The local sports community suffered a sudden tragedy over the weekend, with the unexpected passing of North Kingstown athletic director Richard ‘Dick’ Fossa. Tributes quickly poured out in support of a man who dedicated his entire adult life to youth athletics.
Fossa, who died of heart complications on Saturday morning at the age of 61, had previously served as the football coach at Narragansett High School, before becoming the athletic director for the Mariners in 2014.
Fossa’s 15-year tenure as head coach of the Mariner football team helped one of the state’s smallest schools stay relevant in a sport where roster size often determines the outcome of games. He was the Providence Gridiron Coach of the Year on four different occasions, and his teams won the 1999 and 2003 Division IV Super Bowls.
The success on the gridiron earned Fossa all sorts of accolades: he’s in the Providence Gridiron Hall of Fame, the North Providence Sports Hall of Fame, the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame and the RI Football Coaches Hall of Fame.
It was about more than just wins and losses to Fossa. After retiring from football coaching, Fossa took over as AD at Narragansett and helped to spearhead a multi-million dollar project that brought artificial turf and lights to the school’s playing field.
Right after the conclusion of that multi-year effort, Fossa left Gansett and took the same position over at North Kingstown High School. All he did there was help turn the Skippers into a state athletics powers, and parlay that success into yet another stadium renovation project.
The Skippers won numerous state titles under Fossa’s tutelage, notably in football and girls volleyball. With his teams constantly fighting deep into the playoffs, Fossa helped get public support for a tax-payer project to re-do the turf at the NKHS stadium. That project wrapped up last year, with the football team facing Hendricken on opening night.
One won’t have to look far to see evidence of Fossa’s legacy on RI interscholastic sports, from his pair of ambitious renovation projects to the litany of athletes he shepherded through high school over the years.
My most lasting memory of Fossa will be his kindness. Football coaches can be intimidating, and Fossa looked the part, a big, burly man who you could always easily picture as going down into a three-point stance and bulldozing you over.
But, that wasn’t Dick Fossa at all. He was a gentle giant. I first met him in 2014 when he had just become the AD at Gansett and I had just been hired at the Times. As an inexperienced, perpetually nervous reporter, Fossa was a god-send.
Every time I walked through the gym doors onto Chad O’Brien Court, there would be Fossa, who would grab a program and a folding chair for me the second he saw me. It might not seem like much, but, having gotten used to slumming it in many high school gyms, this was as good as a red carpet.
My most specific memory of Fossa also came from his time at Gansett. I was on the school grounds to cover a game, and was walking from the back parking lot over to the football field. It’s about a five-minute walk, if that.
Fossa happened to drive by in his car, and stopped when he saw me on the sidewalk. He rolled down his passenger window and explained that he wouldn’t hesitate to give me a ride, but his car was filled with paperwork. He apologized profusely before driving on.
It was a simple gesture, but it stuck with me. Most AD’s would’ve driven by without even pumping the brakes. Fossa, on the other hand, seemed aggrieved that he couldn’t give me a ride, even though I was only going a short distance on a nice day.
That was Fossa in a nutshell: a man obsessed with making a positive impact, particularly on young people’s lives.
Fossa leaves behind a wife, three children and two grandchildren. He was laid to rest in a private burial on Wednesday. Donations in his honor can be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.