Coach Taught Athletes to Enjoy Sports

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

May 16, 2018


There are to be no ties worn Saturday at the memorial service for George Richardson. He didn't like funerals, so Algonac Muskrats and Michigan State Spartans gear is encouraged.


And while some sadness is inevitable, people should be having fun telling stories of the longtime Algonac coach, who made it his mission to make sure all his athletes – whether in middle school or high school, in cross country, track, basketball or football – enjoyed themselves while under his tutelage.


“He enjoyed life, and he lived it to the fullest,” said Algonac cross country and girls track & field coach Dan Shafer, a longtime friend of Richardson’s. “George would want it to be a happy time, not a sad time. We won’t ever really be able to measure the impact he had, just because it’s so vast and over so many decades. He had a great impact on our community. To say that Algonac will miss him, that’s an understatement.”


Richardson, who was battling cancer, died on April 26. He was 76 years old and is survived by his wife of 50 years, Diane, his two children, Anthony and Lynn, his mother Martha, and his sister, Mother Maria of Jesus. The memorial service will be from 7-9 p.m. at Algonac High School, and the family has asked any expressions of sympathy take form of contributions to the Algonac athletic department.


It’s fitting that even in death Richardson is giving to Algonac athletics, as he gave more than any amount of money could cover during his life.


Richardson, a Detroit native, graduated from Michigan State University in 1963 and spent his first two years out of college teaching in Battle Creek. In 1964, he took a job as a physical education teacher at Algonquin Middle School in Algonac, and he remained in that position until retiring in 1999. He also began coaching in 1964, and his final season as a coach was the spring of 2017 when he coached the middle school boys track & field team at Algonquin.


His coaching duties included football, basketball, cross country and track at various levels. 


“He was a guy, and I’ve heard several people say this, he never had a bad thing to say about any kid he taught or coached,” said Shafer, who began coaching at Algonac in 1977. “He loved kids and loved working with kids, and the kids loved him back.”


One of the main reasons the athletes loved Richardson was his way of making practices fun while still preparing them to succeed in their sport.


“He’s very motivating, but he makes sure not to push the young kids too far,” said 2016 Algonac graduate Morgan Beadlescomb, a four-time MHSAA Finals champion in cross country and track. “He really focuses on teaching his athletes to enjoy running rather than being serious competitors at 11 years old, making sure they don’t burn out. He was very, very good at making all of us enjoy running. All the cross country kids loved running. We’d end practice sometimes and play two-hand touch football. We were doing little things you wouldn’t expect, and we all enjoyed it and didn’t really know we were working out.”


His approach helped feed athletes into the high school programs who were ready and excited to compete.


“We had a lot of success in track and cross country, and that’s something he should get a lot of credit for,” Shafer said. “He got them enthused about the sport, but didn’t run them to death to the point they were hating it. He really pushed that enthusiasm for the sport. Winning is great, but improving and having fun, that’s the key. Those kids would come out because they liked cross country in middle school, and because they liked track in middle school. He knew his stuff, too. He could coach all the events.”


Without Richardson, Algonac’s middle school cross country program may not have continued to exist. Shafer said that when the funding for the coaching position was cut in the 1990s, Richardson continued doing it for free to keep the program alive.


“He was a very giving person,” Shafer said. “I haven’t heard anybody say a negative word about him.”


Beadlescomb, who won the MHSAA Division 2 cross country titles in 2014 and 2015, and the MHSAA Division 2 1,600 meter titles in 2015 and 2016, now runs at Michigan State. Shafer said Richardson was always very proud of Beadlescomb, and that he had alerted him to the future star when Beadlescomb was just a sixth grader.


“George called me the first day of middle school practice; he said right from the get go, ‘I think he said he’s going to be your best runner ever,’” Shafer said.


Richardson and Beadlescomb have kept in touch, and Beadlescomb said they last talked a little more than a month ago.


“He stayed in touch, even when I was in college, and that was also something special,” Beadlescomb said. “He was always very supportive. I feel like he had some influence on everybody. He was their coach in one way or another.”


Even when he wasn’t coaching, Richardson was a constant presence at Algonac athletic events, whether it be standing along the fence during football games or volunteering his time at a track or cross country meet. 


He was always there for Algonac, and while Shafer said he doesn’t know how many people will show up for the memorial service, he expects it will be a special night.


One person who will be there is Beadlescomb, who said he wouldn’t miss it despite being in the most crucial part of his track season at MSU.


“He’s the reason that I’m at Michigan State,” Beadlescomb said. “He’s the reason that I’m running competitively, essentially. I owe it all to him. He’s the reason that I’m able to run and still like to run. It’s important to me. I definitely need to be there.”

Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTO: Coach George Richardson, far right and back row, takes a photo with his 2016 Algonquin Middle School boys track & field team. (Photo courtesy of the Algonac athletic department.)

Red Devils Impress as Ironwood Honors Record-Setter with Jim LaBlonde Invitational

By John Vrancic
Special for

May 20, 2024

IRONWOOD — The Ironwood track & field teams provided themselves with an opportunity to do a victory lap on a very special Saturday earlier this month.

Upper PeninsulaBoth teams were crowned champions at the first Jim LaBlonde Invitational on May 11 on their 350-meter track during a sunny and mild afternoon.

The Ironwood girls scored 126 points, followed by Hurley, Wis., with 43, Ontonagon 37 and Watersmeet with 13. Ironwood’s boys collected 100 points, followed by Hurley at 84, Ontonagon 32 and Watersmeet with seven in a meet held in honor of the former Luther L. Wright High School star athlete who passed away due to an aneurysm on March 31, 2019.

LaBlonde, who was recently inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame, was an all-Upper Peninsula football player and still holds school records in the 100 and 200-meter dashes from his senior year in 1997.

“This is very special to me personally,” Ironwood coach Cecilia Aho said. “Jim was a great person and athlete. I came to Ironwood from Argentina in December 2003 and know the family very well. I had some good conversations with Jim before he passed. This is a great tribute to him. It turned out to be a beautiful day. We had perfect weather and the kids from all four schools were smiling and having fun.

“Jim was well known in the community, not only as a coach, but as a parent. He was a phenomenal runner and football player.”

LaBlonde played football for three years at Wisconsin-LaCrosse and was on the school’s track team for a year while earning his bachelor’s degree in physical education in 2003.

He was a middle school teacher and coach in the Howard-Suamico District near Green Bay, Wis., at the time of his passing.

“He always asked about what was going on in Ironwood and was a good leader,” Aho said. “He would never turn his back on you when you asked him a question. The kids loved him. I wish I would have had a chance to work with him.”

The Ironwood teams take a photo together, at top, after sweeping the meets. Below, from left, LaBlonde’s brother-in-law Dave Lundin, sister Dena Lundin and parents Marlene and Jim LaBlonde attend the meet. Senior Aubrey Smith topped a field of four Ironwood runners in the 1600-meter run in 5 minutes, 55.69 seconds, followed by freshman Iyla Lagalo (6:54.08) and sophomore Aubrey Balduc (7:21.16).

Smith also won the 300 hurdles at 52.43, more than six seconds ahead of the rest of the field.

“It was nice to have everyone here,” Smith said. “It’s nice to have a home meet, especially on a Saturday. I think it’s a fun meet. It’s nice to know everyone here. I think this gives me a little momentum going into our remaining meets.”

Sophomore Emma Wardon was also a double winner for the Red Devils, taking shot put (32-11) and discus (87-0).

Ironwood sophomore Logan Holm took the 110 hurdles (20.17) and 300s (48.05), and Hurley had a triple-winner in junior Jeremiah Wallis, who captured the 100 (12.0), 200 (24.52) and long jump (17-3).

Watersmeet junior Thomas Carson won the 400 (54.06), five days after setting the school record (52.31) while placing second in the Welker Invitational at Ashland, Wis. (52.31).

“I strained my hamstring in Ashland,” he said. “It was a little windy up by the big lake (Superior) and there were a lot of good runners up there. I’m probably about 80-90 (percent), but everything went okay. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t overdo it. This is a nice little meet, especially for a Saturday.”

Ontonagon sophomore Violet Amos took the 200 (28.26) and 400 (1:02.03) and was runner-up to Hurley senior Jaana Aukee on a lean (13.65) in the 100.

“I’ve been in the 27s in the 200, but I’m very happy with my time in the 400” Amos said. “This being a little smaller track was probably a factor because the curves are a little tighter. I prefer to run a 400-meter track, although I like the running surface and competition.

“It’s always fun to come here. Our track is getting resurfaced. I’m looking forward to running on it the next couple years.”

Ontonagon coach Brian Amos said he also enjoys going to Ironwood.

“Ironwood runs a nice meet, and we get a chance to see Hurley,” he added. “It’s always nice to run against somebody different.”

John VrancicJohn Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTOS (Top) Ribbons and medals are set out to be awarded during the first Jim LaBlonde Invitational at Ironwood. (Middle) The Ironwood teams take a photo together, at top, after sweeping the meets. Below, from left, LaBlonde’s brother-in-law Dave Lundin, sister Dena Lundin and parents Marlene and Jim LaBlonde attend the meet. (Photos provided by the Ironwood Red Devil Booster Club.)