Friends, family, former players and coaches are mourning the loss of a legend in the Loudon community.
Bert “Chig” Ratledge, 91, passed away early Monday morning in his sleep. Ratledge served as the Loudon High School Redskins head football coach for 28 years and helped guide the program to state championships in 1969, 1974 and 1975.
“If there is anything magical about the Loudon Redskins’ mystique, it is largely due to Ratledge’s teams,” Jeff McQueen, former LHS player and program historian, said. “He was the architect of the ‘Mighty Redskins’ and the ‘Big Red Machine.’ Ratledge’s teams were respected and feared by opponents in the ’60s and ’70s. Coach insisted on toughness, dedication, teamwork, a ‘never quit’ work ethic and playing smart. These same attributes would serve his pupils well when their playing days on the gridiron were long over.”
Ratledge, a 1947 LHS graduate, attended Tennessee Wesleyan University and East Tennessee State University before returning to his alma mater.
From 1956-81, Ratledge consistently fielded successful teams and coached several legendary players such as Bruce Wilkerson, Marlon Brown, Reggie Brown, Butch Crabtree and Joe Turpin.
He returned to Loudon from 1989-93 before Tim Daniels took over in 1994.
Joe Alexander was a co-captain on the undefeated 1962 team and learned valuable life lessons under Ratledge.
“Without a doubt, Coach Ratledge had a profound impact on me,” Alexander said. “During the Vietnam War, it was skills learned from Coach Ratledge that gave me the toughness to survive, as well as inspiration to lead other paratroopers during intense combat. It was skills learned from Coach Ratledge that made me competitive in the business world and it was his emphasis on teamwork that became the foundation of my business model.”
LHS athletic director Ronnie Roberts graduated from LHS in 1975 and helped lead the Redskins to their second state title in 1974.
Roberts eventually returned to Loudon to start his coaching career under Ratledge in 1989.
“It was obviously a special time for all of us who played then,” Roberts said. “As we know the tradition of Loudon football, Coach Ratledge is who made that tradition. My first coaching job was with Coach Ratledge, also. I coached with him for four years. He was the icon. He was a tough-nosed coach and he demanded respect from everyone that played for him.”
Roberts learned valuable life lessons from Ratledge, and many stick with him today.
“The first thing you learned was nothing’s going to come without some work,” he said. “You’re going to have to invest time, you’ve got to demand excellence and you’ve got to know what the finished product looks like. If you don’t, you never know when you’re going to get there. I think that’s one thing that he told me years ago that stuck with me during my coaching career.”
Roberts credits Ratledge for being “an innovator” due to his unique offensive and defensive philosophies.
“He was one of the first high school coaches in this area to bring the split-back veer,” Roberts said. “Nobody had ever seen that. He went to a split-four defense in 1969 and nobody had seen that before. He was kind of a step ahead of everybody in that era. I never will forget how many coaches came to him for coaching clinics and things like that. Coach was kind of the granddaddy of that in high school football around here.”
When Jeff Harig arrived at LHS from Ohio in 1994, he quickly knew there were some big shoes to fill.
“When we came to Loudon, we had taken over for him after he had been back as head coach the last four years,” Harig said. “The No. 1 thing you find out really quickly about Loudon football is those three state championships and Coach Ratledge’s commitment to excellence and what he required of his players.”
Harig was able to develop a special bond with Ratledge.
“We had a great relationship,” he said. “When he was able to get around, he would come out to practice. His later years, he came out less and less. Not only did we have those times at practice, he used to be the recreational director for the morning walking crew. He had a key to the school and every morning at 5 a.m., he would open up the school so that the walking crew could have access to walk indoors. We would have many conversations at 6 a.m. on philosophy and things he felt I needed to know about doing my job.”
Ratledge made a profound difference in the culture at Loudon, which is a legacy Harig wants to continue.
“The beauty of Loudon High School is we have three state titles,” he said. “There’s a lot of schools out there that claim to be a championship school but have never won one. The beauty of Coach Ratledge and his teams is we can pull from that. We’ve had second- and third-generation football players that had parents and grandparents that played for Coach Ratledge and the standard was set by him and his teams. We can draw from that and understand that if I do my job, I’m going to play for a championship.”