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WELCOME TO DICK LARSON STADIUM: Damien Names Stadium After Beloved Coach

October 24, 2010
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The grand new entrance to Dick Larson Stadium, home of the Damien Spartans.

The grand new entrance to Dick Larson Stadium, home of the Damien Spartans.

The naming on Oct. 23, 2010 of the Damien High School football stadium after its legendary coach Dick Larson, who roamed the sidelines and brought two CIF championships to the school during his 23-year tenure, was part roast and part eulogy for the beloved coach, now 77.

From the man who hired him, Father Martin O’ Laughlin, to today’s current crop of Damien football players, the memories and remembrances were powerful and poignant for the man who racked up 174 victories at Damien and saw 80 of his players compete at Division I schools and 15 graduate to play professional football.

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Before the field dedication, there was a mass held in his honor. “There’s a crown of glory waiting for him because he used the gifts that were so precious and important to him and he used them to the best of his ability,” said Father Pat Travers, who added that he knew Larson was something special during their first meeting when he saw the coach carrying a brief case. “I thought, ‘Who’s this classy guy?’”

Tom Carroll and Dick Larson share a few words after mass. Both have stadiums named after them, so they are indeed in rare company.

Tom Carroll and Dick Larson share a few words after mass. Both have stadiums named after them, so they are indeed in rare company.

Once on the field for the dedication, the accolades kept pouring in from family members, players, current coaches, former assistants, alumni and friends.

Joe Prior, a defensive coordinator on Damien’s championship teams, said Larson had a particular genius for calling the screen pass at just the right time. “Every coach has the screen play in his repertoire,” Prior said, “but nobody I knew had the uncanny and unique football intuition that coach had to call it at the most vulnerable time against the opponent.”

Prior added that Larson’s gadget plays also did well.

“What was really peculiar, what was really unique about our so-called trick plays was their high rate of success,” Prior said. “In fact, the only thing we had to worry about was a misinterpretation by the officials and their calling the play back.”

“He instilled conviction and confidence in his players.”

Larson holds his very own special key to the stadium named in his honor.

Larson holds his very own special key to the stadium named in his honor.

One of those players was Steven Bast, today a successful orthopedic surgeon, but back in 1982 the Spartans quarterback had his head down, thinking that he and his teammates were about to get chewed out for trailing Bell Gardens 27-7 at the half of their CIF quarterfinals game.

“He walked into the locker room, and said, ‘Guys, in case you didn’t know, it’s halftime,’ and then he walked out,” Bast recalled. “That was it. His character, and his leadership and his ability to motivate players were intense.”

Damien went on to win that game and the CIF championship.  “The entire alumni was rocking the bus,” Bast said.

Dan Marconi, who quarterbacked Damien’s 1977 CIF champions, said Larson struck a balance between coaches Grantland Rice (“For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes — not that you won or lost — but how you played the Game”) and Vince Lombardy (“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”). “He taught us that both of those things are true,” Marconi said.

It was a red, white and blue kind of day for Larson and the Damien faithful.

It was a red, white and blue kind of day for Larson and the Damien faithful.

Upon entering the new Dick Larson Stadium, fans are greeted by a sign that reads, “Faith, Family, Football.” For Larson, family meant respect for your school, respect for your team and respect for your fellow players, both your teammates and those who lined up against you.

“Those three things were signified by the helmet you wore,” Larson said. “There were three stripes on it, and those three things were very important. I think if you carry those three things on into later life, you will become pretty successful.”

Those values were ingrained in his son Scott, 48, who played for his father and was called on to speak. “You can’t be a champion unless you have all three ingredients; don’t fool yourself,” Scott said, directing his comments to the current Damien players sitting in the stands.

Father O’ Laughlin reflected on his hiring Larson who had coached at Cantwell Sacred Heart before joining Damien. “I hired Dick and I hired Tom (Carroll, longtime Damien athletic director), and they were two of the luckiest strokes of my principalship,” he said. “Dick didn’t just coach football players. He touched young men’s lives at crucial points in their development, and because of touching them positively, influenced them for the rest of their lives.”

O’Laughlin further commented on how Larson’s parents were at every one of his games, whether he was playing as a boy or leading Damien years later as a coach. “What a remarkable testament,” O’Laughlin mused.

There's no mistaking what Damien stands for.

There's no mistaking what Damien stands for.

After Larson was handed a plaque and a key to the gates opening the beautiful stadium named in his honor, and after he threw a very short pass to Bast (a 2-yard completion), Larson was handed the microphone.

“You don’t anticipate something like this,” he said. “Certainly, I don’t think any coach gets into this business to gain trophies or plaques, or have something as wonderful as that gate entrance, but when it does happen, you have to look around and realize that it was the help of many, many people that made this event take place.”

Then the old coach, who still looks as if he should still be prowling the sidelines, looked up and directed his final remarks to Damien’s current players.

“Adversity is something you overcome,” he said. “You just take your mind, and say, ‘I’m going to set it on a goal,’ and you go after it. Last week is last week. You can think all about last week if you want. Don’t!

“Think about what’s coming up, and you’ll be fine.”

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Damien always puts a great team on the field and in the classroom. To put a great real estate team behind you, call Colleen Bennett of Keller Williams, La Verne at (909) 374-4744.

 

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