For more than half a century, Col. Richard Nichols has roamed the campus at Riverside Military Academy.
He’s served as a teacher, coach, assistant principal, athletic director and even swept the floors on occasion.
“During that period I was also the director of activities, drama and swept the floors when they needed to be swept — a little bit of everything,” said Nichols. “When you have a seven-days-a-week, 24-hour school, your job involves a lot of things.”
And for almost 30 years, he’s been the voice of the Eagles on Friday nights, carrying with him a walking knowledge of the school and its history few people in the county likely possess.
In 1962, Nichols came to Riverside from Kentucky. The University of Kentucky graduate (who is quick to tell you he bleeds Kentucky blue) started his tenure on the Gainesville campus as a social studies teacher and the basketball coach before accepting the position as assistant principal.
In 1976 he took over as the athletic director and stayed there until 2000 when he retired.
“I just love Riverside,” said Nichols. “It’s a big part of my life and it always will be — it’s a great school. By the time I got here until now, it’s been a big part of my life.”
In fact, Nichols, by his memory, is the first — and only — football announcer in the school’s history.
“(Fans) say when they get here on Friday nights before the game, they say they always know everything’s well once they hear my voice,” he said.
And he takes pride in his role as the voice of Riverside football.
“My main role is, of course, to do as good of a job as I can and recognize our kids and to recognize the other team’s kids,” said Nichols. “A lot of times we’ll go places where they’ll use a number or something and not use the name or they’ll just ignore our team. That’s always bugged me tremendously.”
Athletics, Nichols said, has always been a strong focus for Riverside, but because of the nature of the school, it can sometimes be hard to maintain continuity, especially with the “big three” sports: football, baseball and basketball.
“We’ve always done well in other sports other than the major ones,” he said. “Every time we can keep our kids for three or four years together, we always have pretty good teams. Of course, being a private military school is different and the result of that is we have our good years and our up and down years.”
But his favorite part is not really calling the games — although, he said, there have been some good ones, good seasons and great players. It’s seeing boys mature into adults.
“It’s great, especially during homecoming, when the boys come back and tell you how great it was here when they were here,” said Nichols. “Of course, most of them say when they were here they didn’t like it. But as Gen. (Sandy) Beaver used to say to them all the time: ‘I don’t care if you like us now or not, it’s what you think of us 10 years from now.’ That’s proven true.”