A text from my son Garrison was the first thing I saw when I turned off the alarm on my phone. Garrison is an avid Oklahoma Sooner football fan and receives all the OU news. The press release he sent me that morning, announced that Mickey Ripley, a former OU quarterback, had died. Garrison never met the man but knew all about him. Ripley was my hero growing up and later my high school coach.
I was traveling when I got the text. I sat up in the hotel bed and reflected on the man who had passed away. Memories flooded through my mind …
“Ripley under.” “Ripley back to pass.” “Pass complete to Sears for a fifteen-yard gain.” If I heard those words once, I hear them a hundred times from the public-address announcer at Daniels Field in Perry, Oklahoma. My six-year-old self sat in the stands in awe as Ripley threw passes for long gains and touchdowns. Ripley was an amazing high school athlete. Besides being an All-State football player, he was also All-State in baseball and a State Champion wrestler. He earned thirteen letters as a Perry Maroon.
Ripley was recruited to play football at the University of Oklahoma by Head Football Coach, Jim Mackenzie. After one season Mackenzie died suddenly and was replaced by Chuck Fairbanks. With assistant coach Barry Switzer, Fairbanks instituted the wishbone offense. Ripley, a drop-back passer, didn’t see much action the rest of his career. Later he told us that he stayed at OU because he gave them his word. And, Ripley said, you keep your word even when things don’t work out the way you want them to.
You can imagine my emotions when I learned before my junior year in high school that Ripley was returning to Perry to coach football and baseball. I hadn’t played organized football since sixth grade, but one day after baseball practice that spring, Coach Ripley and a few of us went over to the football field. While I went out for long passes, Coach Ripley dropped perfect spirals right over my shoulder time after time. Mickey Ripley was throwing 50-yard passes to me!! After about an hour of catching passes, he said, “Moore, guess what you are going to do next year? You are going to play football. Wide receiver.” And I did…because Coach Ripley said so. Our field had a thick sandstone wall built around it. If Coach Ripley had asked me to run through that wall, I would have given it my best effort.
Mickey Ripley believed in me. After my senior year, I was selected second-team All-State in baseball because of Coach Ripley—his coaching and because he took time to send my stats and recommendation letters to those who chose the All-State players. I played baseball in college—a long-time dream—because of Coach Ripley. He sent letters to colleges throughout Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas telling coaches that I’d be a good fit for their squad.
Coach Ripley believed in me.
And you know what?
I never told him, “Thank you.”
That’s been bothering me since I read that early morning text from Garrison and learned that Coach Ripley had died.
Who’s your Mickey Ripley?
Write them a note. Send them an email or text. Give them a call. Don’t do what I didn’t do. Don’t wait until it’s too late.