November 8, 2013
One day during wrestling practice, freshman Armando Bejarano walked up to a tall, imposing junior named Ben Richards and said, “I want be like you when I grow up.” Bejarano, now a senior, remembers that what started out as joke led to a friendship he credits with saving his life.
From seventh grade on, Bejarano admits to “always being in trouble.” The trouble wasn’t just bad grades or bad friends; it was gang involvement that was quickly becoming serious. “[Richards] was one of those people who was always keeping me positive,” Bejarano said. “A lot of times I could text him, and while other people would say ‘Oh, that sucks,’ he would take the time to write entire paragraphs … he was just always there for me. He’s one of the people who saved my life.”
Because of Richards, Bejarano was given the opportunity to attend a wrestling club for free, and credits Richards with motivating and encouraging him in the sport. “He was always a really hard worker, and I guess it kind of rubbed off on me,” Bejarano said.
The two continued to keep in contact until Richards passed.
“When I heard he was in the hospital, I couldn’t believe it. And then when he died, I was angry. I felt guilty … he was such a good person. There are so many people it could have been … I wished it had been me instead.”
Richards’ coach at HHS, Mike Patrick, called him one of a kind.
“I have only coached one student who even comes close to his determination and work ethic. Ben came back last year to join my coaching staff so he was not only one of my athletes but one of my best friends also,” Patrick said. “He will always be remembered and I will have an end-of-the-year award in his honor.”