Few can make the claim that they know Oceanside as well as Richard “Richie” Woods. The 59-year-old local historian, sports coach, science teacher and amateur guitar player says the neighborhood has given him everything. Now, all he wants to do is give back.
Closing in on his retirement from Oceanside High School after 35 years, Woods would never admit it himself, but he has had as much an impact on the community as it has had on him.
“Richie is the true mister Oceanside,” OHS English teacher Frank Nappi said of his longtime friend and colleague. “He grew up here, went to school here, taught the majority of his career here. I couldn’t think of anybody who embodies the true spirit of Oceanside more than Richie.”
“The salt of the earth is how I describe someone like Richie,” Nappi added. “There’s not an ounce of pretension or artifice with him, he’s as real as it gets.”
“He’s a very passionate and caring person with great convictions about what is right for kids, students and our school,” Frank Luisi, OHS’ advisor for N.C.A.A. college-bound student athletes said. The two have known each other since Woods began teaching at the school. Luisi coaches football; Woods, basketball and baseball.
Throughout his decades-long coaching career, Woods has had the opportunity to oversee a handful of Oceanside greats. Former New York Jets and Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler won varsity letters as a point guard in basketball under Woods’ tutelage. John Frascatore, went on to become a major league pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals and Toronto Blue Jays. Brothers Fred and Allenby Lyson played Division I basketball in college. Allenby later returned to at the high school himself.
“I can’t say enough about him, he’s really been a second father to me,” Lyson said of his former coach. “It’s hard to put into words what he’s meant to me.” But he joked, that if he had been asked what he thought of Woods in high school, he likely would have used different, more colorful, terms to describe him.
“He was very hard on us,” Lyson recalled. “But fortunately for me, I realized the value of what he taught me.” He credited Woods for allowing him to make the most of his basketball abilities, “I can’t thank the man enough.”
A friend both on and off the basketball court, Lyson said Woods was one of the first to call him and express condolences after his father died in 2014. He then came and sat with him at his home while he grieved. “If I could do half of what he’s done for me, for someone else, that would be a success.”
In addition to sports, Woods has been making his mark through recounting local history, where he has published two books on Oceanside, with another currently in the works. He said he had always been interested in figures whose influence extended beyond the boarders of the community — particularly athletes — but it wasn’t until Arcadia Publishing, which specializes in local histories, put out a call for authors, that he decided to compile a more complete history. “I felt we deserved the book,” he said.
Published in 2004, the first book, entitled “Oceanside” was primarily picture focused, and part of a series released by Arcadia called “Images of America.” From his research Woods provided some tidbits of Oceanside history, such as how it was once the site of an underground shrine to the Virgin Mary. Located at St. Anthony’s Church, the shrine was destroyed by fire in 1961 and never rebuilt.
He could also tell you how in 1925, Oceanside was selected as the site for the Ku Klux Klan’s annual Northeastern conference. “It was what they called a Klan Carnival for the North East,” he explained. “It was some sort of giant party.”
Woods said the ‘20s were a particularly interesting time in Oceanside’s history. “It was certainly a notable era,” he said. “The community changed, [there was] a lot of immigration and development.” According to his research, the 1920s was the period when Oceanside began transitioning from a rural area to a more developed one.
Despite limitations due to the picture focus of the book — he had to cut 10,000 words from his original draft — he said photos, specifically post cards, have proven a valuable resource for local history. “Those are really interesting records in themselves for all of Long Island,” he said of the antique slips of cardboard.
“They put different eras in perspective.” Woods said adding that while postcards don’t necessarily serve as historical archives by themselves, their nature as mass-produced pieces of memorabilia highlights the public and commercial interests of the eras in which they were produced.
His second book, “Legendary Locals of Oceanside,” published in 2013, focuses on natives who went on to have a national impact. Local figures like Academy Award nominated character actor David Paymer, Disney CEO Robert Iger or New York Yankees President Randy Levin. Intended as a pride piece, he said he hoped that residents could brag a bit about their hometown after reading.
His unpublished third book “Then and Now” will focus on how various landmarks and structures have changed over the years. Eager to use more postcards, he said they would come in handy for the project.
Woods said the books are a tribute to a neighborhood that has given him much throughout his life. “From little league to grammar school, and my whole working career at the high school,” he explained. “I’ve just been blessed by this community and how they’ve treated me.
“I wanted to do something for the community that did so much for me,” he added.
The father of three daughters, his wife Wendy said he waited until their youngest, who is graduating this month, was out of the high school until he retired. “To them he’s the greatest guy in the world,” she said of the three. “They keep thinking, how are they going to find someone like him?”
Looking forward to his retirement with mixed emotions, Woods said he would like to try his hand at authoring more books. Additionally, he is thinking of working as a teaching instructor to groom the next generation of teachers. Whatever the future holds, he has had long and successful run at the high school and will no doubt continue to influence his beloved community.
“I was blessed with hard working and talented athletes I’ve gotten to coach, and really smart students I’ve gotten to teach,” Woods said. “It’s been a really good ride.