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Frank LaRiviere was never married and had no children — but if you’d asked him, he would have said he felt like he had hundreds of sons.
LaRiviere worked an early-morning job delivering mail so he could coach sixth through eighth grade basketball, baseball and soccer in the afternoons at Seattle’s Blessed Sacrament school. He started coaching the school’s teams in the Catholic Youth Organization in 1943 and stayed until the school closed in 1986.
LaRiviere loved photography, classical music, fishing and canning fruit and pickles. But those who played for him say what he loved most was coaching and helping develop young boys into young men. LaRiviere died Aug. 14 at age 93 from complications of COVID-19, but the life lessons he taught live on.
“I had my dad for 19 years; I had Frank in my life for 64 years,” said Jim Jordan, who played for LaRiviere in the late 1950s, and is one of many who stayed close with their old coach until his death. “Not only was he my grade-school coach, but he got me involved in classical music, got me involved in photography, and we talked sports. He was one of the four men in my life who made me who I am. He was a great mentor.”
LaRiviere would often take groups of kids he coached camping and fishing.
“I calculated: he coached over 700 kids,” Jordan said. “And it was all volunteer. That’s what he called his family. He said, ‘I didn’t have to get married and have kids. I had all of you.’ ”
LaRiviere kept his coaching simple and put a heavy emphasis on fundamentals. He treated everyone the same, even if they were star athletes like Jim Miller, who played basketball at Seattle U, or Tom Gorman, the greatest tennis player in the history of the state.
“I can never remember a negative word,” said Miller, who went on to help lead Bishop Blanchet High School to the state basketball title in 1963 before playing at Seattle University. “It was always positive reinforcement. If you didn’t do something right, it was, ‘How do you improve that?’ ”
Leo Penne, who played for LaRiviere in the 1950s, remembers a day when he cost his team the game by missing several free throws.
“I am now very old, but it’s something I still remember,” said Penne, 79. “I remember missing the free throws, and it could have been a much more horrible experience if my coach had criticized me for what he very well could have criticized me for. But he did not. He was supportive, but did suggest at practice the next week that I might want to think about shooting my free throws differently. … He was never negative.”
LaRiviere grew up in Seattle’s University District and lived in the same house — once his parents’ — for 75 years.
“His house was always open to the family for the last 40 years,” said nephew Jim LaRiviere, who was at Frank’s side when he died.
“We went fishing with Frank, we toured dams, he was coming over to visit us when we lived in the Tri-Cities and he was always taking pictures,” Jim LaRiviere said. “He was really active and involved in the family, with all of his nephews and nieces. We all had so much love for Frank, and it was so sad to see him go, because he was the center of it all.”
Jordan has scrapbooks full of pictures of himself playing sports at Blessed Sacrament. LaRiviere liked to gift his players photographs of them playing.
LaRiviere was ahead of his time as he started videotaping practices in the 1950s and then would review the tapes with his players.
“We were certainly the first grade-school team in the country that was using video from its practices,” Penne said.
Gorman was a talented all-around athlete and was a starting guard on the 1960 Blessed Sacrament basketball team that went 25-0 and won regional and state CYO titles.
“He had an impact on everybody,” said Gorman, who later reached the semifinals at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the French Open and became the longest-serving U.S. Davis Cup captain in team history. “Later on, you understand the life lessons that he was teaching you, but at the time you didn’t know they were life lessons. He commanded respect — not a strict disciplinarian, but there was always a feeling that you were going to do things right and you were accountable for giving your best.”
Gorman said the undefeated basketball team ran only a couple of plays, but ran them to perfection.
“Most of the time, they ended with layups,” said Gorman, who also played baseball and soccer for LaRiviere. “I remember practicing layups all the time because we ended up having so many from the plays that Frank put in.”
Penne, who settled in Maryland, visited Seattle a couple of years ago and met up with his old coach.
“I hadn’t seen him in many years,” Penne said. “After talking to him, I went away thinking, ‘Someone’s got to write this down.’ He was over 90 and his mind was in better shape than mine. He could still remember all of his players and he could still tell stories about them.”
Penne spent the next couple of years researching his old coach and talking to other former players before finally finishing his story. It included how, in 1966, the Blessed Sacrament parishioners raised enough money to send LaRiviere to the men’s soccer World Cup in London as a thank-you for all of his work.
Jordan is grateful to have known LaRiviere for decades.
In the past few years, when LaRiviere was no longer driving, Jordan would pick him up and they would have lunch at Dick’s Drive-In after a shopping trip to Goodwill.
“He would look for canning jars, baseball bats, cameras and books,” said Jordan, who started canning fruit himself after learning from Frank. “He was such a wonderful person.”
LaRiviere, who had diabetes, died less than two weeks after getting COVID-19. A year ago, he had moved from his home into an assisted-living facility in Seattle.
“He never complained once,” Jim LaRiviere said. “It’s really sad he’s no longer with us.”