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Nearly four decades after his Cal football playing days, Ron Rivera continues to make a difference for the Golden Bears.

The former All-America linebacker, currently head coach of the NFL’s Washington Football Team, has together with his wife, Stephanie, made a $500,000 gift to Cal’s softball facility improvement project.

Rivera, 58, said his alma mater still has special meaning to him.

"Every time I go back on campus, I get chills," said Rivera, who played for the Bears from 1980-83. "I love going back there. I get butterflies in my stomach thinking about that.”

The project to update what has been known as Levine-Fricke Field is still in its planning and design phase, according to the Cal Athletics website. There is no projected cost or timetable for its completion.

But when it does open, the facility will be known as the Rivera Family Cal Softball Field.

An anonymous matching gift of $500,000 also has been pledged to the project, Cal said.

The Riveras' gift is part of the Cal Athletics' gender equity campaign that is raising funds for new facilities for both softball and beach volleyball.

"The biggest thing is we saw a need," said Stephanie Rivera, who was a member of Cal's women's basketball team from 1983-85. "We always try to support Cal athletes.”

The new facility will upgrade the field to meet current standards and will give Cal the capability of hosting NCAA tournament games.

The Rivera Family Softball Field

Artist's drawing of the Rivera Family Softball Field

Ron and Stephanie Rivera have a long friendship with new Cal softball coach Chelsea Spencer,, who played for the Bears from 2002-05 and was part of the program’s 2002 national championship team.

Rivera was playing for the Chicago Bears when he and his wife got to know Spencer, who was playing professionally at the time for the nearby Rockford Thunder. Ron and Stephanie asked Spencer to help operate a softball that was attended by their daughter, Courtney, who later played the sport at UCLA.

Spencer said she became close with the Riveras and has always appreciated their support of their shared alma mater.

"They brought us to their house and inside their family," Spencer said. "It meant a lot. We kept that connection throughout the years. The passion that the Rivera family has for Cal Athletics is unmatched. For Cal softball, it's a dream come true for this process to continue with the Rivera family. We're very fortunate to have them behind us."

Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton echoed that appreciation for the Riveras’ contribution

"We are immensely grateful for Ron and Stephanie's leadership gift to the Cal softball facility project and for their support of our Gender Equity Campaign," Knowlton said. "They are phenomenal examples of what it means to be a Golden Bear. We are excited to put shovels in the ground and honor the Rivera family on the field that will bear their name.”

The couple has a history of giving back to Cal. In 2002 they established the Ron Rivera Linebacker Scholarship for the football program. They also purchase season tickets for both football and women's basketball despite the fact they wind up giving most of them away to family and friends because they are unable to attend.

Ron Rivera during his Cal playing days

Ron Rivera during his Cal playing days


Rivera said of his relation with Cal, "The connection is very strong.”

It has perhaps deepened in recent months since Rivera began undergoing treatment for a form of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. Rivera said he has been touched by the support he receives from the Cal community.

"It's been amazing," he said. "I get emails, letters, text messages – well-wishes from alums. So many Cal people have reached out. I've gotten some mail from Cal alums who just say they've watched me play and that they wish me the best. That's been really heartwarming."



Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo

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