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Quality Inn - Sudbury
Monday, Jul. 24, 2017
The football legacy of Gary Ricker
2017-02-09
by Randy Pascal

The story below first appeared on SudburySports.com on September 21st, 2010. One week ago today, Gary Ricker passed away at the age of 70, leaving behind a legacy in the sport that few will match.

******************************

There is likely no greater symbol of the respect that Gary Ricker commands within the Sudbury high-school coaching ranks than the trophy which bears his name. The outstanding defensive player will be honoured with this hardware, once again this year, a tribute to a coaching career than now spans six different decades.

Born and raised in the Sudbury region, Ricker was the eldest of five children of the family. Entering high school at 5’3”, 195 pounds, he had no visions of athletic greatness.

“I was too fat to play hockey,” he said with a laugh. “And I skated on my ankles.” But in the fall of 1960, at the venerable Sudbury High School, football was always an option. “I can remember, as a kid, playing touch football in the parks. In Grade 10, I went out for Junior football, not thinking I would ever make it.”

In the true tradition of a sport that seldom seems to limit the size of their roster, at least within the local high school ranks, the Sudbury High Wolves would find a spot for Ricker.

“I played middle guard, which they now call nose tackle,” he explained. “I didn’t think I was doing anything. I was always down in the muck, reaching for ankles. It wasn’t until after the season that my linebackers told me what I was doing.”

“It seems that as I was holding on to the ankle of the running back, the linebackers would nail them,” said Ricker. For the next fourteen years or so, the undersized lineman, now having made the switch over to the position of offensive guard, would suit up with the Wolves, or the Sudbury Spartans, or Laurentian University for a year.

Ricker still recalls countless friendships and highlights, including the 1967 campaign in which the Spartans advanced to the Eastern Canadian Junior Championships before losing to the Chateauguay Ramblers.

By 1969, as he began his teaching career at Sheridan Technical School, Ricker had entered the coaching ranks. “I was interested in coaching, and Terry Kett, who I played with at Laurentian, was the head coach at Sheridan Tech.”

Despite spending the overwhelming majority of his time as a player on the offensive side of the line, Ricker would oversee the defensive unit, with Kett calling plays for the offense.

According to the 64 year old father of two daughters, the transition was not made without some background for the complexities of defending. “It was a luxury, when I played, to have ten linemen – so you had to know enough about the defense to be able to fill-in in a pinch,” said Ricker.

For some 22 years or so, Ricker would work the trenches of a program that would evolve into the Sudbury Secondary North Stars football tradition. While the concept of a formidable gridiron team at the downtown school might seem foreign to anyone under the age of twenty, many elders recall easily the fierce rivalry in the days of the “High – Tech” battles.

“I had Warren Gingell as a coach,” recalled Ricker. “He used to get so angry that he’d be spitting and yelling – in a game, I think he would get more excited than we were.” Like so many who experienced that era, Ricker suggests the pictures that we stumble across in newspapers of the 1950s and 1960s simply do not do justice to the incredible atmosphere at the games.

“The old Queen’s field, with the stands on both sides and the roof covers over the stands...,” said Ricker, his thoughts wandering back. “The games were absolutely chilling.”

As football slowly fell out of the limelight at Sudbury Secondary, Ricker maintained his involvement in the sport, trekking out each and every summer to Queen’s Athletic Field, assisting legendary Spartans’ coach Sid Forster.

In 1992, Ricker was approached by then Spartans’ quarterback Paul Gauthier about the possibility of resuming his passion of coaching high-school football, joining the NFC Hall of Famer in guiding the College Notre-Dame Alouettes.

It’s a friendship and coaching collaboration that is nearing a twenty year anniversary, much to the benefit of hundreds of young French Sudburians who have attended the school at the top of Levis Street.

Drawing on lengthy stretches of time spent at the institutions that are situated less than a kilometer apart, Ricker notes some differences. “With the French Canadian kids, there are typically very few big players. We always seem to be searching for linemen,” he said.

“At Sudbury High School, we always seemed to have big, strong kids – the Italians, Ukrainians, Polish and Serbian lads – boy, were they tough.” And of course, remaining part of any sport for more than forty years inevitably means that one will experience the changes in the way the game is played.

“Things are more spread out in the style of football now. Everything was tight when I played – we were two inches apart on the line, so it’s a completely different game in that sense,” said Ricker.

“It puts more pressure on defensive backs these days, because there is more passing. Back then, on second down, you might throw and quarterbacks were tossing shot puts instead of throwing passes.”

Yet through it all, Gary Ricker maintains the fun of the game really hasn’t changed all that much for the teenagers who partake each and every fall. It’s part of the allure that keeps him coming back.

“I can’t believe that I’ve done it (coaching for this long – since 1964).” Thousands are pleased that he has.

Northern Ontario AAA Hockey League
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