I have been in tears all morning since hearing from his family that Coach Richie Wyman, the best coach I ever played for, has passed on. Few of us worldwide have ever dedicated oneself to one town with such incredible enthusiasm as Coach Wyman.
He is, was and forever shall be a legend in the town of Springfield. I guess you can say that I should know as I am the son of the late great and legendary Coach Bo Birsky of the same town. Both names and families have been intertwined in SHS sports for over 70 years. Both coaches were inducted to the first class of the SHS sports Hall of Fame last year. A town baseball field now bears their name together, Birsky/Wyman Field.
Richie played baseball and basketball for Bo in the 1950’s. I played basketball and baseball for Richie in the 1970’s.
What was it like being a son of a legend and then playing for another legend? Well, Richie made it easy. Richie understood the loud domineering father I had; he played for him.
He understood, that being a coach’s son, I innately had an advanced depth of sports knowledge. He somehow quietly and unassumingly, without fear of judgement, adapted a coaching style that treated me as me. Just Greg Birsky. And you know what? He did that for every athlete that played for him.
The coaching style of the times was to treat everyone the same with no favorites, to be tough on the kids, etc. Instead, Richie treated everyone the way they needed to be treated. He adapted his style to fit the kid’s needs. He had rules and demanded adherence but without intimidation or humiliation. He was a modern coach before it was cool to be a modern coach. I loved him for it.
I was Richie’s point guard for 4 years. Richie, by far, was the most well informed and knowledgeable basketball coach I ever met (sorry Dad). He stayed on top of the latest and greatest coaching plays and techniques. He was a master teacher of the game, painstakingly designing drills and teaching moments that would mimic what you would see in the game.
He took teams with lesser talent at times and made us competitive. He gave us the plan and then let us play. He rarely got off the bench to yell except at the occasional referee “mistake.” It was such a pleasure to play the game the way he taught us with his trust.
Admirably, game time was never about Richie. It was about his team’s performance on the floor. Richie did not need to strut the sidelines and say “look at me.” Instead, he said “look at my team” Today’s coaches would do well to follow his example.
Basketball practices were competitive. He ran our butts off and demanded fitness. We scrimmaged with game-like enthusiasm and effort.
At times, boys being boys, a fight would break out. Richie would jump in the middle to break it up, make a teaching moment of not losing your temper, then clap his hands and say let’s go. That’s it. No making a big scene, just learn and move on — game time-outs same thing.
When we screwed up, he would tell us what we were doing wrong, make adjustments and move on. In looking back, he was setting a fine example for life.
My senior year was a great “almost” year for the Richie-coached teams. In basketball, we made it to the Vermont state finals and lost to a superior team. In baseball, we made it to the state semifinals and lost to an inferior team. On both occasions, we were heartbroken and inconsolable after the games.
Richie would stand off and observe our sadness and after awhile would just sit down next to each of us, put his arm around our shoulders, and surprise, say nothing. He knew as a great athlete himself that no words could console, but he also knew that by just being there for us he could help us through a difficult time.
No Pollyanna inspirational speech — just respect for the warrior that lost and a display of how to move on by example. Another amazing gift from an amazing coach.
Now, 45 years later, I am a healthcare professional trying to live life rooted in the fundamentals of healthy living using meditation, guided imagery and mindfulness.
Looking back, I now realize that Richie had what we all are looking for. He absolutely lived in the moment. He was always present for his players, his family, and people that stopped him in the street. Richie was a friend to all.
My condolences to the extended Wyman family and the extended Cosmos family. We just lost a good one and I encourage all to learn from the example of a life well lived.
To Coach Wyman… you are one of the most influential people ever in my life. Thank you for being you. and oh yeah… please say hi to that other legend for me in heaven when you get there.