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Notebook / Ray Ripton : A Coach Who 'Encouraged Us to Be Good Men'

August 14, 1986|Ray Ripton

Players and students of Dick North, the Palisades High School coach and history teacher who was buried last week, probably never thought of him as Mr. Chips. More like Mr. Hardwood.

North, who was 55 and got out of coaching a few years ago because of poor health, was a disciplinarian, an ex-Marine who expected as much from his football and baseball players--and from his students--as he did from himself.

He remained as a teacher at the school until his death Aug. 1, apparently from a recurrence of circulatory problems.

North and Merritt Stanfield became co-head coaches of the first football team at Palisades in 1961, and they led the Dolphins to 17 winning seasons and nine league championships. They were named Westside coaches of the year by The Times in 1972 and 1974.

Their teams may not have been fancy, but they were prepared. While opponents may have known what was coming, the Palisades offense, coached by North, was so well drilled that it usually couldn't be stopped.

In the 1970s, North had a running back named Ricky Maddox, who was short and stubby and not very fast. But Maddox was tough and North called his number often. Maddox would lower his head and bang into tacklers, dragging them along while he made extra yardage.

North led his life in much the same way.

He didn't alibi when Banning High and Freeman McNeil, later a star UCLA and New York Jets runner, came from behind to defeat Palisades in the semifinals of the 1975 Los Angeles City playoffs. He lowered his head and thought about getting ready for next year.

In 1982, North's last baseball team was the first from Palisades to reach a City championship game--and the first to have a no-hitter thrown against them in the playoffs. The pitcher was Bret Saberhagen, then with Cleveland High School, who led the Kansas City Royals to a World Series title and was the Cy Young Award winner last year.

After Saberhagen had no-hit his team, North had no excuses. He simply said, "We did everything wrong, and they did everything right. They've got a helluva pitcher."

North seldom had athletes who were in the "helluva" category, the can't-miss types like McNeill or Saberhagen. But he usually got the most out of the players he had.

One of his former football players, Ric Kinnan, a pallbearer at North's funeral, is a good example of the sort of player North liked to turn out.

Kinnan said he was "not a great student of the game" at Palisades, that, instead, he did "a lot of surfing."

In the 1975 season, Kinnan was a sophomore reserve running back who didn't see a lot of playing time. "After that year Dick and I talked. He saw me catch a few passes out of the backfield and thought that maybe I could catch the ball. That summer I tried out as a wide receiver in the passing league, and it worked out real well."

In his junior year, Kinnan said he did all right as a receiver in the team's first few games but dropped a few passes. He said that after the last pre-league game, North took him aside, looked sternly at him and told him, "There are no two ways about it. You've gotta start catching the ball and you have to start this week."

In the next game, he said, he caught five passes, including two for touchdowns, and led Palisades to victory. He also played quarterback and defensive back in his career, and in his senior year he was a Times All-Westside wide receiver.

Kinnan said he played for a year at Santa Monica College and then received a scholarship to Ohio Wesleyan University, where he became a star pass catcher and an Academic All-American.

He graduated from Loyola Marymount University Law School in 1985, joined a Los Angeles law firm this year and argued his first case recently. He won.

Kinnan said he remembers that North "was all business on the field and never had much time to shoot the breeze. I remember respecting that." But after he graduated and came back to see North on occasion, Kinnan said his ex-coach "was always interested in what I was doing, in following my career on and off the field.

"I thought he was a great man. He encouraged us to be good football players, but at the same time he really encouraged us to be good men. Because of the discipline and values he instilled in me, to be organized and be the best that you can be, I worked hard to make things right for his team and my team."

Gentleman was the word most often on the lips of the colleagues who knew North best.

Stanfield, who retired from Palisades after the 1984 season, said, "We all know how tough he was. But I remember him most as one of the finest gentleman I've ever known."

Tom Chatham, the Palisades athletic director for 12 years and now a career counselor at the school, echoed Stanfield's remarks, "He was a true gentleman . . . and one of the finest coaches I've ever worked with."

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