A 5 year-old little boy was on one end of the video call. A big burly man, more than 55 years his senior, was on the other end.
The call started out with instruction, just as a coach would direct his players.
“Go get your milk and chocolate syrup,” said the man to the young boy.
Instruction continued. “Mix the two together. Pour the chocolate into the milk and then shake it until the syrup blends into the liquid”
“And shake…. shake… shake…shake…shake.”
And while the man instructed the small boy to shake his milk, he began to dance around the kitchen while simultaneously singing.
Almost immediately, the two began giggling uncontrollably.
The man laughing and singing as he taught his five year-old grandson Camden how to make a chocolate milk was Dick Fossa, the hard-nosed, no-nonsense, successful athletic director and longtime coach, who recently passed away unexpectedly at the age of 61.
Few knew Fossa’s soft side.
“He was a big goofball,” said Cameron, one of Fossa’s three children and uncle to Camden. ‘He was always silly.”
Well, not always.
He was a no-nonsense two-sport coach at Narragansett High for 15 years, leading the Mariners to two Super Bowl championships.He left Narragansett to become the Athletic Director at North Kingstown in 2017 and in three short years built the foundation for one of the most successful public school athletic programs in the state. Under his leadership, NK won six state championships.
Off the field he has received so many awards and honors it’s hard to keep track. The son of the former Mayor of North Providence, Fossa was a four-time Gridiron Coach of the Year, and has been inducted into several Halls of Fame. He was named the 2019 Athletic Director of the Year. Under his reign, NK was recently honored as the 2019 RI Interscholastic League School of the Year.
His matter-of-fact approach was crucial to the overall success of NK’s athletic programs.
“When Dick first came in he would have meetings with all parents and kids from each team and laid the groundwork on how it was going to work. He would listen to you, but there was going to be a point that he would stop…enough is enough,” said longtime NK basketball coach Aaron Thomas. “The coaches all felt he had their backs and I thought that was a huge reason for our success..You could just go out and coach. And if there was something he didn’t like in your program, he wasn’t afraid to tell you what he felt you needed to work on. He always went out of his way to help the kids…and the coaches, too.”
Thomas, who has coached at NK for 31 years, including basketball for 23, said Fossa always went out of his way to make sure others got recognized- regardless of wether the athlete or coach attended NK.
“He always wanted to make everyone’s day special. Two years ago East Providence’s Dan Hazard was five points away from 1,000,” said Thomas. “The EP AD called Dick and said, ‘would you do us a favor and stop the game when he hits 1,000.’ Dick said absolutely and made it an amazing event for the kid. He completely went out of his way to make it so special for this kid. He stopped the game, brought the parents down, had pictures and video taken and gave the kid the game ball. This was all done at OUR school. You don’t see that a lot. It was the way Dick was. Didn’t matter if you were an NK athlete…if you reach an accomplishment you should be recognized.”
Fossa was admired and well loved. Tributes flooded social media and the outpouring of support was evident by the large contingent who were forced to stand outside the church at his funeral due to the Covid-19 restrictions.
The morning of Fossa’s funeral, Jack Salomone, 24, had breakfast with his father, Michael, and several others. The elder Salomone was Fossa’s longtime assistant coach at Narragansett.
The breakfast meeting triggered so many memories for Jack. He and Fossa’s son Cam were fixtures on the Narragansett sidelines from the time they were four.
But before they headed to the football field with their dads on late summer mornings, they would have breakfast at a local spot in Narragansett.
Two little boys eating Belgium waffles and drinking hot chocolate sat at a table adjacent to their dads and a few other coaches, who were preparing for double sessions. This was the routine each August for years.
“Coach Fossa was family to me. I learned from him the way I learned from my own dad. He was like a second father to me,’ said Salomone from his Brooklyn apartment.
With their fathers at the helm, Cam and Jack stood on the sidelines, barely old enough to tie their own shoes, cheering on the Mariners. They were waterboys, ball boys and eventually played for their dads. The stories each can tell from their days as youngsters and, later, players are endless.
Cam remembers, “Growing up he (Dick Fossa) was always the high school coach. It was cool being able to be with Jack (Salomone) when we were young and were waterboys. We had fun.”
“Freshman year was a learning curve going from hanging out with coaches to now you’re part of the team,” added Cam. “On the field he was really good about separating. On the field he was my coach. He wasn’t dad.”
Fossa was an educator at Narragansett, so there was little room for Cam to step outside the lines. The news of any misbehaving trickled fast through the small high school.
There was one instance Cam did something in class Fossa would not have approved of. Years later, Cam can’t recall exactly what it was he did, but he remembered the ramifications of his actions when he arrived at practice that day. While Fossa typically separated his roles as a father and coach, that day he combined the two at practice.
“He threw balls at me while I was stretching and then had the other coaches do the same,” remembered Cam.
A life lesson.
Football was the non-stop topic of conversation in the Fossa home.
“We’d come home, watch film and talk about football,” said Cam, who was a tight end and defensive back. “The mood in our house on weekends always depended on how Friday night or Saturday morning went. Looking back, those memories are my biggest blessing.”
“When we watched a Patriots game he would always pause in the middle of the game,” said Cam. “It would drive my sister nuts, but he would pause and be like ‘watch this guy do this’. He was breaking it down like he was watching a film.’”
Fossa believed preparation was the key to success.
“Coach Fossa focused on preparation. That was so important to him,” remembers Jack Salomone, who started on defense his junior and senior years. “He had a rule – if you didn’t have your black socks on, you weren’t getting on the bus. If you didn’t have your whole uniform on, including your black socks, you didn’t play. Didn’t matter if you were a senior or a starter. Of course, my dad had 17 pairs of black socks in the back of his car to give to any player who may have forgotten theirs. Coach Fossa just wanted us to be prepared.”
A life lesson.
Now, years later, as Jack builds his career as an educator and founder of a non-profit organization focusing on entrepreneurship, he realizes the preparation and hard nosed direction were meant to teach life lessons; ones more important than those taught while actually on the football field.
“He taught us to put the greater good ahead of yourself just like he did it his whole life…for his children and for everyone else,” said Jack. “He showed you the power of working with young people. The reason I do what I do is I believe that here is a unique opportunity as an educator to impact the younger generation … I learned that from watching coach Fossa and my father. Coach Fossa showed me the specific multiplicity of that role . It goes deeper than winning a football game and bringing your socks on game day. It’s more important than that. “
To many, he was a coach, a leader, a mentor. Above all, to Cam he was dad.
At 24, Cam is now an assistant golf pro. He works on the Cape in the summer and in Florida in the winter. He has played many rounds of golf with his dad – one of the things he will miss the most.
“We had a very good relationship. Definitely when I left for college (Methodist University) we got a lot closer. We talked all the time. He was def family guy. Family first,” said Cam, choking back tears.
Cam said his dad’s love for his family may only be matched by his passion for Christmas. He may have even loved Christmas even more than football.
“Absolutely crazy about Christmas. At the memorial service my brother Corey spoke and said ‘anyone that knows dad knows he is probably up in the North Pole now interviewing to be the next Santa Claus.”
“If you came over our house around Christmas, it was madness. It’s almost shocking. He loved it. He probably had a Christmas list going on his phone already. I think he loved that it was a time that brought everyone together,” said Cam.
“He was a lunatic on the sideline and goofball in a Santa suit on Christmas with everyone he loved,” said Jack. “ He was so full of love and so committed to spreading it in so many capacities.”
Cam already realizes, “I’ll miss watching him with my nephew, playing golf with him and just being able to call him. He was always there for me.”
And everyone else.