‘I was born here, I was raised here, and I’ll be buried here’
Forest lost a true community treasure last week with the death of Gary Lynn Risher — known as Coach to most. Risher died late Thursday at Lackey Convalescent Home from complications of multiple myeloma. He was 81.
Coach Risher’s story was one of The Scott County Times Profiles in 2021. “Just call me Coach,” he said at the time and that became the headline of his story.
Risher was something of a household name in the community as his reach extended to multiple areas throughout his life. He is a native of Forest and it held a dear place in his heart. Risher reflected on his city fondly in 2021 saying, “I was born here, I was raised here, and when the time comes I’ll be buried here.”
A lifelong Bearcat, Risher began as a student at Forest High School where he played a pivotal role in building a piece of his history that is still used to this very day. Though the high school had a football field in use, there was a desire for a more manageable and visually appealing location to house the Bearcats. Risher had the unique opportunity to have a hand in the construction of the new football field, not knowing that it would be the very field on which he would soon lead a team of champions.
Seeing the new field come together and being able to say that he played a part in that endeavor brought him much joy. “I am so proud of the fact that we built a new football field,” he said. “I helped work on that football field when I was in high school, moving bleachers and putting bleachers in, and I was always really proud of our football field. It’s still one of the best fields in the state of Mississippi.” Not only was he part of the team building the field, he was also an avid football player during his days at both high school and college; the initial inspiration for his coaching career in the same sport.
Risher first played football as a Bearcat at Forest High School. Starting out on the “old field,” after construction of the new one he was one of the first classes to get to play and practice there. After high school, he went to East Central Junior College and then to Mississippi College, still keeping up his sportsmanship and contributing to the football teams. Along the way, he had the opportunity to play both end and linebacker for each of the schools he attended.
Being an athlete, himself, drove him to be successful in his life as he felt the skills he learned during his years both as a teammate and a coach helped shape his outlook and help him push through. As a football player, he learned discipline and teamwork; skills which can extend far beyond the realm of sports and help to shape a person into a contributing member of society. His experience as a player in multiple levels of academia gave him the knowledge that would be required to coach a soon to be championship team at the school that started the legacy.
Risher’s life was not all sports and coaching, as he found himself within the classroom as an instructor. When Risher first began teaching, it was in Jackson for the first few years. After Jackson, he moved his career to Magee, where he was High School Principal for three years, though he considered himself to have been coaching for his whole life. After his tenure as principal, he returned to his roots in Forest where he rejoined his alma mater. Upon his return, he began to double as both a classroom teacher and the assistant coach for the football team.
It did not take long for Risher’s skills and knowledge with the sport to advance his position in the coaching squad. In 1970, Risher was bumped up to head coach of the Bearcats and went on to have a monumental first year.
“I think the biggest change in education the last 100 years was integration, and I survived through that and taught through that and I was proud to have been associated with it,” he said.
It was the first year of integration and Risher, and his coaches and team, worked hard to make it work; and work it did as this was the first year that the Bearcats had an undefeated football season and the 1970 Bearcats claimed the Conference Championship, putting the school on the map and in the history books.
It would be impossible for a man like Coach Risher to have worked so many years instructing students on and off the field to not have made some connections, so it came as no surprise that in later years he could be heard fondly talking about how previous students would come to him and tell him that he made a difference in their lives; moments, he always said, made him feel good.
See full obituary under the Obituaries tab.