Crusader brothers band together to support classmate



Dave Mahoney ’71, Dan Hayes ’71, and Dan Ferrigno ’71 support fellow Crusader Bill Blanchard ’71.

Steven Rissotto ’20, Sports Editor

Americans love sports. It’s fair to say almost everyone loves sports. It’s a mixture of exercise, mental structure, fun, and competition. Some people love to compete. Bill Blanchard ’71 is, and was, no exception.

At Riordan, fall afternoons are filled with the forecast of either complete Antarctica temperatures or the Bay Area’s tarty summer humidity. It could have been either, but that didn’t stop Bill Blanchard from competing in varsity football for the Purple and Gold during the course of his senior year in 1971. The tall and slender safety was nothing but confident during a verbally encouraging practice, where trash talk was a rare occurrence.

Blanchard was a basketball star out of St. Stephen’s Catholic School, where he raised eyebrows during a tournament at Riordan while he was in the eighth grade. He was awarded the most valuable player award. He was recruited for hoops and started to play football as well.

Fast forward to a short, stocky running back racing towards the slender and tall Blanchard, who had to do some quick strategizing before making a decision. He knew he was going to get hit no matter what. The choice was to get low, which produced massive head-to-head contact. It was a choice Blanchard would look back on several years later and regret.

Blanchard recalled, “As we hit, I felt myself spinning around in the air and then I was staring at a blue-sky watching puffy clouds float by, and I realized I couldn’t move my body. People were gathered around me.”

Head Coach Bob Toledo described it as the “loudest sound” he ever heard in 50 years playing and coaching football. Toledo considered stepping down from coaching after the incident, but Blanchard convinced him to stay, and he later became a very successful college coach.

The results of the injury were beyond what Blanchard could have imagined. He was paralyzed from neck down, living his life as a quadriplegic since the crazy, loud fall afternoon.

“For the most part, it was frightening. What’s in store for me? What’s my future?” Blanchard said. “It was overwhelming at first. I had a tremendous support system with my family and with my friends.” Blanchard devoted most of his adult life as an advocate for people with disabilities at UC Berkeley. He enjoys writing short stories, reading, taking classes, and hanging out with friends. It’s not all that easy for him, however. Every morning consists of two hours of personal care from an assistant and another evening routine very similar. Blanchard’s recent health problems have left him needing help from Riordan friends. On Oct. 20, Dan Hayes ’71, Dave Mahoney ’71, and Steve Mayer ’72 organized a benefit dinner in Chaminade Hall to help with medical bills. The group was successful and raised more than $110,000 from 344 people on their GoFundMe page.

“At this point in my life,” he said, “Riordan means friendship and living your life for others and not just for yourself. Crusaders are ones to not leave a fallen Crusader behind.”