By ADAM SHINDER
and REBECCA WEBSTER
Recorder News Staff
TOWN of AMSTERDAM -- Lester Rivera Jr., a star halfback on Amsterdam High School's 1995 New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class B championship team, was killed Wednesday morning in a one-car accident.
According to Sgt. Andrew Donato of the New York State Police in Fonda, the accident happened around 8:50 a.m. in Cranesville.
Donato said that Rivera, 35, of 36 Slater St. in the city of Amsterdam, was traveling east on State Route 5 at the time when he traveled off of the south shoulder.
The sergeant said the vehicle overturned, hit trees, and came to rest on its roof against small trees.
Rivera was partially ejected from the vehicle while it was overturning, he said, and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Rivera's body was removed and taken to St. Mary's Hospital; family members were notified Wednesday afternoon.
Donato said there were no other occupants in the vehicle and the accident involved no other vehicles. The cause of the accident is still under investigation.
No further information was available as of Wednesday at 4:20 p.m.
Frank Derrico, the head coach of the 1995 state title team, was struck heavily by Rivera's death.
"I loved the kid. He was one of my son's best friends and he always had an infectious smile," Derrico said. "Besides being a great football player, he was well-liked by his teammates, he was well-liked by the coaches."
Stunned when he received the news of Rivera's death Wednesday evening, former Amsterdam High School athletic director Bob Noto -- an assistant coach on the 1995 state championship team -- described Rivera as a terrific football player whose presence in the Rugged Rams' backfield was a key to the team's title run.
"He was the last piece of that puzzle that team needed to make that state run," Noto said. "He really loved the game. He worked Little Giants for a few years. He just loved the sport."
"I really feel bad for his kid," Noto added. "He's got a young son."
Rich Allen, another assistant coach on the 1995 team, described Rivera as, "A tremendous football player. He was the heart and soul of that team."
In his senior season of 1995, the speedy Rivera ran for 1,192 yards and 13 touchdowns. In the state playoffs, he ran for more than 100 yards in all three games -- 161 against Peru, 123 in the state semifinals and then 137 yards on 23 carries in the state final against Indian River, including a 2-yard run that set up Alvaro Montes' game-winning field goal.
"My only regret with Lester Rivera is that I brought him up as a sophomore, and I brought him up to varsity way too late," Derrico said. "He was that talented, and that tough. He wasn't a very big kid, but he had a tremendous amount of talent and he loved the game of football.
"It's something you always try to tell the kids, 'It's one of the reasons you play sports is because it prepares you in life for things like this.' Right now, the kids on that team are gonna have to think about what they went through, they're gonna have to bond together and realize that they're gonna have to stay together through this, because it's a really, really tough time."
After his playing days, Rivera remained a part of the local football scene as a coach with the Amsterdam Little Giants -- first with the Green Gators of the Junior Division, and more recently with the Patriots of the Senior Division. Little Giants President Chris Iorio remembered Rivera as someone who was fiercely dedicated to the children playing in the league.
"Lester's just one of those guys that was always smiling, always happy, really took time with the kids," Iorio said. "One of the things that really stands out is he was constantly bringing players to and from practices, giving them rides. He would pick up the kids -- he would have a carload of them. We used to joke with him and laugh all the time because he'd come in with a carload of players."
During his time as treasurer for the Little Giants, Iorio remembered several occasions where Rivera helped out players who were unable to cover the league's registration fee.
"There were several times when kids could not pay the registration fee and Lester picked up the remainder of those fees," Iorio said. "He was a friend to all of us, was always there, always at practices. The biggest thing is the interest he took with these kids."
"What I'm most proud of is what he made of his life," Derrico said. "He had a tough life, and he really made something out of himself. To see it end this way is just absolutely tragic."