Game of Life: How football provided normalcy following mom's murder

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ALMOND, Wis. (WSAW) -- As a sophomore, Wyatt Richtmyre was thrust into the starting quarterback role for Almond-Bancroft High School in Wisconsin, and shined right away. He led the Eagles to an 11-2 record and level 4 of the playoffs.

“A sophomore quarterback on a very good football team, you don't see [that]. He was never afraid. Never scared,” recalled Wyatt's coach, Andrew Bradley.

The Eagles lost that level 4 game in 2014 to eventual state champ, Owen-Withee. It would be the last football game Wyatt's mom would see him play.

Wyatt's mother, Lisa, was killed June 3, 2015 by his stepfather, Larry Sanchez.

It was the last day of his sophomore year.

“I don't ever want to do that, and I don't want anybody else to have to do that. How do you tell your kid your mother's been killed?” said Wyatt's father, Todd Richtmyre.

“Right away I said, 'No that couldn't have happened. That's impossible. There's no way.', said Wyatt recalling the news. “I just lost it and started crying.”

His mother and stepfather were separated, but never in the worst case of all scenarios could Wyatt have imagined the shooting.

“He [Larry Sanchez] always told he loved her. That he'd never hurt her, or whatever. Yeah, I didn't expect that to happen at all,” Wyatt explained.

His mom and dad divorced before he turned two, but Wyatt was extremely close to her. Always in his life, every day.

“I didn't have my mom there to go to anymore. I still woke up everyday, just reliving that day that I found out, and it happens to this day," he shared.

At just 16-years-old, Wyatt was forced to deal with a tragedy that so many can't comprehend.

“I think there's a lot of stuff going through his head that I'll never know. Nobody will ever know,” Todd said.

“You kind of felt that he didn't want to talk about it. But every kid knew he did. So we were just there for him when he needed it. They didn't push him or anything. They were just there when he needed it,” explained Carter Newby, Wyatt's childhood friend.

It would be easy for Wyatt to let the loss of his mom get the better of him. Instead, he's using it as motivation in life, school and on the playing field.

“One of my middle school coaches told me, he said to me a couple days after it happened, he said, 'You can either use this as an excuse or you can use this to better yourself.' I took that and went with it. I told myself that every game I was going to dedicate to her and I was going to play my heart out,” Wyatt said.

“There's a lot of things he could turn to, to get rid of the pain, or whatever. He stayed on the right path. I'm pretty proud of him,” Todd said.

That summer of 2015 was long. No school, no sports and no mom. When August rolled around, some normalcy returned with the start of football camp.

“He was tunnel vision. He was ready to go when he came walking in that locker room. He had a big group of guys supporting him,” recalled Coach Bradley of Wyatt's return.

“It was my time just to clear everything out and enjoy playing the sport. Not having to worry about anything else but playing,” Wyatt explained.

Before every game, whether it be football, basketball or baseball, he spends a moment with his mom, during the National Anthem.

“I know she's always watching over me. I tell her I love her and keep me safe and hope for us to win. And then, just kiss her goodbye,” Wyatt said of the pregame ritual.

Sanchez was recently sentenced to 30 years in prison for the shooting, giving Wyatt and his family some closure.

“There's been a couple of times where I think about it and I can't really fight it and it just happens,” Wyatt said of his mother's death.

Even though more than 16 months have passed since Lisa's death, nothing will ever be normal again.

“I'm sure there's not a day that goes by that he don't think about it. I mean, more than once a day, I'm sure. But he's able to put it aside and move on,” Todd said.

“I think it made all of us stronger. That last day of school, we all connected well. We grew as a family,” Carter said of the Lisa's death.

“Part of the last couple of seasons I'm sure have been for his mom. And he's just been remarkable the last two seasons, three seasons for us at quarterback,” Coach Bradley said.

Wyatt keeps a picture of his mom by his nightstand, and a frog statue that belonged to her to keep her close.

“There will always be an empty spot where she should be,” Wyatt said.

Read the original version of this article at wsaw.com.