Sep. 17—MARIETTA — Ten former players, coaches and contributors, as well as a state championship team, were inducted to the Marietta Athletic Hall of Fame on Friday.
However, for everyone involved, the ceremony became a tribute to the late James "Friday" Richards.
The iconic Marietta figure, who died unexpectedly in June 2018, became the first person to be inducted into the hall of fame as a player — as part of its second class in 2006 — and now as a coach.
Richards joined an illustrious group as part of the 15th induction class along with wrestler Mark Bost, football players Terrance Huey and Travis Zachary, boys basketball players Steven Goolsby and JC Ward, girls basketball player Telia McCall, girls track and field athletes Tissilli Rogers and Kim Tedder, contributor David Hunter and the 1962 boys cross country team.
But the day still belonged to "Friday."
Richards, who was known for his motto "Be somebody," spent nearly all his life at Marietta. He was an all-state running back for the Blue Devils as a senior in 1971, when he rushed for more than 2,000 yards, then went on to play football at Florida and spend two seasons with the NFL's New York Jets and Washington Redskins.
Following his playing career, Richards came back to where it all started.
After serving as an assistant under Ray Broadaway and Dexter Wood, Richards spent 15 years as Marietta's head football coach from 1995-2009. He compiled a record of 107-58, took the Blue Devils to the state playoffs 10 times and won four region titles.
Beyond the football field, Richards also coached Marietta to four state titles in track and field and became one of the premier relay coaches in the country.
In all, he sent more than 100 of his former athletes to college, and more importantly, was a friend, mentor and, for nearly all the inductees, a family member.
Huey, was at a crossroad in life when Richards took him in. Instead of falling into crime, Huey became a star on the football field and the track. He also became the son Richards didn't have.
To this day, Huey refers to Richards as "Dad," as he did again Friday. After losing his father at the age of 6, Huey said he prayed to have a dad. He said Richards was a gift that truly put him on the right path, and Huey said it has been tough since Richards' death.
"I never wanted to play sports. It wasn't for me," said Huey, who played football, basketball and ran track for the Blue Devils, setting the state record in the long jump record as a junior (24 feet, 4 inches), and then again as a senior (24-6). "But I took pride in not letting my dad down. I hated sports, but I loved playing for my dad. As I like to say, 'Thank God for Friday."
Hunter, a 1966 all-state linebacker and honorable mention all-American, has spent 65 years either playing in or attending Marietta sporting events, and he took two turns as president of the school's Touchdown Club.
Hunter said he has loved every minute of his time involved with the Blue Devils' athletic program. All the time and effort he put in as a volunteer was worth it because he loved the coaches and the athletes involved, especially when dealing with Richards.
"How could you ever turn down coach Friday?" Hunter said. "He was the epitome of the good and faithful servant who was put on this Earth."
Rogers, considered one of the most dominant sprinters in Marietta history, had suffered a recent personal loss of her best friend and nearly did not come to Friday's ceremony. However, after thinking it through, she said it was not only what her friend would have wanted her to do, but also what Richards would have wanted her to do.
"Coach Friday was the reason I made it here," Rogers said while fighting back tears. "If a memory was a who from Marietta, it was coach Friday. He would give me the pep talks I needed."
Rogers relayed a story from her senior season, when she false-started and was disqualified from running the state finals in the 100-meter dash. She was on the edge of the track crying because of her mistake, and Richards came and found her.
He was crying, too, but Rogers said the hugs and pep talk on the track helped lift her and brought her back stronger the next day.
"And we blew away the 4x100 relay (field) away," Rogers said.
Accepting for Richards' coaching induction was his daughter, Jaimie, who said it would have meant so much to her father if he could have been present.
"He had so many fond memories as a coach," she said. "They were precious to him."
Jaimie Richards went on to say that if her father would have had a piece advice for today's students, it would have been one that those in attendance Friday were familiar with — God first, then family, school and finally sports.
Plus, one final message for everyone.
"Be somebody when nobody is looking."