship meant to both of us. His voice and his friendship inspired me like they had so often these past 15 years. And then shockingly and abruptly only days later, Coach Larry was gone.

But his inspiration was not lost on me. Coach Larry is not gone as long as those who knew him try each day to live their lives the way he did: with love, passion, commitment and faith.

Coach Larry leaves behind a beautiful wife and daughter as well as other family and countless friends. I’ve seen in his wife and daughter the same passion, positive attitude and faith that I saw in Larry, and it is amazing as well as an affirmation of his impact and his spirit. I truly believe his passing is just the next part of his journey, and that he continues to smile and light up everything and everyone in his presence.

Godspeed, Larry Richardson, an extraordinary man, and the finest coach I’ve ever known.

Addendum

Several days ago, I had the honor of paying tribute in this paper to Coach Larry Richardson, a mentor and friend with whom I coached Booker High School’s track team for a number of years. I’m grateful to the Herald Tribune once again for allowing me to add two final points to the original article.

First, I wanted to be sure to adequately and accurately identify Larry’s family. This includes his wife Alicia Richardson and Larry and Alicia’s daughter Alyse Richardson. Larry also was the father to two other amazing children, Erin Richardson and Corey Richardson.

Larry’s spirit is alive and well in all of his family, each of whom also continue his legacy of commitment, devotion to family, and faith in God.
Finally, I’m thrilled to share that after conversations with Dr. Rachel Shelley, Principal of Booker High School, and with the enthusiastic support of the Administration and Athletic Department there, that we will continue to honor Larry with additional tribute during the upcoming school year, the details of which will be addressed and communicated in the coming weeks and months.

Stephen Crane has been a teacher and coach at Booker High since 2003. He coached alongside Larry Richardson for 10 years.