Rippee’s road to Hall of Fame
Believe it or not, Mike Rippee in 1978 only planned on a brief stay at Douglas High School.
That short stay, however, evolved into a 34-year coaching and teaching career in Carson Valley, a long run that will be recognized when Rippee is inducted into the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association Hall of Fame.
He worked with the Douglas athletic department from 1978-2012, and as head football coach, the Tigers compiled a 139-125 record in 27 seasons and made playoff appearances in each his final 11.
Rippee is taking some time to relax these days, though he still tries to stay involved in coaching on a part-time basis (he assisted with the Douglas freshman football team this fall). And on Friday morning, he took time to reflect on his years in athletics during a Friday morning workout at Anytime Fitness in Gardnerville.
“I couldn’t have dreamed of a better case scenario,” Rippee said. “When I graduated (from the University of Nevada), my goal was to eventually get back to Yerington, which was my hometown, and to coach.”
In the meantime, another opportunity to coach junior high and high school wrestling, and football presented itself in Carson Valley. Bonnie and Mike Rippee decided to stay — raising two children, Luke and Rebecca, who were themselves three-sport athletes at Douglas who went on to graduate from Nevada (Rebecca now works as a doctor for the Carson Medical Group and Luke for the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
“The kids were great, and the community was great, so we just decided never to leave,” Rippee said, flashing a smile. “For us, it’s just been a wonderful experience. We raised our kids here and couldn’t think of a better place … you just find the finest people in the world here.”
In all, 14 individuals will be recognized during the 22nd NIAA induction ceremony March 27 at the Peppermill Resort Casino & Spa in Reno.
“It’s very humbling, very touching,” Rippee said. “When you start coaching, you don’t think about any of those things. I just wanted to coach, be successful, and do it the right way.”
He gives all the credit to the student athletes who played for the Tigers.
“When you talk about this award …” Rippee said. “I got a text today from a young man offering congratulations; I responded and said he was one of the many reasons this award was presented to me. ‘Without you guys, I’d have been just another guy that no one knew about.’”
Rippee was himself a three-sport standout at Yerington High School between 1969-72 — and later a starter at running back at Nevada (he was the Wolf Pack’s MVP his senior season). That was a time when the old Northern Nevada AA was a premiere conference that featured some premiere athletes at Douglas, Yerington, Bishop Manogue, Fallon, Elko, Lowry, Mineral County, White Pine and Stewart.
“There were some great athletes back in those times,” Rippee recalled. “It was a very competitive league where you had to show up and play hard every week. Those were some great times, some great contests and some great rivalries. Everybody knew each other because you saw each other all year for four years (three sports), so we all knew each other as well as anybody.”
Furthermore, Rippee takes pride in having been part of a Yerington wrestling program that amassed an incredible streak of 107 consecutive dual meet victories and nine straight state championships from 1971-79. Rippee points out he wrestled on the Lions’ team that began the streak and a member of the Douglas coaching staff when the Tigers ended the streak.
“Coach Lommori started wrestling to get kids in shape to play football and he ended up being one of the most prolific wrestling coaches in the nation, ever,” Rippee said. “I’ll tell you what, he taught us three or four basic moves and kept us in shape and he brought the best out of you, kids wanted to be tough for him. I had a lot of influence from my family — my mom, brothers and my father — but coach Lommori, once I saw and was part of his programs, I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do. I could never touch all the people he’s touched over the years, or ever be half the coach he was. He was my mentor, he was the guy I wanted to be like.”
Even today, Rippee can’t help but think back to those times whenever he drives past Carson Valley Middle School and looks over at the athletic field — formerly known as Dressler Field, football home of the Douglas Tigers.
“It kind of pained me when they cut those old goal posts down,” he said. “A vast majority of people drive by and don’t realize all the great games that took place there.”
Interestingly enough, the road to Rippee’s career at Douglas High school began with a rainy night drive in 1976.
Rippee, who was then a senior at Nevada, had an open Friday night and took the drive to scout a football game between Yerington and Douglas.
“My brother, Tom, was coaching at Manogue and he needed a scout on both Douglas and Yerington,” Rippee recalled. “I said, ‘I’d love to do that.’ I’d never scouted before, but my goal was eventually to become a coach and I thought this would be a good experience.”
Then the rain began to fall.
“It must have rained the entire game and I had a pad of paper and a felt pen, so by the time I got home, there wasn’t much you could read, so I had to wing it a little bit,” he said, laughing. “I just thought, I’d better get better at this if I want to be a coach.”
That he did. After one year at Wooster — he was a football assistant under NIAA Hall of Fame coach Joe Sellers, and did JV baseball under future Nevada coach Gary Powers — Rippee arrived at Douglas High in the fall of 1978.
His introduction to the Douglas football program provided one of those unforgettable stories. In this case, Rippee remembers the first time he saw Junior Kizer.
“I didn’t know who anybody was, and I had seen this one guy out there who looked really good,” Rippee said of Kizer, who went on to set what was then a state single-season rushing record of 1,693 yards in 1978. “I said, ‘I don’t know who he is, but I think this guy’s going to help you.’ They just laughed. I’ll tell you what, there was nobody like Junior. he could just glide, he’d float then explode on you and finish a run off. He’s one of the great athletes I ever saw here.”
Rippee is not shy about pointing out the many coaches he was influenced by, including Lommori and Phil Persons at Yerington, as well as Douglas football coach Bill Coverley, just to name a couple.
“Look at the guys I was able to be around … coach Lommori, No. 1, and coach Persons, who was one of the all-time greatest track and field coaches in Nevada,” Rippee said. “I had an opportunity to be around some legendary coaches just in high school who I learned from. Then to coach here and coach seven years for Cov, who in my estimation is the greatest coach they’ve ever had here.
“If you want to be truthful, I wasn’t even the best coach in my family. There were two others, Pat and Tom, who were much better than me. Pat, I don’t think coached long enough at the high school level to qualify for the NIAA (Hall of Fame), but Tom was coach for four state championship teams at Manogue, three in baseball and one in football, so one day I hope to see him in there. He deserves it. When they first called me, I figured they made a mistake. It was Tom who should have been in there, not me.”