RIVERSIDE — Charles Leathers and Rich Stalder are among the coaching legends at North High School, and the impact they had on their programs and the lives of their athletes will long be remembered.
Thursday afternoon, North held a dedication ceremony to rename fields in honor of the two coaches: the track and field complex in memory of Leathers and the school’s baseball field in honor of Stalder.
Leathers, who passed away in 2018, is widely considered one of the best track and field coaches in state history. Leathers arrived at North in 1992 and quickly transformed the girls program into a perennial powerhouse. He guided that program to nine CIF Southern Section championships and three CIF State crowns. Leathers also led the boys program to a pair of CIF Southern Section championships.
Among the many athletes Leathers coached during his 17 years at North were Olympians Joanna Hayes (gold in the 100-meter hurdles in 2004), Chaunte Howard Lowe (a four-time Olympian who won bronze in the high jump in 2008) and Whitney Ashley (discus in 2016). Leathers coached several more athletes who went on to have success at the collegiate and amateur levels.
Hayes, who now is an assistant coach at USC, spoke during Thursday’s ceremony and talked about the impact Leathers had on her life, both as a competing athlete and later on as a coach. Hayes said Leathers pushed his athletes to their limits and demanded greatness from them on and off the track.
“There were times I didn’t want to get up and go to class. He said, ‘There isn’t going to be any track if you don’t get to class,’ ” Hayes recalled. “He made everybody that he came across in life a stronger person. It is important to share our lives with others, and that’s what he did.”
Tori Leathers accepted the honor on her father’s behalf, and Leathers widow, Ethel, also was in attendance.
Stalder coached the North baseball program for 23 seasons and compiled 329 victories. He led the Huskies to 10 Ivy League titles as well as six Riverside city tournament championships. Stalder also served as the school’s athletic director for 12 years.
Many of Stalder’s former players were present for the ceremony, including a few who flew in from around the country. Also in attendance Thursday were several of Stadler’s coaching colleagues.
Ruben Ayala was one of those players and he recalled his time playing for Stalder in the mid-1980s. Ayala read a list of accomplishments from a paper, then crumpled the paper and tossed it to the gymnasium floor.
“Nothing on that paper compares to the true
impact that coach Stalder had on every single player that ever played for him or every student he ever taught,” Ayala said. “We might have lost some games, but no coach Stalder team was ever outworked or outhustled.
“He instilled in us class, character, dedication, discipline, self-discipline, respect and work ethic. He expected these things, from himself and his players, both on and off the field.”
In true Stalder fashion, he spoke first about Leathers and the track and field complex being named in his honor. Stalder said Leathers always prayed that one day North’s track would get an upgrade.
“The condition of our track was absolutely the worst in the United States of America,” Stalder joked. “I believe Joanna became such a great hurdler because of all of the bumps on the track. Those were the hurdles.”
Stalder then went on to thank those in his life, saying “it takes a big village to build a coach.” It began with his wife, Mary Ann, and daughter, Julia. He thanked his assistant coaches, as well as administrators, staff and colleagues. Stalder even thanked the umpires. And finally, Stalder thanked his players.
“Yes, you are the main reason I am here today,” Stalder said. “Without you, none of this would’ve been possible. I will forever be indebted to you for your desire, your passion for the game, your work ethic and the numerous hours we spent together. I am so proud of your accomplishments on the field. However, the way you have lived and been successful in your daily lives off the field is the biggest reward a coach or teacher can receive… It is more important to me than any win or loss.”
Stalder walked from the gym to the baseball diamond and threw out the ceremonial first pitch before North’s Ivy League game against Paloma Valley.