Germany Law Firm - Mississippi Scoreboard

By Billy Watkins

       He wasn’t the biggest or the fastest. If you were choosing sides and knew nothing about him, he wouldn’t have been the first pick.

       Which makes Rich Richardson’s story all the more astounding.

       He was a good athlete. Really good. He was strong and as tough as they come, had a steel-bending will to win, rare instincts that can’t be coached, and parents — Don and Marie — who encouraged him and believed in him. Don had also been a high school coach and engrained the fundamentals in him. His sisters, Angela and Jessica, were his most vocal fans.

       The sum of the parts added up to greatness, which shined its brightest at the most crucial moments of the most important games.

       Rich arrived at Madison-Ridgeland Academy in the sixth grade when his dad was named Headmaster. I knew what the school was getting. I had been one of Rich’s coaches — along with his dad and my brother, W.G. — in football, basketball and baseball for two years.

       It’s a little thing but I’ll never forget it. In fourth grade, he was inbounding the ball during a basketball game. When he tossed it in, a defender swatted the ball back at Rich. Instead of  catching or deflecting it, like most players would’ve done, Rich quickly dodged it. He knew it would’ve been a turnover had he touched it.

       I looked at my brother.“How many 9-year-old kids know to do that?” I asked.

       He chuckled and answered …  “Rich.”

       During baseball season one year, Rich — a pitcher and catcher — asked W.G.: “Can we practice getting run over at home plate?”


       Rich was inducted into the MRA Hall of Fame this past weekend along with former basketball stars Dawn Chism Jayroe (Delta State) and Brent Roberts (Air Force). 

       Rich’s first year at MRA, Don asked me to coach 6th grade football. The year before, as 5th graders, MRA did not win a game. That class had good athletes, good kids. They just needed someone to say “follow me.” That someone was Rich.

       With Rich playing quarterback and middle linebacker, the 6th grade team went undefeated.      From then on, that class was on a mission.

       Fast forward six years to 1992, Rich’s senior season. Prep and JA had long dominated the private school league. But Rich’s group, coached by the legendary Jack Carlisle — who also is a member of the MRA Hall of Fame and several others — had improved every year.

       After beating Prep 28-14 in the final regular-season game, MRA faced them again two weeks later with the state championship on the line. Rich spoke at the pep rally that morning. He said: “Two weeks ago, we gave Prep a wakeup call. Tonight, we’re gonna put ’em to sleep.”

       On Prep’s home field, Rich ran 21 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to seal a 21-7 victory and the school’s first football state championship. The Patriots finished 12-0. Rich accounted for 30 touchdowns that season and intercepted six passes as the starting safety.

       Three months after that, MRA won its first Overall boys basketball title, defeating Prep 64-60. Rich led the team in the championship game with 22 points, sinking 12 free throws in the final minutes.

       Standing 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, Rich was a standout in baseball as well, finishing fifth in the state his senior season in home runs and third in doubles. The Patriots won the baseball state championship, accomplishing the rare trifecta — state titles in football, basketball and baseball in the same school year.

       In all three sports, Rich was named All-State by The Clarion-Ledger and selected to play in the Miss. Private School All-Star games. He also earned the Don Souder Award as Mississippi’s best private school athlete.

       But Rich was so much more than an athlete. He played the piano. He was an A student and earned a full academic scholarship to Ole Miss. Army, Navy, Air Force and several Ivy League schools recruited him to play football.

       He chose to attend Ole Miss.


       Rich died of natural causes on June 1, 2021 at the age of 47. Don and I talked many times over the following days and weeks, either by phone or messenger.

       Don called me one night in September. He said a letter came in the mail from Coach Carlisle.

       “But how in the world … ?“ I asked.  

       “I know,” Don said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

       Coach Carlisle had died at home in New Albany in July, 56 days after Rich, at the age of 91. The letter was postmarked only a couple of days before Coach passed.

       “Apparently, it got lost in the mail and showed up today,” Don said.

       Fittingly, it arrived on a Friday during football season.

       Don read it to me, often having to pause and compose himself.

       Coach Carlisle wrote that he had tried many times to find the right words to express how devastated he was over Rich’s death. “I’m determined to finish the letter this time,” he said.

       Coach told Don there was something he wanted him to know. In 61 years of coaching, he had been blessed to work with dozens of outstanding athletes, some of the best Mississippi ever produced.

       “But every coach has that one player, a generational player, who stands out above all the rest,’ Coach wrote. “Rich was mine.”

       Don was weeping as he finished reading it. He was overwhelmed by Coach’s words and the fact that he made time to write them as he was dying.

       Sadly, Don was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two months later and died at age 79 on Nov. 29. While Don wasn’t there for Rich’s Hall of Fame induction, he knew it was going to happen.

       Thank God he knew.