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OHIO VALLEY UNSUNG HERO: Riley has been instrumental in growth of youth hockey

BRIDGEPORT — Dick Riley is a person who stays involved.

At 83-years-young, Riley remains part of the lifeblood of the Wheeling Amateur Hockey Association.

He’s touched the lives of generations of hockey players for the last 50 years or so, and still does today with players whose parents likely weren’t even born when he started lacing up his skates.

“I’m still coaching the TimBits,” he said. “It’s very rewarding. I like people. I like working with people.”

TimBits features players ages 4-6, but the age gap means nothing as far as Riley is concerned. Hockey brings generations together, and he said he loves them and they love him. And the love of the sport, Riley said, is what’s kept him immersed in it for so long.

That dedication to local hockey, and those that play it, was recognized at last Saturday night’s Wheeling Nailers’ home opener. There, Riley was inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame.

“It meant a lot,” he said. “I felt sort of mixed emotions. I felt like some people out there, maybe, deserved it more than I did. But, on the other hand, I was quite flattered and quite honored to receive such an honor.”

The idea that Riley would spend nearly half a century involved in hockey locally seemed far-fetched when he was a boy.

A student at St. John in Bellaire, Riley grew up on the sandlots, playing football and baseball. Admittedly “to small to play sports” in high school, Riley instead took on jobs to help the family like carrying newspapers and working at a gas station owned by Walter Longshaw.

After graduation in 1953, Riley moved into the private sector, eventually securing a job in the propane industry. There, he carved out a distinguished career with what became Suburban Propane, working across the nation on numerous projects, including teaching.

On the homefront, he raised a family that included four boys. And when those boys became interested in hockey, Riley went along for the ride.

“I took them over to skate and there was a high school boy who wanted to coach, but then you had to have an adult sign up as a coach, too,” Riley recalled. “He asked me if I’d help coach.”

There was one stipulation, though.

“He said, ‘Where are your skates?,'” Riley said. “I said, ‘I don’t skate.’ And he said, ‘Anyone coaching for me has to skate.'”

The rest is history.

Through his early work with pioneers like Bob Otten and Randy Worls, Riley has seen the sport of hockey grow in Wheeling from an uncovered rink at Wheeling Park to a downtown rink — WesBanco Arena. Through it all, WAHA’s mission has been the same — teach hockey and bring smiles to those playing it.

Riley recalls with great energy pushing snow off the Wheeling Park rink on early weekend mornings and keeping score with a low-key, yet effective, manual scoreboard.

“It was fun hockey,” Riley said, thinking about the early days of his work with WAHA. “Everybody was given equal playing time, regardless of your ability.”

The amenities are certainly better these days, but the commitment to players is still as strong. In addition to his work with TimBits, Riley serves as WAHA’s “Mr. Fix It” and has designed numerous apparatuses through the years including walkers, goalie-training devices and one that assists in helping players perfect their corner shots. His craftsmanship and ingenuity have saved WAHA many dollars throughout the years.

Riley spent nearly 35 years as an on-ice official and spent many years on WAHA’s board of directors, including serving as president.

He serves his community well off the ice, too. Riley has been a member of the Bridgeport Rotary since the early 1970s and also volunteers at his church, St. Anthony’s in Bridgeport, and at the Wheeling Soup Kitchen. He also helps neighbors in need by doing odd jobs and the like.

“It’s better than sitting at home,” he said. “I like to work. I like people.”

If you know of someone in sports in the Ohio Valley whom I could feature as an Ohio Valley Unsung Hero, drop me a line at rthorp@timesleaderonline.com or via Twitter @RickThorp1

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