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Brother Rice Coach Making An Impact In The Lives Of Others

Bruce Hefflinger
Michigan Senior Writer

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Brother Rice Coach Making An Impact In The Lives Of Others

BLOOMFIELD HILLS - It was only fitting when Bob Riker picked up his 700th coaching victory that the long-time Brother Rice mentor did not even realize he had hit the monumental achievement.

“I didn’t know it was 700 until someone said it later the next day,” Riker related. “Then the school got ahold of it.”

While a huge accomplishment in the field of coaching, it is far from “important” in the eyes of the 57-year-old.

“I’ve always been a guy who did not pay attention to records,” pointed out Riker, who is even uncertain what his overall coaching record is at present. “It’s a team game.”

There are more important things in his occupation according to Riker.

“There’s a right way to play the game,” Riker said. “Hustling on and off the field, playing hard every pitch, making sure things you can control you control and not worrying about what you can’t control. Preparation is the most important thing. Compete and play for the name on the front of the jersey and not for the name on the back.”


A 1985 Brother Rice graduate, Riker returned to his alma mater after being released by the Tigers in 1990.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Riker reflected. “I went to see my old coach Ron Kalczynski to thank him for what he’d done for me. When I was there he asked me to coach with him. At the time I wasn’t a teacher and was living in Ann Arbor.”

The eventual decision to join his former mentor in the dugout was life changing.

“I was his assistant for eight years, driving back and forth,” Riker noted. “Two years later I went back and got a degree.”

Eight years after Riker joined the staff Kalczynski stepped down, ending a coaching stint that began in 1982 and Riker took over the program in 1998.

“He said you’re the head coach,” Riker remembered. “He said it was time for me to give back.”

There was something that became ingrained in Riker at that time.

“Guys don’t come here to win titles,” Riker said. “They come here to develop and get to the next level. If you do that, winning will take care of itself.”


It was far from a smooth transition when Riker took over.

“We had tryouts and I cut five guys that had played the year before,” Riker reflected. “I went into the season with 11 players. Parents were irate. But the AD at the time, Mike Popson, had my back. We ended up winning districts which we weren’t supposed to do. We ended up getting shipped to the Brighton Regional for the first time and we played (Drew) Henson.”

A loss finished off that season, but success, and a bit of a debate, followed.

“The next year I brought up five freshmen and the year after that brought up five more,” Riker said. “That’s something you didn’t do. But we won and won again and we made it to the Catholic League finals.

“I haven’t changed much as a coach since then. You stick with a plan and work with it. When kids are leaving the program they’re happy. Younger guys see that, and they want to carry on that tradition.”


Admittedly, the idea of being in charge was not a priority.

“I never thought about being a head coach,” Riker explained. “My personality is more fit as an assistant. I had to learn to be a head coach. There’s a certain demeanor you need. It’s been difficult for me. You have to be a certain way as a head coach. The most difficult thing for me was to learn how to be a head coach.”

Now in his 27th year at the top of the program, Riker has learned well.

“I learned to delegate and trust the staff,” Riker said. “I’ve had the best people helping me. One of the best compliments I ever had was from an umpire. He said, ‘your guys know how to play the right way.’

“There was also a Division I coach that gave another compliment. He said, ‘when I look at the guys your players are working with, your staff is better than mine.’

“I’ve had former coaches, former players, Dan Petry, come back and coach with me,” Riker continued. “These are guys that have forgotten more about baseball than I know. I was never looking for yes people, I was looking for guys to help players reach their goals.”

The last decade his time has been spent “doing more of the managing part” according to Riker.

“Each day I try to hit six guys and talk to them one on one and see where they’re at in regular life, not just baseball life,” Riker explained. “I want to make sure they know how important they are to me. Treat a player the way you want to be treated and make sure they know you care.”


In typical Riker fashion, his biggest memories have not been specific wins and losses.

“Watching some of my former players go on and do some of the same things we did while they were here is memorable to me,” Riker said. “Jon Poyer was on my first team here as a head coach. I had not talked to him since he left in ’98. But he wrote me a letter that was pretty impactful. It solidified everything I’ve tried to do. He’s carried on what we did here, not in sports but in teaching others like we do here.

“Seeing my former players put into practice what we did at our school and in our program and to put that into practice at whatever they do means a lot.”

There is more that Riker remembers.

“I had a player send me a text that said, ‘you made me feel like I’d been around you for 20 years,’” Riker said. “That puts a smile on your face.”

As for accomplishments on the field?

“I have no idea how many league titles we have,” Riker related. “I had no idea it was my 700th win. But I do know we only have one state title. A lot of friends and buddies tell me that. It comes up a lot.”

Still, Riker has the ability to put it into perspective.

“Winning a state title in baseball is so difficult,” Riker said. “One dominant player or performance and you're done. I don’t measure myself with that.”


When you’ve been around the game as long as Riker, you can get a perspective of changes that have been made. That is obvious in some ways according to the Brother Rice coach.

“We just had signing day in high school,” Riker noted. “We never used to have that. Everything is so media driven these days.

“Sometimes the players forget about the spirit of the game. The game hasn’t changed, but kids these days are growing up too fast. Sometimes they lose sight that it’s a game. You’re supposed to have fun. It’s not just sports.”

More than ever, it means the need to impress upon players his coaching philosophy.

“I’m fixated on treating players the way I was treated and making sure they have a good experience playing in our program,” Riker explained. “I want them to look back when they leave and say it was a fun time for me.

“The most important thing to me is their development as a player as well as their development as a person. It’s why I have a staff around me like I do. I have a staff that develops players as people. If you do that, winning will take care of itself. I’m most proud of the type of people I’ve developed in 35 years and had over 100 achieve their goals of going on to play in college.”

One of those that will take his game to the next level is Chase Van Ameyde, a senior who has played under the guidance of Riker since he was 12-years-old.

“Coach Riker has meant a lot to me as a baseball player and a person,” the Notre Dame commit said. “It’s crazy to think I’ve been playing for him for six years now. He has helped me vastly improve my game on the field, making me more aware as a baseball player and explaining what to do in certain situations. I give him tons of credit in helping me be a higher-IQ player.

“He has also had a huge impact on me as a person. He has shown me to treat everyone with respect, it doesn't matter who they are. He has also shown me to always go out on the field and just have fun because at the end of the day it’s a game.”


As any coach knows, it is an occupation that can be time consuming.

“I have two daughters and this has taken a lot of time away from them,” Riker admitted. “I’ve asked them about not doing it and both said, ‘you’re the Brother Rice coach and that’s where you need to be.’ That gave me affirmation I was doing the right thing.

“They still come watch me coach. It’s always good to see familiar faces in the stands. My mom also still comes to see me coach. She’s in her late-70s now.”       

His father passed away at the age of 61, but his memory lives on for Riker.

“He never pushed me,” Riker reflected. “He said whatever you decide to do, make sure it’s something you love or like to do. He said it will make it a lot easier.”

That has certainly been the case.

“I really enjoy going to the classroom and teaching and I sure like coaching,” noted Riker. “I found something I like to do and I happen to be able to make a living at it.”

Riker not only loves what he does, but does it well.

“One thing that has always stuck out to me about coach Riker is how calm and steady he is regardless of the situation or the game,” Van Ameyde said. “He’s the same coach the entire time which can be calming to players when they’re in big situations.

“Another thing about coach Riker is that he treats everyone the same way. It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn't matter where you are whether it’s on the baseball field or in the classroom, he will treat everyone the same way.”


For now, there is no thought whatsoever about the journey ever coming to an end.

“I think I’m still effective in the classroom,” related Riker, who teaches science. “I will know when it’s time to step down. As a teacher and as a coach, it’s not right now. I’m 57 and still healthy. I don’t take any meds. I can see coaching another 10 years if they want me to. But if in three years I’m not able to give what I want, I’ll start thinking about it.

“I still have to find that next person or persons to carry on what the coaches at Brother Rice have done. I’m the fifth coach ever here. I have to find the person to leave it better than you found it as I was told. That’s what I’ve tried to do as a coach.”


Brother Crimmins was the first coach at Brother Rice in 1964 before Brother Wielatz took over in 1965 and coached through 1969. 

Albert Fracassa was next up from 1970-81 before Kalczynski became coach in 1982 and stayed there through the 1997 season.

It has been Riker in charge ever since.

“I’ve made an unbelievable number of friends in this game,” Riker reflected. “Who you’ve taken the journey with is what you remember. It’s not what you’re doing or where you’re doing it, it’s who you’re doing it with.”

For Riker, it has been a memorable journey, one that will continue on for years.

“Now that I’m getting older you reflect on things,” Riker said. “It’s been better than I thought it would be. The last three or four years I’ve tried to take the time to enjoy it and that’s meant a lot of reflecting.

“There’s not a day I would change in my 57 years. I’m a pretty lucky guy to have all the people I’ve had the time to be with. I’m a pretty fortunate individual. The hardest part for me is … Why me? Why was I so fortunate to have all these people in my program? I feel somewhat undeserving.”

In typical Riker fashion, it goes back to what he loves the most when it comes to coaching.

“It’s just a great joy for me to see someone you help get where they want to be and smile,” Riker concluded. “That makes me the most happy about our program.”

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