COOLIDGE — Almost everyone has a philosophy on life, and in many cases, that view point can be a key factor in determining the impact they have in their lifetime.
For Ricky LaPaglia, his philosophy is centered on bringing value to the community where he grew up. And the principle is one that he hopes to spread to younger generations.
“That’s what I try to tell the kids that come down here (to the Coolidge Youth Center) or the kids that are on the youth council — they’ve probably heard me say it a hundred times — wherever you go and whatever you do, become a contributing member to your community,” he said.
LaPaglia is among four people who have been nominated for, and will be inducted into, the Coolidge High School Hall of Fame on Sept. 30.
Growing up on a cotton farm, LaPaglia remembers the integral role his community played in his childhood. To this day, he carries with him the impact that community-led activities like Little League, as well as youth and recreational sports, had on him.
“As a kid, our Little League all-star team almost won the state championship,” he recalls. “I was real fond of that — and I still am.”
Over time, his love for sports and his hometown continued to grow.
Part of Coolidge High School’s graduating class of 1995, LaPaglia played a number of sports, ranging from basketball to baseball to football, which was coached by Larry Delbridge.
“I loved going to high school at CHS,” he said. “The teachers I had I really enjoyed. I can’t even think back on a teacher I didn’t like. I still think back to stuff they said, and it still resonates with me today.”
Looking back, however, he remembers not always being so eager to listen as a teenager — something he said he wishes he could change in hindsight.
Still, there were other lessons that reached him at an early age and have stuck throughout the years.
LaPaglia attributes growing up in a small town as the spark that ignited his zeal for competition in sports and extracurricular activities, and recalls wanting to prove that students from Coolidge were just as capable of accomplishing great athletic and academic achievements as students from larger communities.
“I always felt there was a mentality about growing up here that you felt that you had to prove yourself because you were from a small town,” he said.
Yet he believes the outlook was less of a challenge to be overcome and more of an idiosyncrasy to be embraced.
“I really do think Coolidge makes you mentally strong” he said. “You learn to work and do things for yourself — at least that’s how I grew up and how most of the people I grew up with grew up. It makes you want to win in every aspect of your life.”
After graduating, LaPaglia started working part-time with Coolidge Parks and Recreation Department before moving on to obtain a degree from the University of Arizona.
While in college, he also worked for the campus’s rec center. And it was not long before he realized that his true calling was in recreation. The aspect that appealed most to him about working in the field, he said, was having the opportunity to see children and adults alike enjoy and invest energy into sports and other activities in a less structured environment.
But there is also lots of value that children and young adults can take away from recreational sports even if the games are not necessarily played to keep score, LaPaglia said.
“I believe you need to learn that sometimes you’re going to win and sometimes you’re going to lose,” he said. “What do you learn from that? And how do you get better whether it’s at sports or whatever it is you’re trying to get better at?”
Despite enjoying his time in Tucson, LaPaglia said that he always held the intention to return to the place where he grew up.
“I always wanted to come back to Coolidge,” he said. “I liked living in Tucson, and we could have stayed there and probably been happy, but I always figured that this is where I would live. I wanted my kids to go to school here like me and my wife did.”
LaPaglia was hired by the Coolidge Parks and Recreation Department in 2004 as a recreation coordinator. Fifteen years later, he is now the head of the department.
But perhaps even more consequential, he remains in touch with the impact the people and places in Coolidge have had on his life. And he recognizes the value Coolidge’s unique community can bring to others.
“I think the diversity that Coolidge (has) is important. That’s why I think it’s such a good place to raise kids,” he said. “Socio-economically it’s diverse, ethnically it’s diverse, and I think that’s important because when you go out into the world you need to have that exposure.”