Springstead’s Richie Rivera is a reality king, rules local mats

Richie Rivera
Springstead’s 2017 Class 2A state champion Richie Rivera was voted Hernando County’s 2016-17 Hernando County Wrestler of the Year. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
WRESTLER OF THE YEAR

With his father Richard

laying in a hospital after a

stroke, Rivera garners gold

BY TONY CASTRO

HernandoSport.com

Some would say the world is saturated with fake news, just ask our 45th President Donald J. Trump.

Everyone else, however, isn’t a billionaire, looking to secure his next deal.

Richie Rivera
Hernando County’s 47th state wrestling champion: Springstead’s Richie Rivera                                   Photo by TONY CASTRO

The rest of us live in a world brimming with reality like life and death and paying taxes.

Such is the case of Springstead senior Richard David “Richie” Rivera as he entered Osceola County during the 52nd FHSAA Class 2A Wrestling State Finals in March.

Richie, as a teammates and friends call him, drove up the day before with his 46-year-old father Richard as part of the massive 19-member state contingency at the rugged two-day elite meet at the Silver Spurs Arena.

But just after Richie’s father dropped him and his teammates off for preliminary weight checks and a mat roll around, the elder Puerto Rican native suffered a massive stroke.

While in the facility, word filtered back to the seven-member SHS team that Richie’s father was in a coma fighting for his life.

Richie, his teammates and Head Coach Robert “Bob” Levija understood time was of the essence.

They group remained at the hospital until the wee hours Friday morning, March 3.

The boys were set to officially weigh in and compete just after 8 a.m.

Richard’s condition was still touch and go. He could not talk, couldn’t move his extremities. His body, which already had a heart pace maker in place, could shut down at any moment.

It was against this background, Rivera and his mates reentered the Silver Spurs Arena about to confront the state‘s best.

It didn’t turn out well.

Perhaps with their minds somewhere else, six of the team’s seven members lost their first-round matches.

Richie Rivera vs Dominic Cerilllo , Nice.Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Richie Rivera vs. Niceville’s Dominic Cerilllo.                                            Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

Ironically, the lone winner was Rivera.

Richie, in his first-ever FHSAA State Finals match, blasted Niceville’s Dominic Cerillo via a one-sided technical fall, 16-0.

Rivera closed out his first day of competition blanking Liehton Taylor of Fort Myers-Riverdale, 5-0.

After Day 1, Rivera had reached his goal of entering Saturday morning’s pressure-packed state semifinals. A win in the semis would push him into every grappler’s dream: the state finals.

Richard’s condition had improved slightly. His father was out of a coma, but remained without any way of communicating,. Richie opted to stay by his bedside Friday night.

By Saturday, March 4, Rivera made weight again and stormed past Wyatt Kirkham of Jensen Beach in the semis, 11-1.

He now had the rest of day off to concentrate on his Saturday night state finale: a rematch against 2016 state champion Trey Lane of Brandon.

Richie Rivera bested Trey Lane from Brandon High for the 2A Region 2 Championship at 113 pounds. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Richie Rivera bested Trey Lane from Brandon High for the 2A Region 2 Championship at 113 pounds. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

The week before, Rivera solved Lane on his home mat in front of his welcoming home crowd at Brandon in overtime, 3-1.

With only his father’s spirit by his side and a sea of Springstead High supporters at his back, Rivera snapped a scoreless first period tie with a 2-1 lead through four minutes.

Early in the third period, he turned Lane on to his back and stuck him in 5:06.

Rivera’s career-best 21st pin of the season couldn’t have come at a better time sealing Coach Levija’s 10th state champion and Springstead’s 30th state mat gold medal.

In a match dripping with emotion, Rivera never shed a tear.

The 5-foot-5 grappler revealed, “That match (state championship) meant a lot. I had really worked hard for it. With everything that went on that weekend, I went out on top.”

Richie Rivera celebrates after winning over Trey Lane from Brandon High for the 2A Region 2 Championship at 113 pounds. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Richie Rivera celebrates after winning over Trey Lane from Brandon High for the 2A Region II Championship at 113 pounds. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

Rivera, who just turned 19, admits his father returned to his Spring Hill home two months later, still can’t recite people’s names.

“He recognizes people, he still can’t talk. Grandma and his girl friend are taking care of him every day,” said Richie. “I’m there, too. I worry for him ’cause he can’t do what he used to do, but he’s still alive.”

On what Rivera was most proud of besides returning home as one of two wrestlers to reach the medal podium highlighted by becoming Hernando County’s 47th state champion in 45 seasons.

“In Kissimmee, I didn’t want to let my dad down; I went out there at 110 percent,” recalled the Puerto Rican native. “We couldn’t hug that night because he was in the hospital, but he was with me on the mat.”

Wicked senior campaign

Rivera completed his first full season on the mats capturing 46 of 50 bouts, winning a county-best 92 percent of his matches.

In all eight IBTs (individually bracketed tournaments) he participated in, he placed – leading the county.

Prior to the state series, Rivera strung 29 straight wins – to pace all Hernando County grapplers – before getting throttled by Lake Highland Prep’s Ryan Chauvin in the Ippolito Memorial finals, 11-2.

Chauvin was no slouch. He eventually repeated as Class 1A state champion in Osceola County.

After that setback, Rivera closed out his best-ever campaign running the table on the state series, winning districts, regions and states behind a 10-0 run.

Rivera departed the SHS program with 76 wins across 95 bouts (80 percent) behind 40 pin falls.

Most importantly, he graduated on time with the other 400-plus members of the Class of 2017 Eagles.

Rivera: Coaches heap praise

The Hernando County area coaches were so impressed with Rivera’s senior season he was unanimously voted to his first All-Hernando County all-star squad and further feted as 2016-17’s Wrestler of the Year.

Bob Levija Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Bob Levija
Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

“He’s the county’s only state champion. How could he not be our best guy?” suggested 23rd-year SHS skipper Levija, who was voted Coach of the Year. “He placed in every tournament we went to … Most importantly, he conquered all the adversity he’s ever faced and graduated on time.”

“Becoming a state champion is the ultimate goal … To win states in your first attempt is unbelievable,” marveled Weeki Wachee’s Dan Gigantelli. “Not only do you have to be in the zone in that building, you’ve gotta want it … For most guys, it takes their heart, soul and mind just to get there … Only a handful of people could ever tell you what it’s like to be a state champion … Winning this year under those conditions (father in a hospital), tells you something about how his dad raised his son … Under those types of situations, most athletes wilt or melt rather than being extraordinary.”

David Pritz
David Pritz

“He’s been a stud since I’ve seen him,” noted Hernando High’s David Pritz. “He got his stuff in line and did so under stressful circumstances … When he was on the mat, he was always calm and cool.”

“It really speaks volumes about Richie the person on how he won states by keeping his composure … He’s had a lot of adversity,” admitted Nature Coast Technical’s Mike LaRocca.

“Deep down, his father really wanted Richie to win this and he used that to his favor … I’ve always said that if he was in shape no one could touch him … What I liked most? That he was hungrier.”

Willie Murphy
Willie Murphy

“What Rivera did, especially under those circumstances, was inspiring to all of us,” pointed out Central High’s Willie Murphy. “I know everyone I spoke with told me their thoughts an prayers were with him and his father … He’s a special kid … Winning like that says something about his mental makeup.”

 

KNOCKOUT MEDALISTS - Springstead High medalists from the Knockout V Christmas Wrestling Tournament at Kissimmee-Osceola include from the left: junior Chase Landgraff (6th at 160 pounds) and senior Richie Rivera (5th at 113). Photo by TONY CASTRO
KNOCKOUT MEDALISTS – Springstead High medalists from the Knockout V Christmas Wrestling Tournament at Kissimmee-Osceola include from the left: junior Chase Landgraff (6th at 160 pounds) and senior Richie Rivera (5th at 113). Photo by TONY CASTRO

Year in review

Ironically, despite being named Hernando County’s Wrestler of the Year, gave himself a “B” letter grade.

“I gave myself a “B” because I lost to four guys. The big thing was I learned from every loss and every mistake. I feel like I could’ve done better,” explained Rivera.

Rewinding on his biggest improvement, “During my senior year, I knew this would be my last chance; I gave it all my best. When I’m at my best it’s when I’m attacking and taking guys down,” shared Rivera. “To get there, I had to run more to build up my stamina.”

On what held Rivera back during parts of his two other mat seasons with the Eagles, “I was a lazy kid. I didn’t do the extra things champions do. I learned that if I push the pace, I wanted it more.

Tommy McCane
Tommy McCane

“After what happened in the class room, I told myself I was not gonna mess up my grades again. I realized I had to keep my GPA up to reach the mats,” described Rivera.

Michael Combs
Michael Combs

In practice where steel sharpens steel, Rivera honed his technique against up and coming 106-pounder Tommy McCane and with the individual assistance from coach Michael Combs.

“Tommy (McCane) was a good scrambler; I needed that,” recalled Rivera. “He was a good practice partner. Coach Combs would work me over every single day in practice.”

On the style of opponents that Rivera had the most difficulty with, he didn’t hesitate.

“Those really skinny kids that liked to ride legs,” offered Rivera. “Once they got their boots in, I had trouble getting out (from the bottom).”

Richie Rivera
Richie Rivera

Rivera shared the his dénouement moment when he knew he had a shot at a state gold.

“At regions when I beat Lane; that’s the guy I’ve been looking forward to wrestling all season,” said Rivera. “Once I beat him, I worked through some things and figured I could do this.”

Rivera also didn’t blink choosing his toughest opponent: Chauvin.

“That kid destroyed me,“ said Rivera. “He kept taking me down. He kept shooting and shooting. I was upset that I didn’t keep the win streak going, but that match gave me motivation to work even harder on my feet.”

It’s good to be king

On what his life has been since returning home a state champion.

“There wasn’t a day someone would come up to me in school and say, ‘Hey, good job at states.’ I was treated like I was a big dog.”

Richie Rivera Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Richie Rivera                                                   Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

“Looking back, it was more mind over matter,” recalled Rivera. “As a wrestler you can do anything you set your mind to. But you’ve gotta push yourself to know your limits.”

Despite his academic dips, “I’m thinking of going to college,” said Rivera, who graduated with a 2.4 GPA. “I’d love to wrestle. Once I really want it, I know I could do it.”

These days, Rivera weighs 125 and continues to lift weights and work part-time in construction.

His largest lesson learned?

“It took a lot out of me not to pull my weight in the classroom. I didn’t have a shot on the mats without my grades. I wish I had worked harder in the classroom,” he said.

Travis Williams, Outstanding Wrestler 152 pounds and over. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Travis Williams, Outstanding Wrestler 152 pounds and over. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

Before turning the page to next segment of his life, Rivera wanted to thank the team’s other senior captain Travis “T.J.” Williams.

“T.J. was a good team captain. He made sure the guys were doing what they were supposed to be in practice,” noted Rivera. “With T.J.’s help, the guys pushed it as much as they could.”

“I’m gonna miss the team meals with the guys after the tournaments,” smiled Rivera. “We all kinda munched out at the same time. I was lucky, ’cause I never had any trouble making 113. I never pigged out. My weight never became an issue.”

“I’d like to be remembered as somebody who pushed it in school to get to my goals,” offered Rivera on his legacy. “I turned into a hard worker. Hard work got me there (to the top of the podium). Without the Lord and my hard work, my grades would have been crappy and I would’ve remained lazy.”

By the Numbers:

Springstead’s Richie Rivera (2013-17)

– Compiled by TONY CASTRO

Richie Rivera Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Richie Rivera                                                   Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
 

YEAR

 

W

 

L

 

.PCT

 

PINS

2013-14

16

11

.593

11

2015-16

14

4

.778

8

2016-17$

46

4

.920

21

 

TOTALS

 

76

 

19

 

.800

 

40

$ Denotes 2017 state champion.

 

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