Lake Tahoe Community College grad Richard Salazar wins Gene Upshaw Scholarship

Richard Salazar was awarded the $5,000 Gene Upshaw Scholarship.
Provided / Diane Lewis

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Lake Tahoe Community College student Richard Salazar was honored with the 2023 Gene Upshaw Scholarship Award during the American Century Championship. 

During a presentation with Salazar, Gary Quinn, NBC Vice President Programming and Owned Partnerships, reminisced about when he first met Gene Upshaw, football legend and namesake of the scholarship. 

From left to right: Nancy Harrison, Richard Salazar, Terri Upshaw, Gary Quinn.
Provided / Diane Lewis

Quinn started as an Intern 28 years ago and met Upshaw shortly after Quinn started. 

“For whatever reason, Gene just took me under his wing. I guess he thought I had some potential. And as time went on and they gave me more autonomy to manage the event, he really became a mentor to me. I couldn’t figure it out. I was like, why is this Hall of Fame football player, head of the NFL Players Association paying attention to me? There’s still no reason for it, but he did over all the time we were together,” said Quinn. 

He added that Upshaw was the key reason for the ACC and its 34 year run. 

“When he passed, obviously I was devastated when I heard the news, but the first thought was, we have to make sure that we continue his legacy attached to this event and let people know that do receive the award do research on what Gene was all about; that he was a Hall of Fame player on the field, but even a bigger Hall of Famer off the field,” Quinn said. 

Upshaw’s wife Terri also attended the event. 

“He just had a commitment to pretty much everything he did, the players, what he did for the players and the union and to work towards a better game all around for fans, for the players, owners, that everybody gets along, everybody works together,” Terri said. “So this scholarship really is about Gene and his legacy and his commitment to helping those who need an opportunity, who he feels like, you know, I got your back, I’m going to do everything I can to help you. And that was who Gene was.”

The scholarship has historically been given to local high school students but this year, it was expanded to LTCC. 

“When you visit Lake Tahoe, you will meet our students. They are parking cars. They’re serving your meals. They’re welcoming you and checking you into your hotel,” said Nancy Harrison, Executive Director of Foundation and College Partnerships, LTCC. 

“So they’re working out in the community. Many of our students, like Richard, are the first in their families to attend college. They are working part time or even full time while they’re earning their degree,” added Harrison. 

Salazar graduated from LTCC with his AA transfer degree in Sociology through LTCC’s Rising Scholars Program in June 2023. He was one of 40 students who graduated in June through the Rising Scholars program.

Rising Scholars educates and supports justice-involved students both while they’re incarcerated and post-release. Salazar, 33 was incarcerated at 16, got his GED and the AA degree primarily while incarcerated (he wrapped up two classes to get the degree post-release), is now working full-time.

In Fall 2023, Salazar will be starting at CSU San Bernadino to get started on his Bachelor’s in Sociology degree. Salazar received $5,000 from the Gene Upshaw Scholarship.

“This year, our students are receiving $276,000 in scholarships to continue their education, especially students like Richard who are going on to a four-year school to earn their bachelor’s degree, the costs are a lot higher for them,” said Harrison. “Richard is receiving a second scholarship from a private foundation. He’ll receive 8,000 in support for him to continue his education.”

In the scholarship application, Salazar had to talk about how they would continue Gene Upshaw’s legacy. 

“I was incarcerated real young. I was 16. I did 17 years. So I spent more time in jail than I’ve spent out here. I’ve had to get readjusted. But about three years ago, I went to High Desert, in Lake Tahoe. They gave me an opportunity to get into college, to change my life,” Salazar said during the event. “It was just a choice. It was, do I continue with the nonsense? Or do I want a better life? Do I want to live and die in prison? Or do I want to come out and become a better person?”

Salazar added, “I’ll tell you right now, I work six days a week, 10, 12 hours a day, it’s not easy at all, but it’s doable, and it’s something that, once I get stable, once I get my bachelor’s — even if I don’t get my bachelor’s — if I can help out kids or even people that need help, I’m going to help them because I was given an opportunity. I was given a second chance at life.”

Salazar hopes to mentor kids and help them break the cycle of gang violence. 

“Winning this award, it’s an honor. I feel blessed. Seeing what Gene did, on the field, off the field, to help others, he saw the struggle,” said Salazar. “He saw what it was to face these difficulties, and he built a bridge to help players come across, make it less difficult, make the game more fun, make it more safe, make it more fair.”

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