Fellow Founding Member Takes the Spartans’ Helm
Every fall Sunday for the past nine years, Rich and Laurie Photos would get up at the crack of dawn and go to the football field at Amity Regional High School. With help from other parents, they’d lug out the football equipment for the day’s Pop Warner football games, they’d set up tables and tents filled with sportswear and snacks to sell, open up the concession stand and get the field ready for the day of play.
Rich Photos took over as president of the association in 2009. He oversaw coaching and operations while his wife Laurie supported by running much the show off of the field. At the end of the 2016 season, through tears and much reflection, the Photos announced their retirement from the Amity Pop Warner Board to a high school gym full of coaches and many long-time Pop Warner football and cheer families. Rich has since accepted the role as president of Southern Connecticut Pop Warner. As president, he will oversee the 19 associations in the state, including Amity, but he won’t be permitted to coach, something he admits he’s having a hard time getting used to.
Coaching is in this man’s blood. He played high school football, coached high school and travel soccer teams in Shelton. “I have been coaching kids since 1981. It’s what I enjoy – it’s what I do. I’m going to miss Amity and I’m going to miss the kids. Being on the field with them, whether at practice or games, it’s where I find my peace,” he said.
The decision to retire didn’t come easily, according to the Photos. “It’s one of the hardest things I’ve walked away from, but being involved with Pop Warner at this new league level works for me now. I know we’re leaving the Amity association in good hands,” he said.
Laurie agrees, saying she’ll miss the ‘dysfunctional family’ that they parents would become over three short months each year. “I will miss the moms that helped me shoulder the tasks that needed to be done and I will miss running something truly special and doing it well,” she says. “In August it will be hard to stay away from the field, but I know that Amity will run without me and I can enjoy my summer knowing it’s in good hands.”
One of the other founding members of the association, David Ryan has taken over as president. “He’s been right alongside us for all of these years, Dave Wright too, and Greg Laugeni and his family. They really got us going years ago and kept us going strong along the way. They were my right hand people, even though many times behind the scenes when nobody saw how hard they worked, trust me, I did. I know that between them, Alicia, our cheer coordinator who always does a phenomenal job, and Tina, our assistant coordinator, Amity will be in good hands,” Rich said.
The retirement didn’t come as a surprise to some, as the Photos’ twin children are finishing their first year of college and the couple has not had children in the program for five years. The Photos want to focus on their family in their retirement from Amity.
“We were doing concessions for the high school game Friday nights, going to New Hampshire to watch Nick play football early Saturday morning, back late Saturday only to be back at the high school early Sunday for the day. We were the first ones in and the last ones out,” Rich said. “Now I get to just be a dad.”
Rich Photos was one of a handful of dads who had young sons and daughters a decade ago who were looking to bring a strong football and cheerleading program to Amity.
“Rich and Laurie have done a tremendous job and now the new board is looking to continue their success,” Ryan said, as he is gearing up for the first round of football and cheerleading registrations May 11 and May 23 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Orso Trattoria on the Post Road in Orange.
“We hope we have led by example and that others will follow on that path,” Laurie said. She, too, is grappling with the idea of Amity Pop Warner leaving a hole in her life after all of these years. “You see them every day, then nothing. It’s like walking away from family,” she said.
The Photos treated their athletes like family. In spite of having a busy work schedule and having to travel to Florida the following week, Rich made a last minute decision to travel to the cheerleaders’ National Championships in Orlando in early December. He surprised the girls as they got off the bus at the competition venue.
“The looks on their faces—that made the travel worth it! They were so excited I was there—I had told them I couldn’t go. They’re like family that I’ve watched grow up,” he said. The girls won the National Title later that day, marking the third time in the program’s history that Amity teams took first place at the national competition.
For the football players, the Photos left no stone unturned in finding the best protection. Knowing that concussions are one of the top concerns among parents, Amity purchased Schutt Vengeance helmets, one of the top protective helmets made.
“We were the first youth league in the country to use these helmets. It’s what Eli Manning wears. We wanted parents to know that protection is very important,” Rich said. Pop Warner has since teamed with the NFL to offer a program called Heads Up Football, intended to advance player safety in football.
“It teaches kids proper ways to tackle and block, without leading with the head,” Rich explains. “In the last two years, Amity Pop Warner has had no concussions.”
Come August 1 when the season begins, the Photos plan to keep busy with their family, while making themselves available for the transition of leadership. “I’m going to miss Amity thoroughly, but we will keep busy,” Rich said.
They’ll take with them nine years of successes and memories, fondly recalling the difference that they made in so many lives, including a first-ever Southern Connecticut Pop Warner Championship win for the 14U football team this past fall. They’ll move on and adjust to their new life, until one day, the random smell of a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich off a griddle stops them in their tracks and takes them back to those early Sunday mornings at the football field.