Longtime Frontier football and baseball assistant Rich Walton remembered fondly

  • Richard Walton, left, shown here with his son, Richie, and wife, Sue, on Richie's senior day as a Frontier football player, passed away on Aug. 5 at the age of 67. The longtime Frontier volunteer assistant made an impact on countless lives during his time in South Deerfield. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Richard Walton (second from right) with the Frontier baseball team. CONTRIBUTED IMAGE

  • Richard Walton (left) with members of the Frontier baseball team. CONTRIBUTED IMAGE

Staff Writer
Published: 8/15/2022 7:38:59 PM
Modified: 8/15/2022 7:35:31 PM

Scott Dredge spent one year as an assistant with the Frontier football team before taking over the program in 2005. When he got the job, Rich Walton — who had been volunteering with the team for a few years at that point— asked if he could remain on the staff.

“Rich told me he’d love to stick around,” Dredge said. “He told me he wasn’t an X’s and O’s guy, but he loved being around the kids and getting to help them out. I told him he’s always welcome here.”

Helping kids was all Walton wanted to do. For football and baseball players who went through Frontier in the 2000s, he was the first guy to offer congratulations when things were going well, and the first one to encourage and build them back up during the tough times.

Walton — who graduated from Greenfield High School in 1974 before joining the United States Marine Corps shortly after and serving in Vietnam — began coaching when his son, Richard Walton, got into sports.

He coached his son’s Pop Warner football and Little League baseball teams, and once his son reached the high school level, he began volunteering with the Frontier football and baseball programs. Even after his son graduated in 2003, he continued volunteering with the Redhawks for another decade-plus.

Walton passed away after a battle with cancer on Aug. 5 at the age of 67, leaving behind a lasting impact on countless players he coached.

“He was just such a great guy,” Dredge said. “Rich and I were close. He was a standout guy. He never had enough kind things to say about the players, the parents, the opponents. When he said he wasn’t an X’s and O’s guy, he didn’t say that because he didn’t want that type of responsibility as a coach. He just truly wanted to be there to support the kids. Anybody like that, you can’t turn down.He truly had no motivation to be there other than to be there for the kids. It’s such an admirable quality to have as a coach. It’s really sad to see him go.” 

The players who he coached echoed that sentiment — that Walton was always there to help in any way he could. 

“He was somebody that was so faithful to Frontier,” Redhawks baseball coach Chris Williams — who was coached by Walton in both football and baseball when he attended Frontier from 2005-09 — said. “My buddies and I got to work with him in both sports and we always appreciated just how willing he was to volunteer his time for us. Finding assistant coaches in the area is tough. The coaching schedule, it’s practices in the early afternoon and tough for a lot of people with work. What he gave up in regards of his time was special. Everyone had a ton of respect for him.”

Not only was he able to earn the respect of his players, but Walton’s fellow coaches said they loved having him around as well.

Walton was an assistant with Aaron Campbell during Campbell’s entire 10-year run as the varsity baseball coach at Frontier. Campbell said he couldn’t have had the success he did without Walton by his side. 

“Just being at [his] calling hours, there was at least a dozen former players there,” Campbell said. “The kids loved him. He was a great guy. I called it good cop, bad cop. He was always the good cop. When I chewed someone out, he was there to put his arm around them and calm them down. He was great at that. All the kids respected him. The 10 years I got to coach with him were some of the best years. He contributed to every win we had. He was a big factor into coaching those kids into young men.” 

Players remember Walton as the ultimate morale guy. It didn’t matter if you had the best game of your life or the worst game, his demeanor never changed. 

“He was such a great guy,” said Erik Abramson, who graduated from Frontier in 2010 and played four seasons of football and one season of baseball with Walton. “I think of him as such a morale guy. He was just so positive. Whether you made the game-winning play or if you needed to be consoled after making a mistake, he was just always there for you. Having someone like that on the staff, in the community, he was such a positive guy and so great for morale. He was there for you through all the ups-and-downs.”

“He was the guy that when things weren’t going well, he would tell you it would all work out,” Williams added. “When you scored a run, you couldn’t wait to come back to the dugout and get a fist bump and a slap on the back from him. He was the hype man. He would go coach bases, whatever he could to boost the spirit of the team.” 

Andrew Pepyne grew up and was in the same grade as Walton’s son, Rich. Pepyne, who played for Walton during youth football and baseball before getting to work with him once he arrived at Frontier, viewed Walton as the ultimate community guy.

“He was the embodiment of community support,” Pepyne said. “He supported youth athletics and developed young people to be leaders in the community. He was a role model his whole life, not for teaching you how to hit the cut-off or how to form tackle, for how he supported young people and allowed them to grow. He let everyone he coached know they had a cheerleader and someone who was there for them and had their best interests in mind.”

While always serving in just a volunteer role, Walton never missed Frontier football and baseball contests.

It wasn’t just the varsity teams, either. Walton would make the Monday JV football trips with the Redhawks — traveling to places like Ware, Athol and Orange. He made sure to be there for the younger players on the team, not just for the games under the bright lights on Friday nights. 

“He was very present,” Abramson said. “He was there because he loved coaching and being around the guys. It’s the kind of guy he was and speaks to his character. Nobody was making him go to those JV games and all the practices. He just enjoyed doing it. Win, lose or draw, he was consistent. He'd treat you the same no matter how you played, he just wanted you to go home being proud of the effort put forth.”

Abramson recalled his first Frontier football practice and seeing Walton come to the field for the first time. The reaction he received upon his arrival showed just how much the players enjoyed having him around.

“We were lucky that we had great coaches,” Abramson said. “There was never a barrier between the players and the coaches but Rich was just such a players’ coach. My first varsity practice, I saw the reception the guys gave him when he got there. I’m young and just trying to figure out who’s who, but you could tell all the upperclassmen loved him with the reaction he got. Once I met him, I saw he was so welcoming to you as a new player.”

It was that time and effort that earned the respect of the players, who took notice of how much time he was devoting to be around the team.

“He meant a lot to a lot of people for what he gave in time, effort and care,” Pepyne said. “He put in an insane amount of hours, gave up his weekends and didn’t get paid a dime for it. He oversaw an unprecedented time in success at Frontier and his contribution to that was demonstrating that every player had the full support of the community. He made you feel like you were representing the entire community. That’s something I took away and everyone who played for him will try to carry on that legacy for future generations.”

Walton stepped away from volunteering in 2013 to focus on his kids and grandkids, but he was never far away from Frontier’s programs. He attended every home game and was constantly looking to support the teams in any way he could. 

“He’s a Frontier baseball super-fan,” Williams said. “Ever since I took over the program in 2016, he’s at our scrimmages in late March, he’s at all our home games throughout the year. He and I were always in communication with one another, sharing details about the game, what to do better next time. He always made donations to the program in all our raffles, he showed up at all our fundraising events. It was so special having him around and getting to work with him as a kid and an adult. I’m fortunate to have known him.”

Now a coach himself, Williams said he took the lessons he learned from Walton and has tried to apply them to the next generation of Frontier players.

“He showed me how important building relationships with the players is,” Williams said. “You have to get the kids to trust you and buy into what you’re saying. If you can mix the right level of kindness and discipline, it goes a long way. It makes the team a lot better when you’re connecting with the kids on that level and Rich was able to do that.”

While Walton’s passion for coaching sports was evident, it was his love for his family that was the most important thing to him. 

“He was super passionate about Frontier sports and helping the kids out in any way he could,” Campbell said. “Outside of baseball he was very passionate about his family and his work. He and his wife Sue had a special connection and was something I always respected about him.”

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