What was it like experiencing high school with a larger-than-life athletic director? For years after graduating, I thought of him and wished I had offered my gratitude for his impact on my life. During one of my visits back to Rhode Island, I was beyond blessed to cross his path in a store. It provided me the chance to let him know his influence on me as a student, an athlete and a person. I shared how his confidence in me still had an impact all the many years later. I remember so clearly his surprise and genuine appreciation. It was a great moment for me, perhaps for both of us.

Fast forward several decades to our local South County area and the story of Dick Fossa. He had a resume as impressive as his physical stature. Having played Division I football, he went on to attend the University of Notre Dame, umpire baseball at the professional level, get a master’s degree from Ohio University, and then work with at-risk students as he coached and then served as athletic director. But his achievements, while awesome, only touch the surface of the individual.

His more important influence is recited by all those who knew him. To have earned the respect of the most influential and respected coaches and administrators, with all that is required of a man in his position, is a difficult feat. It demands a consistency of process, a commitment of time and energy, and a focus on the ultimate goal, in this case the development of our children. This was Dick Fossa through and through.

Then, to capture the admiration of these same young people is staggering. It is not easy to do, particularly in these days. But he commanded respect in all that he did. And he did it with humility. He was a man who worked toward doing what was right over and over again, the type of person whose passing stops us in our tracks.

The South County region and the state as a whole is deeply saddened by the passing of North Kingstown High School athletic director Dick Fossa. His impact on the region, with his involvement at both Narragansett High School and with the Skippers of North Kingstown, along with organizations across the state, spans decades and so many athletes, coaches, parents, administrators, friends, and observers.

When coaching one athlete, you have an opportunity to change a life. To have coached football, with so many young minds under his leadership, over so many years, he no doubt changed the world. The Dick Fossas of the world are few. Their contribution is ever reaching and never forgotten.

In thinking and reading about Dick, it reminded me of my athletic director and caused me to consider it was only a matter of blind fortune that led me to thanking him. Hopefully, many had the chance to thank Dick over the years for his vast contribution. No doubt, he felt it through all the interactions.

Beyond the obvious sadness, there is the thought of others like him, those who give of their time and energy day after day, year after year. It brings to mind all those who similarly give with no expectation of accolades. It seems to be a seldom found art. So, when we see it, we need recognize it and appreciate it all the more.

Perhaps, as we consider all Dick Fossa did for the entire South County community, we take the action of passing it forward. Now might be a good time, in Dick’s honor, to reach out to those who coached us or maybe those who impacted our children. We take it for granted those leading our community collect plenty of accolades. But it is most often the criticism they receive. Maybe human nature? Not sure. But it is reality.

Make a call. Send an email. Drop a text. Mail a letter. When the times allow, just show up. But, choose to do it. In Dick’s honor, reach out to those who gave to no end so that you could grow as a person. Let them know how much they matter and the degree to which they impacted you.

The saying is that its not what they said that you remember but how they made you feel. You know who changed your life. You can still remember the feeling being in their company. Reach out and let them know.

When someone we admire passes, the greatest tribute we can pay is to carry on their traits. It’s what makes our world a better place, the continuation of those who impacted us.

While not knowing where to start in mirroring all that was Dick Fossa, perhaps just the gesture of reaching out would be a start. That would be a small step in recognizing the legacy of a remarkable man.

Bill Barry is a North Kingstown resident. He writes about the local sports scene, sports parenting and more in a regular column.

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