John Nelson Risley III, of Willimantic, went peacefully, on April 11, 2022 at Windham Hospital, surrounded by his loved ones to the baseball stadium in the sky. He was born in Hartford, CT to Donald Hamilton and Ruth (Flanagan) Risley. He was an avid bird watcher and sports fanatic but he enjoyed time with family & friends the most. His love for baseball and basketball was only surpassed by his love for his family and the friends that became family.
Coach Riz, as he was known, was a loving husband, father, grandfather, uncle and loyal friend. A strong leader with a thoughtful and considerate presence in addition to being a fierce and fair competitor. He was predeceased by his wife of 33 years, Merle (Barnes) Risley, and his wife of 20 years Rita (Lemieux) Risley, his brother Bill and his sister Donna.
John is survived by his five children with Merle; Christopher, Donald (Thad), Sean, Patrick and Tara and their spouses. Not to mention, the many that consider him a father. John also has many grandchildren and a few great grandchildren to carry on his legacy and countless nieces and nephews who love and admire him. He was also survived by his lovely companion Joan Watson.
The foundation of Coach Riz’s long career as an athlete and coach were the local YMCA of Willimantic, CT and the baseball fields of Coventry, CT where he grew up. After graduation from Windham High School in 1956, John went on to the University of Connecticut where he played baseball and basketball. Riz played in both the Division 1 College World Series and Division 1 College Basketball National Championship Tournament. He was on multiple Yankee Conference Championship teams in both sports at UConn. In 1959 he was honored as an All-American pitcher. After college John played for one year for the Cleveland Affiliate, The Minot Minors where he played against the likes of Willie Stargell and Joe Torre. He also obtained his Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Connecticut and went on to become a physical education teacher for over 30 years.
Coach Riz began his coaching career immediately after his baseball career ended. He held coaching positions at Ledyard High School, Coventry High School, his beloved Windham High School, University of Bridgeport and then New London High School. He then moved on to coach basketball, baseball and softball at Eastern Connecticut State University. He racked up 4 National Championships while at Eastern and was ultimately inducted into the ECSU Athletic Hall of Fame. He also coached the Willimantic American Legion Baseball team for 17 years. Through coaching, he helped transform the lives of countless young men and women who went on to continue their athletic careers. Most importantly he helped shape their lives off the field through his tenacity and unfailing compassion. Coach Riz pushed his player’s to work hard, always using one of his favorite quotes, “It’s a lot easier to lose than it is to win”. Coach Riz poured his heart and soul into every aspect of his life; living a life of commitment to family, friends, work and faith. While we will miss him terribly; Heaven just got a little brighter. Rest easy Coach and thank you for your guidance, love & respect for a life well lived.
John’s family will receive relatives and friends on Thursday, April 21, 2022 from 4:00pm to 6:00pm at Potter Funeral Home, 456 Jackson St., Willimantic, CT.
His Funeral Mass will be celebrated Friday, April 22, 2022 at 10:00am at St. Mary Church, 46 Valley St. Willimantic. Burial will be private.
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