“Without them maybe I would have chosen a path that wasn’t the best,” Ratledge said. “I try to give that same mentorship.”
It is a calling of sacrifice — a sacrifice of time, energy, nights at home, free time and time with family. And one of the most difficult parts of that calling is watching a player who has that investment of his coach and who does not find success in life.
“The hardest thing about coaching is the kids who have broken my heart,” Ratledge said. “My failure to reach those kids. You torment yourself. Maybe you could have done or said something different. … It hurts you when they’re not successful.”
But sometimes it is not until later in life that coaches discover what kind of impact they have had on the youth they trained and mentored.
“I go back to reunions and try to keep up with my kids,” Ratledge said. “You’re watching them grow into fine young men and husbands and fathers. You like to think you had a small part in it.”
Ratledge has seen a lot of changes in his 40
years of coaching. He sees more children from broken homes now and more children who are unwilling to give respect to adults from the start.
“It’s harder to develop a relationship,” he said. “They have an attitude like, ‘Why should I trust you?’ But I think after a while you can reach them and earn their respect.”
And for the next few years, at least, Ratledge Contributed photo
Dean Ratledge (clockwise, from left), his wife Mary Stuart Ratledge, daughter Emmaline and son Tate during Ratledge’s coaching years at Bradley County in Tennessee.
will stay true to his mission of coaching and mentoring and making a difference in his players’ lives.
“The good Lord’s been good to me,” he said. “I’ve just got the old man stuff (typical aches and pains), but I’m healthy. … I’ve really never worked a day in my life. That’s not to say there weren’t days it wasn’t all good, but I’ve been blessed.”