“…we’ve got that momentary time of exhilaration when you hoist that championship trophy over your head, and I don’t know what happens, but some mystical blood kinship is formed. And although it’s a fleeting moment, that kinship lasts for the rest of your life. And the thing I’m most proud of with my teams is that they have it and I know because I lived it, because when something goes wrong with one of them, all the others run to help. And I know because they’ve run to help me.” – Former NFL coach Bill Parcells’ 2013 hall of fame acceptance speech
When I played football in high school (class of ’77) my first coach was Richard “Dick” Dichiara. He was the head coach of my junior varsity teams at Delta High School in Clarksburg, just south of Sacramento on the Sacramento River. When I moved up to the varsity my junior year he became an assistant coach on the varsity team along with Jim Greene under head coach Joe Miller (who later went on to a successful career as varsity football coach at Manteca High School). Dichiara later became principal at Delta High. He retired as Delta principal in 1990 and went on to become a counselor and coach at Ponderosa, El Dorado and Union Mine high schools.
One of the things I remember best about Coach Dichiara was his sense of humor. It made the long, hot and grueling summer practices go easier. I recall during one practice he was explaining to the team that our upcoming opponents snaked their way to the line of scrimmage one after another after they broke from their offensive huddle. Linebacker Phillip Littleton then asked: “Do they hold hands?” Without missing a beat Coach Dichiara answered: “Yes Phillip, and they skip, too!” and he did a little maypole-esque lilting jig that got the entire team, including Littleton, roaring with laughter.
On June 23, Dichiara was involved in a tragic accident on his property near Placerville. He was using a push auger to dig holes to plant olive trees on a steep hill when the machine toppled over pinning him under it. Its blades nearly severed his left leg just above the knee and he lost a lot of blood before emergency crews could get to him. He was flown to the trauma center but went into cardiac arrest. He was resuscitated but his leg could not be saved and had to be amputated. For more than a week, his wife of 50 years, Ramona “Frostie” Dichiara accompanied by family and friends, held vigil at his bedside, but he succumbed to his injuries and died on July 2 at the age of 70.
Jeff Dominguez played outside linebacker and tight end at Delta High School on the ’77 and ’78 teams that won back-to-back section championships. He kept close tabs on Dichiara condition after the accident, and after the coach died he organized a “workday” to finish the project that Dichiara started.
About 50 people showed up in the early morning of July 20 to pitch in and help in whatever way they could. There were friends and neighbors, former co-workers, old students and former players. Stocktonian Tim Herzog (Delta High School class of ’80) now a regional vice president for Volvo Rents (West Region), not only donated several pieces of heavy equipment but brought along some employees who volunteered their time and skills to operate the machinery, as well.
When I got there, I was ready to do some heavy lifting, just like everyone else, but Dominguez had other plans for me. Knowing my background in photography, he asked me to document the event. I wanted to contribute more by pulling my fair share of the load and kind of felt like the kid who couldn’t catch and was sent out to play deep right field, but I picked up my camera and started shooting.
After a while, when Dominguez wasn’t looking, I put down the camera and started clearing some brush along with several others. I wanted get some dirt under my fingernails to prove that I actually helped out. After a while, Dominguez came up to me and pointed out a photo that I had missed earlier, a sort of gentle prodding that I should get back to the job he asked me to do. He showed me the coach’s boots sitting at the base of a nearby oak tree. They had been taken off by the paramedics and laid there near where he fell and hadn’t been moved since. I picked up my camera and returned to taking pictures.
The workday was like a mini reunion. We updated each other about how our lives were going to those we hadn’t seen in years. But most importantly we traded stories about Coach Dichiara. Sally Hearne Shanks, a Delta High School P.E. teacher, now retired, said that a new innovation at the time was team teaching, and how much she enjoyed working with Dichiara. I remembered when the both of them taught us ballroom dancing. On the first day, the football players in the group thought it was a bit of an unmanly activity (mostly to hide our insecurities) but when we saw Dichiara step up without hesitation or reticence to dance with Shanks, we knew we had to “man up” and overcome our shyness. To this day I recall it being some of the most fun I had during P.E.
At the end of the workday we cleared yards and yards of brush from Dichiara property, installed an irrigation system and created a small orchard of 28 olive trees. Dominguez was right about having me photograph our activities. He posted the pictures to Facebook. Dozens of people, who for one reason or another couldn’t attend, responded to the photos.
One thing that Dichiara and the other coaches taught was that every player has a job to do. While some may do a stellar job at throwing or carrying the ball, if someone else misses a block or runs the wrong pattern, the play can break down and be unsuccessful, maybe even lose the game. On the workday we pulled together as a team for the coach one last time and scored a touchdown.