40 years in, coach still going strong
After decades of coaching football and teaching weights at schools in Tennessee and Georgia, no one could blame Dean Ratledge if he decided to take a final walk off the field, but Ratledge believes he’s got at least a few good coaching years left in him.
“I’m starting year number 40,” Ratledge said.
He will be an assistant football coach at Darlington Upper School and a wrestling coach at Darlington Middle School. His son, Tate Ratledge, will play football for the Tigers at the Upper School.
Ratledge got his start 40 years ago coaching in Murray County and then moved to coaching in Tennessee. He coached football with John Mullinax in Cleveland, Tennessee.
When Mullinax retired and moved to Georgia to coach at Armuchee High School, he talked Ratledge into joining his staff and coaching under him again. Ratledge also coached track on and off as he was needed at Armuchee.
Ratledge, who is 63 years old, left Floyd County Schools at the end of last year.
He had been thinking about retiring for a couple of years.
Ratledge knew he wanted to go over to Darlington and help coach in his spare time because his son would be playing with the Tiger football team.
“I was overdue to retire anyway,” he said. Dean Ratledge (center) with his son Tate Ratledge and daughter Emmaline Ratledge.
However, his retirement wasn’t from one of the county high schools. It wasn’t from one of the middle schools either. It wasn’t even from an elementary school. Ratledge spent his last year in public education as a physical education teacher at Pepperell Primary School.
His placement there, after deciding he had not wanted to coach football his final year, came as a surprise, he said.
“I had not planned to go to the primary school,” Ratledge said. “But it was a blessing in disguise.”
He said that Pepperell Primary Contributed photo
School Principal Carmen Jones was very supportive of him, as were all of his new colleagues.
“Pepperell Primary is a great place,” Ratledge said. “The people make the place. They were absolutely wonderful.”
Ratledge, who towers over most adults at 6-foot-3, had his work cut out for him being surrounded by children in prekindergarten through second grade. They didn’t seem the least bit intimidated by him.
“I didn’t have a clue as to what to do,” Ratledge said, laughing. “I’d never had to do anything like that before. I’d spent my whole life in a weight room. You had to have something planned every day.”
Besides their stature, the primary school students were very different from their high school counterparts in other very noticeable ways.
“High school kids don’t really want to do anything,” Ratledge said. “Those (primary) kids are so excited — they wanted to do everything. … The stages of their development were all over the place. But those kids were always so supportive of each other. That was a huge change from high school.”
Ratledge said the seeds of becoming a coach came from summers working at a boys’ home when he was in his teens. He did activities in physical education with the boys and filled the role of big brother to many along the way.
“Like every other teenager in the world I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said. “I fell in love with the kids (at the boys’ home). That’s where the urge to coach was developed.”
Teachers and coaches from Ratledge’s time in high school also impressed upon him the desire to coach.