The Team Player

 By Mary Boyce Hicks

To view Jim Diffly's audio slide show on Katheryn Richt, click the image.

To view Jim Diffly's audio slide show on Katharyn Richt, click the image.

 

 

A mounted frame displays a newspaper clipping from the Georgia-Florida game in 2007. The picture, featured prominently in the article, shows Mark and Katharyn Richt excitedly sharing a kiss after the Bulldogs trounced Florida in a game full of surprises. In the next room, Katharyn sits at the dining room table surrounded by her mother-in-law and two sisters-in-law, with nursing school books spread out before her. 

Outside, the children are playing—looking for scorpions and frogs. She is dressed in a light blue v-neck sweater and matching cap that accentuate her blue eyes. Her bright smile, seen most often around her children, lights up the room around her. Her brown hair is tied back in a pony tail and when she stands to move into the family room, she shows her lofty height of 5’10”. It is an average Tuesday afternoon at the Richt house, complete with people and dogs filling up the space. Katharyn sits relaxed on the couch, though, and doesn’t seem to mind all the activity. 

From the beginning of her life, she was surrounded by people as her father ran a YMCA camp Tallahassee, Florida. She enjoyed a lifestyle of attending her father’s camps and even horse-back riding to a friend’s house. 

“It was nothing glamorous, I mean my Dad built our barn,” she says.

They kept the summer camps’ horses in their barn over the winter, and she enjoyed riding to her friend’s houses. She describes another favorite childhood memory as traveling to Long Boat Key with her grandparents doing a lot with not a lot to do. 

“My grandmother would make us breakfast and we would just play on the beach all day and hunt for shells and play cards.  I remember playing games out there and jumping off my granddad’s shoulders, and you know just not having much to do but being okay with not having much to do.”

Now she has plenty to do, but she never, of course, had any idea she’d end up the wife of an SEC football head coach. 

“I just thought I’d probably work for the YMCA. I’d worked for the YMCA since I was 14 as a day camp counselor then as a swim instructor and then a lifeguard. I’d actually worked my way up to aquatics director and then you know, I just thought I’d probably continue doing that but then I went to college and then I got married.”

She attended Lees-McRae College in North Carolina for two years before transferring to Florida State, where she majored in economics.

”I do remember a time in college feeling like what in the world, what am I going to do?” she said. “I don’t even know. I didn’t like that feeling of not knowing and not having a clue.” 

Though she originally set off in the direction of business, she is now pursuing her dream of becoming a nurse. She mentions feeling regret when her sister began nursing school, but was inspired more recently when their family went on a mission trip to Honduras and wished she could do more to help out.

“Id be able to actually minister to the people and help them and things of that nature,” she says. “I’d just think it’d be a good thing to have in the future and even to be able to help around town.”

She is currently taking a class at Athens Tech to prepare for going through the nursing school admissions process. 

She says the biggest surprise of her life is that her husband is the head coach of football at the University of Georgia. And yet, she also believed in him from the start. 

“I could tell early in Mark’s career that he was destined, if you will, to be a head coach and the opportunities just kept coming. Before, God had never given me a peace about leaving… I never wanted to leave Tallahassee.”  

Before meeting Katharyn, though, Mark had been disappointed by missed NFL opportunities and moved back to Tallahassee to become an assistant coach under Bobby Bowden at Florida State, where he remained for 15 years. They met when Mark asked one of his friends if he knew a “nice girl” to take on a date. Their one blind date turned into a great friendship, which lasted over a year. Finally, they admitted their love for one another and got married shortly thereafter. 

While in Tallahassee, they had their two older sons Jon and David. In 1999, they adopted Anya and Zach from Ukraine. With a family now complete, Katharyn says she never wanted to leave there, not until Coach Bowden retired and things would be different at FSU. But their transition to life in Athens dressed in red and black came sooner. 

“We had over the years, when that dreaded December comes, and now it seems even earlier, when coaches start to get let go and you start looking at the jobs you know Mark would always say well that Georgia job, that’d be a great job.” she said. “It just was God’s hand there. I mean, you know, we were ready and we haven’t looked back.”

In Athens, she spends her time being a mother to their four children—Jon, David, Zach and Anya—and supporting her husband in his role as head coach and head of the family. She takes care of the family first and spends Saturdays helping out on the sidelines. 

“I do enjoy working a lot better than just watching the game because that helps me to be a part of what Mark and the boys do, just be a part of the boys.” 

At this moment, 12-year old Anya comes in from outside. Katharyn immediately switches into Mom-mode and fires off a round of questions as she puts her full attention on her daughter.

“Do you want to brush your hair? Did everybody leave? Who were you playing basketball with? What’s all over your shirt?”

There is barely enough time for Anya to answer these questions, but she takes the stage anyway. To describe the stain on her shirt, she tells of a recent fall in the woods to her mother, who responds with a zestful “ta-day?” asking when the accident occurred.   

Katharyn is quick to praise her daughter. 

“Anya’s probably going to be on the speaking circuit. She loves the microphone, she loves the attention and stuff like that. Anya has a confidence that is God-given. I think that, you know, one day people are going to want to hear how she dealt with going to school and just walking around town and our trip to New York City.” Anya was born with a tumor in her face that leaves one side disfigured. Within minutes of meeting her however, one hardly notices as her talkative and cheerful personality takes over. 

At this point, Katharyn has moved from her relaxed and comfortable position on the couch to sit next to her daughter on the fireplace hearth, where a gas flame flickers. Whenever she dialogues with her daughter she looks at her steadily and listens closely.

Anya describes what her mother does while in the car. She vividly explains how her mother drives and talks on the phone at the same time, then adds, “It’s because of our Dad’s job.”

Katharyn laughs and agrees. “I am on the phone a lot.”

I ask her what advice she would give her daughter about being married and having children. 

“Now?” asks Anya. “No!” her mother responds emphatically. “No, not now.” She looks around and grins, then continues. 

      “Well along with the boys we’re telling her we’re praying for whoever God brings into her life and ultimately we want His will and His best for her…We are praying for Anya’s spouse.” 

Anya makes a face, and Katharyn switches gears and asks Anya more questions.

“How’s your throat feeling? Why don’t you go take a Vitamin C?” 

Katharyn’s faith is interjected into all of her conversations. 

On December 11, 1994, she says, on a green lounge chair in their Tallahassee family room, she made a commitment to God after a phone call with a friend.  

She says her faith previously had been based around her parents’ beliefs.

“I thought I’d be okay because of my parents. And I finally realized it’s personal. It’s between Him and me. It’s a true relationship.” 

Their family takes faith seriously, and Katharyn says they want their children to make their own decisions.

“I think the biggest thing we are trying to do with them is encourage their relationship with the Lord, to make it their own, not me and their Dad’s. To make it their own, it has to be between her and Jesus,” she pauses and looks at Anya. “Or not. But I hope it is.”

Their house is a tribute to their many roles and interests. Bible verses decorate the main wall in the living room, along with a colorful Steve Penley portrait of Jesus. The house is warm and well-decorated, with yellows and reds softening the family room and adjacent kitchen. Most of the Georgia Bulldog paraphernalia is limited to their “Georgia Room” and basement. 

Later in the afternoon, Katharyn sits comfortably in the family room. In the next room, the sun room turned “music room,” David begins to play the piano and sing. The music room is green with ferns, decorated with old family photos, and fully equipped with a piano and guitar. They all stop to listen, and Katharyn says the family will sit in the family room and listen as he sings in the evenings. 

 As the music plays, the other three kids, along with a few friends, come in and sit. Everyone is silent as the music plays. Anya curls up in the chair next to her mother, who puts her arm protectively around her. She smiles, radiating contentment.

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