Where Are They Now: Richard Summers
Editors Note: Where Have You Gone is a ten-week series featuring notable local athletes of yesteryear. We take a look back at their playing days, as well as a glimpse of where they landed after their playing days ended.
No matter how impressive or record setting a performance is, dig a little deeper and you will always see the record breaker stood on someone else’s shoulders. Most likely they mastered what other talented athletes before them already knew. The record breaker incorporated that knowledge and ran with it, making it part of their game plan. As early as 1675 Isaac Newton famously wrote in a letter to a colleague, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Usually this quote is used when talking about the scientific community, but it works in the sporting world, too. And maybe there is a little bit of word play going on, because today we are remembering a giant in the record books of Sistersville High School basketball history. That giant is Richard Summers.
Born in Orlando, Florida in 1960, Richard lived in New Martinsville, WV on North Main Street for most of his elementary school years which gave him many opportunities to play sports. For example, he was able to play little league baseball and participate in the Charlie Morris basketball league. Richard also took part in the famous Punt, Pass, and Kick tournament, a skills competition offered by the US National Football League from 1961 until 2017. While in New Martinsville, Richard’s family lived next door to Dr. Bridgeman and his sons J.B and David, who were older by several years. The boys let Richard play basketball with them in their driveway. Richard explained, “I owe much to them. To this day when I drive down that street, I always look at that court and have great memories.”
Parents are usually the first to witness a child’s natural talent and desire. Richard’s mom always told him he was dribbling a basketball by the age of two. When a player as young as Richard shows an interest in the game, they often develop a feel for the ball and an early confidence with their ability. Most certainly this was the case for Richard as his passion for the game grew along with his natural talent and abilities.
As Richard’s career continued, he had many people outside of his immediate family who were instrumental in helping him along his basketball journey. Mick Price, Sistersville High School basketball coach from 1975 through 1978, was the most instrumental. “I always looked up to him, and to this day, he is always willing to help if needed. I call him often for coaching advice,” confided Richard.
The basketball court at the city park is where Richard spent most of his time in the summer working out and fine tuning his technique. As he was preparing to enter his senior year, Coach Price came to the park to have a talk with him. Coach Price explained it was his belief Richard would be lucky if he could average double figures his senior year, because their opponents would double- and triple-team him. Coach Price feared Richard would become tired because at the time he was not in great physical shape. The results of that heart to heart conversation lead to history, because for the rest of the summer, Richard ran two miles BACKWARDS each day in the morning. In the afternoon he would run from the Sistersville Park to the Friendly Tastee Freeze. For anyone not aware of the distance between the two iconic landmarks, that’s a total of ten miles round trip! “I’d eat two hot dogs with sauce and run back to the park and play some more. That advice likely got me a college scholarship as what he said about being double-teamed happened,” confessed Richard.
Steven E. Winters, well known author originally from Sistersville and fellow SHS classmate of Richard, shared some information that is not common knowledge. “One thing most people don’t know is that Richard was a very good baseball player. In fact, he & I were on the same Little League All-Star team. He was a pitcher, and I’m sure he would have been a stand out in high school had he chosen to continue playing. But basketball was his passion, and it won out,” he explained. Steve went on to say despite being a natural athlete, Richard worked hard honing his craft. His deadly jump shot didn’t happen overnight. If you drove by his home during daylight hours in the mid 70’s, you would see him practicing. Steve remembered, “Cold, hot, snowing, raining….he was out there. He would jump straight up, then flick his wrist, and the ball would go in. He shot from different spots, sometimes ten feet away, sometimes twenty….and sometimes even thirty. Swish. Swish. Swish.”
I asked Richard about some of his athletic memories during his years at Sistersville as a Tiger. One that stands out was playing Bishop Donahue at home on senior night. Bishop Donahue had its own stand out star, Gary Fonner. “The gym was packed and sitting behind our bench was Bob Huggins, who was an assistant at WVU, Stu Aberdeen, the head coach at Marshall, and Don Brown, an assistant at Virginia Tech, all of whom were there to watch me play. We won the game, and after the game Coach Aberdeen said it was the most exciting game he had ever seen,” revealed Richard.
Another night that stands in the record books was the night Richard scored 74 points against Wirt County, and this was before the three point line. That fact alone is enough to make it record breaking, but Richard spoke about how the whole team played really well that night. The Tigers scored 113 points. Also Coach Price was the one that allowed it to happen. With the win well in hand and Richard safe on the bench, at the end of the 3rd quarter someone told Coach that 74 was a state record. Richard had 72 points. Richard explained, “Coach allowed me to go back in for a minute to score one more basket before taking me out. He didn’t have to do that. To this day people talk about that night so I guess that makes it a special night to remember.”
Coach Mick Price came to Sistersville High School in the 1975-1976 season and was only 20 years old. That wasn’t much older than Richard at the time, and because Mick was still young and in pretty good shape, they played a lot of one on one. Coach Price quickly saw the talent in Richard. “In my 43 years of coaching, Richard was the purest shooter I have ever coached. His work ethic started in the 9th grade when he would shoot baskets all day long,” said Coach Price. Mick remembers driving by Richard’s house and seeing the numerous grass spots worn out from the hundreds of shots taken by Richard from different areas in the yard. No kid he has ever coached worked as hard as Richard to get better. Mick assured, “If they had a three point line when Richard played, he would have easily averaged 50 points a game!” Coach Price went on to explain that he and Richard developed a special bond that still exists today, and that bond developed because Mick could see Richard’s passion for the game. It was something he most admired about him.
Richard graduated from Sistersville High School in 1978. He was named to First Team All-State, led the state in scoring with a 38.2 average and finished second in voting for the WV Player of the Year. Richard was also ranked as one of the top 10 shooters in America; an honor in which he takes great satisfaction.
There were several other people who had considerable influence on Richard as he continued his basketball career. People like Craig Carse, who was a star on the1974 high school Tiger team and later became a good friend; and Bill Patterson, who was two years older and a teammate. “We spent countless hours playing one on one at the Sistersville Park. To play against someone 6’4” who was quick was a gift for sure,” said Richard.
Another great influence was Alan Robinson who was a sportswriter that later worked for the AP. “He could shoot lights out and was full of wisdom. He opened up doors for me like getting me into the West Virginia Slam Dunk Competition, and when I won the “Hertz Number One” Award, he took me to New York City where I got to have dinner with O.J. Simpson and Whitey Ford at an awards banquet,” remembered Richard fondly.
After graduation from Sistersville High School, Richard headed to Concord College in Athens, WV on an athlete scholarship. While there he lettered for three years and was able to graduate in four which was difficult with the rigors of playing a college sport.
All successful athletes suffer losses or low points, but it is how the athlete responds that sets them apart. Richard’s low point in college came his freshman year. He had just come off a game scoring 24 points against Bluefield State when his coach told him he was pulling him out of the starting line-up. Richard revealed, “I realize now it was not a big deal, but at the time it really stung. The Charleston Gazette ran an article on me entitled From the Headlines to the Pines which was picked up by papers around the state. Looking back on the meeting, I consider it to be the best thing that ever happened to me. Adversity hits everyone, and I was determined to get back in the starting line-up.”
The high point of Richard’s college career was also his freshman year. The Mountain Lions played the Fairmont Falcons in the WVIAC Tournament. The Falcons were then coached by the legendary Joe Joe Retton, had two All-Americans on the team and were heavy favorites to win the tournament. Concord had three freshmen in the rotation, one of which was Richard and all from small schools like Sistersville, Montcalm and Harts. The Mountain Lions upset the fighting Falcons and ended up winning the tournament.
Richard reflected on the friends he has made while traveling his basketball journey. He considers all of his teammates as his lifelong friends. He explained, “There is something special about the relationship you have with those who you practice with and work hard with. Many of my high school teammates are still in the area and I see them often. I also stay in touch with many of my college teammates.”
Richard Summers continues to be a force to be reckoned with in the gym, but for a different reason. He is half of the highly successful girls volleyball coaching duo at Tyler Consolidated High School. He and his wife, Tracy Moore Summers, have a 2007 state title under their championship belt. That year, the Lady Knights finished 43-7, won the LKC Championship and never lost a set in the sectional, regional or state tournament. During this time, the Lady Knights were playing in the AA division of the WVSSAC.
Cameron Yoho Brown, former standout TCHS volleyball player who played for Coach Summers, had this to say about her old coach. “Coach Summers coached both me and my two sisters. The age gap between my oldest and youngest sister is 10 years. What I think is so special about him is that he coached my youngest sister with just as much passion as he did my oldest. His love not only for the game of volleyball, but for each and every one of his players, is what makes him such a successful and amazing coach,” emphasized Cameron. If it wasn’t for Coach Summers constantly pushing and encouraging her, Cameron’s career may not have included so many honors. Cameron also has great praise for the program Coach Summers has built at TCHS. “He took a program with very little success and turned it into a widely recognized powerhouse. Girls in Tyler County grow up looking forward to being part of that volleyball program and that is all because of him and Mrs. Summers,” Cameron pointed out.
Today you can often find Richard kayaking the Ohio River, working out at the local gym or exercising on the walking trail with his wife, Tracy. They have made their home in Sistersville and have been happily married for 39 years. They are the proud parents of two adult children: Ryan Summers, 31 and Shannon Farley, almost 35. Richard and Tracy are the much loved grandparents to four beautiful grandchildren. Richard has retired from Wood County Schools where he most recently served as principal at Jackson Middle School for the past nineteen years. “I spend my time now enjoying my grandchildren, and loving life with my wife who also has served as my assistant volleyball coach for the past 22 years at Tyler Consolidated,” acknowledged Richard.
Every successful athlete stands on the shoulders of other successful athletes. In Richard Summers’s case he attributes his success to the guidance of mentors along his journey, teammates that had his back and a high school coach that always had his best interest at heart.
Truly feeling this way is a sign of humility. When you adopt this way of thinking, it shows you possess a fire to learn. To me, this is the key ingredient that determines the eventual success of an athlete. We all can learn from one and other. In the example set by Richard Summers, a giant in the history books of Tiger basketball, instead of flexing his muscles like the “Hey, look at me generation,” he quietly continues to give athletes a boost up and a firm shoulder for sure footing.