Four years ago, David Richards experienced a seminal moment in his life thanks to the sport of wrestling.

Fast forward to today and it is Richards’ steadfast presence as a member of Brick Memorial’s wrestling program that continues to serve as an inspiration and set a positive example.

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In January of 2017, Richards, who has Down Syndrome and was then a student-athlete competing on Brick Memorial’s junior varsity team, wrestled in his first and only varsity match, which was set up by the coaches of Brick Memorial and Middletown North. In an additional bout following the match between the Mustangs and the Lions, Richards went out to face Richie Wall, who was a Middletown North freshman at the time.

Richards scored a quick takedown, then another after Wall got to his feet. Soon after, Richards worked an underhook into a cement job to flatten Wall and secure the pin in the first period. He rose to his feet and let out a thunderous roar. It was his state-championship moment.

“That’s what it’s all about,” said David’s father, Dan Richards, following the match. “It’s not about the winning or losing, it’s about the inclusion and being part of a team. I didn’t know what was going to happen, Tim (Brick Memorial assistant Tim Brennan) told me it’s going to be a good match. Little did I know it was going to go in that direction. It means the world to us.”

It was a feel-good moment that no one who was in Middletown North’s gym that day will soon forget. Sports at all levels are highly-competitive and can be cutthroat at times, but this was as genuine as it gets, a reminder of the good things people can and should do for one another. Richards got the chance to experience the thrill of victory and Wall was more than happy to help him along. He was only a freshman but understood the impact he had a chance to make.

“It means a lot to me,” Wall said on that day four years ago. “You see kids every day that can’t do it or think they can’t do it, but David comes out here and fights and works hard. I knew what I had to do. He had a blast. He was screaming like he won the championship.”

Although his wrestling days are done, Richards is still a competitive athlete and has won gold medals in Special Olympics swimming meets. He does, however, remain a valued member of the Mustangs’ wrestling family, but he’s traded in his singlet for khakis and a polo shirt.

He’s Coach Richards now.

“In an intense environment, Coach Richards brings it back to earth and helps us understand we should be having fun doing this, to enjoy your time here,” said Brick Memorial head coach Mike Kiley, a former Mustangs standout himself who coached Richards and now considers him an important member of his staff. “He puts it in perspective.”

Richards isn’t just off to the side at practice, either. He’ll get right in there.

“He walks around and he coaches these kids,” Kiley said. “When he says something they listen. Those interactions, they help the wrestler and they help him.”

Despite the challenges he’s faced, Richards was the model teammate and an anchor for Kiley. He’s been the same as a coach.

“He never made any excuses,” Kiley said “Everything we preach at Brick Memorial is what he stands for. You show up and you fight, and that’s what Coach Richards does.”

In a normal year, Richards would be helping the Mustangs’ wrestlers get ready for the NJSIAA Region 6 Tournament this week. But with COVID-19 and the resultant restrictions that have altered the high school sports schedule, wrestling was pushed back from the winter season to a newly-created “Season 3”. Practices can begin on March 1 and the season will commence on March 16 with the first dual matches. That has meant Richards has been away from people he would normally be around every day. He misses them and they miss him.

“I love being around the kid,” Kiley said. “Just last weekend I picked him up and we went and got cheesesteaks. “This is why you do it. You coach to create those relationships and to help put kids on a better path for life.”

“And he helps make me a better person, he really does."

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