In Memoriam: Emeritus Professor of Physical Education and Former Head Coach of Baseball Mike Riskas

Coach Riskas witha student football player.

Emeritus Professor of Physical Education and Former Head Coach of Baseball Mike Riskas passed away on April 1, 2020. He was 85 years old.  

Riskas retired from Pomona College in 2003 after 42 years serving in a wide variety of roles—from coach to facilities coordinator. As an emeritus professor, he stayed connected with many of his students, following their lives and careers through correspondence. He had been a special friend and aide to all his colleagues and served the Department of Athletics and Physical Education and Pomona and Pitzer Colleges to the utmost.

“Coach Riskas set the bar and gold standard in terms of what it meant to be a coach, an educator and a professional. He was a cherished and valuable mentor for so many of us through the years. But most significant, he was a dear friend,” writes Professor of Physical Education and Men’s Basketball Coach Charles Katsiaficas.

Riskas first arrived in 1961 to serve as assistant football and assistant track coach for a year before assuming head coaching duties in baseball and assistant coaching duties in football from 1962-1986, producing numerous conference, regional and national-level players. Riskas was named a NCAA Division III West Region Coach of the Year in 1986. That same year, he received the Quarter Century Award from the American Baseball Coaches Association.

Riskas served as the director of the Western Water Polo Championships in 1991 and director of the SCIAC Men's and Women's Swimming Championships in 1992.

Not only was he a great coach but Riskas was also known as a team player within the Athletics Department. He managed and supervised schedules, maintained all athletic facilities on the Pomona campus and arranged for transportation, meals, strength-training and other needs for all the athletic teams. In addition, he coordinated physical education curriculum and registration, directed the intramural program, managed announcers, security and facility set-up for all home contests, managed facility use and schedules during school breaks and summer months. He also managed selection and training of the student staff to monitor facilities, served as chair of the Pomona-Pitzer Hall of Fame Selection Committee, administered NCAA compliance paperwork to all student-athletes, and continued to serve as a professor of physical education by teaching classes such as tennis, weight training, volleyball, cardio conditioning, handball, racquetball, swimming and wrestling.

Emerita Professor of Physical Education Lisa Beckett says, “There is good reason why Coach Riskas was given the nickname ‘Iron Mike.’  The strength of his character was unsurpassed. Honest, fair, generous, kind, loyal, genuine and resilient… that was Mike. Coach Riskas made a positive impact on anyone lucky enough to be around him… just ask any of the thousands of students, faculty and staff with whom he interacted in his 42 years as professor of physical education at Pomona. He pushed all of us to be better in all aspects of our lives. His mantra was ‘Better every day in every way,’ and that is how he lived. Mike’s legacy lives on in all who knew him.”

In 2001, Riskas took a three-year sabbatical from Pomona, and Major League Baseball (MLB) sent him to Greece as a coach-in-residence to develop their grassroots baseball. He helped coach the Greek national team to a 2003 silver medal in the Senior Europe Tournament, and the team qualified for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Since the 1970s, Riskas had conducted baseball clinics in various countries throughout Europe and South America.

Riskas graduated from Belmont High School in Los Angeles in 1952 and enrolled at UCLA, where he was captain of the frosh baseball team. He played guard for UCLA's 1954 Football National Champion squad and played outfield and third base for the varsity baseball team for three years—being selected as the team's Most Inspirational Player and Most Outstanding Senior in 1959. Riskas was inducted into the UCLA Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996 and into the Pomona-Pitzer Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997.

In 2017, Riskas was honored with the SCIAC Distinguished Service Award for his meritorious service to intercollegiate athletics. He shared in 2017 that being selected as a recipient of this award was “a blessing to share this recognition with the many super Sagehen coach colleagues, athletes and staff at Pomona and Pitzer Colleges. Having been a member of this great conference since 1961, it is also an honor to have shared mutual competition with the many outstanding coaches that make the SCIAC one of the best conferences out there. Thanks for the family support for a wonderful journey.”

He is survived by his two children, Michelle and Steven. His wife Barbara Riskas passed in 2018. His daughter Michelle Johnston has worked at Pomona since 2013 as an administrative assistant in the Athletics Department. She plays an integral role in the success of 21 intercollegiate athletic teams, myriad physical education classes and a healthy club and intramural program, handling everything from athletic clearance of student-athletes to managing Rains Center memberships. 

His family would like donations to be made in his memory to: Stead Heart Center at Pomona Valley Hospital and Champions of Sagehen Athletics.

We will update this page with information about a memorial service once it becomes available