State champion coach Tom Richert set to retire from MCC

October 31, 2023

State champion coach Tom Richert set to retire from MCC

Spartan News is a presentation of Mason County Central School District in partnership with Mason County Press.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

SCOTTVILLE — This coming weekend Mason County Central Drama Program will present the play “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde on the stage of the A.O. Carlson gymnasium. The play marks an end of an era, as long-time drama director Tom Richert has announced his retirement. Richert has taught at Mason County Central since 1990. During that time, he has directed dozens of plays at the school and has also served as forensics coach since 1990. 

Richert is a 1981 graduate of Mason County Central High School. His interest in acting began in 1976 when MCC opened its middle school and started offering plays in the school cafeteria. During Richert’s freshman year in high school, elementary teacher George Reed started directing musicals, beginning with “Professor Fennerstein’s Magical Musical Revue.” Richert acting in every musical during his high school career. During his senior year he played King Mongkut in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I.”

As he considered college, Richert said he considered The Juilliard School in New York City or Western Michigan University.

“I loved acting but I also knew I wanted to teach,” Richert said, crediting two of his high school teachers for inspiring him to teach. “I was really encouraged to pursue teaching by Dorothy Landon and Ted Winkel.”

Richert chose Western Michigan University where he majored in theater education, communication education and English.

In 1983, he acted on the Ramsdell Theatre stage in Manistee, where he met his wife, Ann.

“I had always wanted to act on the Ramsdell stage,” Richert said. “I got the lead that year and that’s also how I met my wife.”

The Richerts then moved to West Palm Beach, Fla. where Tom managed a theater program and taught.

“We got tired of living in a city,” Richert said. “After our first child was born we knew we didn’t want to raise her in there. So we moved back to Michigan.”

Richert accepted a teaching position at Interlochen Academy of the Arts.

“I had been working at Interlochen for two years and the pay was very low. Our second child was born and we needed to make a better living. So, I called Bruce Smith at MCC.” Bruce Smith had been Richert’s high school principal and was then serving as superintendent.

“Bruce said to come to his office for an interview. He hired me on the spot.”

Over the years Richert has taught a variety of English, acting and communication classes. He currently is teaching English, introduction to theater, creative writing and film interpretation.

Early in his career at MCC, Richert started directing a series of one act plays. In 1998, he took over the drama program from Reed, who had been Richert’s drama director.

“George’s last play was ‘Beauty and the Beast’ in the spring of 1998 and then I started directing a play in the fall.”

Richert said a fall play became a challenge due to the athletic schedule at that time. MCC High School only had one gym, the AO Carlson Gym (named after long-time superintendent Arnold O. Carlson) until 2006. The Carlson Gym not only served as the school’s only competition gym but also had to be shared with the arts program. It continues to serve a dual purpose and will continue to do so unless voters approve an upcoming Nov. 7 bond proposal for an auditorium, a concept that Richert has supported for his entire career at MCC.

In 2006, as the athletic schedule changed, Richert began directing again, which he has done consecutively since.

“We aren’t always able to do musicals every year like we used to,” he said. “Royalties have become very expensive.”

Richert said participation in his drama productions is more than just a club activity. It’s a learning experience.

“The kids who participate in our productions do everything,” he said. “They build the sets, run the lighting, and anything else that needs to be done. The nights of the shows, I am sitting in the audience and the kids do everything. It’s a great experience for them and a foundation I am proud to have established here.”

Upon being hired at MCC in 1990, Richert become the coach of the forensics team, which had been started the previous year. Since that time, he has led one of the top forensics teams in Michigan becoming only one of two coaches at MCC to win a state championship, in 2018. Bruce Krieger was the other coach, leading the MCC boys track and field team to the class C state championship in 1986.

Richert said he is likely one of the longest-serving coaches in Mason County.

“It’s been a great experience to see these kids from a small school in Mason County go up against some of the largest and richest school districts and to consistently win. I think it says something that you can achieve your goals no matter where you come from.”

Richert said while in high school he not only participated in drama but also was on the wrestling team. His wrestling coach, Mike Keenan, instilled a valuable lesson in him about teamwork and having a winning attitude, lessons Richert instills in his teams today.

Richert began listed his former students and the careers they have pursued. Some of those students have included Amy (Petersen) Rangel, who is now one of the top high school band directors in the state of California, along with her husband, Luke Rangel, who is a sound engineer; Harold Cronk, a film writer, producer and director; the Gigante brothers who are pursuing careers in music and acting; and the list goes on. 

“Forensics and drama are very rewarding,” Richert said. “I have really enjoyed seeing these kids overcome shyness and take charge in front of an audience. I am going to miss that.”

Richert said he’s ready for the next chapter in his life to begin when the school year ends.

“I’ve always wanted to pursue acting more,” he said. “Here, I am a teacher who does some acting, but I’d like to look at it more serious.”

He said he also looks forward to spending more time with his family.

MCC High School Drama Program’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde” will be presented Friday, Nov. 3, Saturday, Nov. 4, and Sunday, Nov. 5 on the stage of the A.O. Carlson Gymnasium. Friday and Saturday performances will be at 7 p.m. and the Sunday performance will be at 2 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for students and $4 for MCC students.


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