published Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Lions looking to 'Restore the Roar'

Red Bank High School begins tonight its 75th anniversary celebration.

A number of yesteryear heroes including legendary football coach Tom Weathers, linebacker Mike Kelley, running back Gerald Riggs Jr. and kicker John Becksvoort will be recognized in pregame ceremonies that are to start at 6:30.

They'll bring memories of past times, good times.

"It was a true community school and atmosphere there," said Ted Gatewood, the East Hamilton coach who started for the Lions from 1981 to '83. "On Friday nights it was like the whole town shut down for football games. You'd see former players during the week and they would encourage you and threaten you if the team did not uphold the standards they had set before you. It was very special."

Yet the catch phrase making the rounds at Red Bank is "Restore the Roar," as in returning Lions football to its former place among Chattanooga-area powers. A program that more than held its own in the past is following back-to-back losing seasons and 21 wins to 20 losses the past four seasons.

Tim Daniels, who succeeded Weathers and coached the Lions from 2002 to 2011, was reminded of his first two seasons when asked about restoring the roar.

"I remember it like it was yesterday -- tough times," he said. "They'd won a state final (2000) and then reached the quarterfinals the next season."

With a depleted talent pool, Daniels struggled through back-to-back losing seasons -- three total wins -- before turning the program around.

"All of a sudden I'm the guy going through the headaches and heartaches," he said. "I don't know that we were as bad as the records -- new coach coming in, unproven players -- and that second year we were in a lot of games but found ways to lose."

That third year it got interesting.

"I was getting ready to go into the locker room and heard one of the guys holding court," Daniels recalled. "He said he was tired of losing and that the team was going to start doing things the way the coaches wanted."

Boyd Angel's speech was a turning point, and the Lions went from 2-8 in Daniels' second season to 7-5 before reeling off three straight years with 10 or more victories.

So he knows about restoring the roar.

"The school has a tradition," Daniels said. "You have to make people understand that there's a tradition here, and losing isn't it. You see to get kids to understand the past and make it part of their future."

Some would blame Red Bank's downfall on the opening of Signal Mountain Middle High, but it's more than that, according to Gail Chuy, now the principal at East Hamilton but a member of the administration at Red Bank from 2005 to 2012.

"When I went to Red Bank they were busing kids from Westside and also kids from the mountain. There was a wide range of demographics," she said. "When they opened Signal, most of the older kids from the mountain stayed at Red Bank, but that transition took two or three years. During that time they also transitioned the Westside kids out of Red Bank as well, so it was purely the Red Bank community."

In her last year at Red Bank the student population dropped from somewhere around 1,100 students to 850.

"When you lose students, the talent pool is diminished academically and athletically," Chuy said. "You lose teachers and from that number going down, you lose coaches."

While the students from Signal Mountain were missed, what was missed even more was the parental support.

"A lot of parents from Signal were in the booster club and very much involved," Daniels recalled. "If we lost anything in that transition, it was the support those parents brought."

Although now coaching the offensive line at Baylor after recovering from open-heart surgery, Daniels remains in the classroom at Red Bank.

"I think we're in that situation with 700-800 students where there are going to be peaks and valleys," he said.

After the first 10 days of school, the enrollment was 732, and current principal Justin Robertson said he feels positive and is receiving positive feedback.

"In general Red Bank is on the upswing and we have a lot of positive momentum," he said of the school as a whole, noting that the freshman class this year numbered 225 and that the middle school enrollment was up considerably.

"I also think that athletically we are moving in the right direction. We have tremendous facilities and a coaching staff that communicates, shares athletes and works together. There are numerous examples of us moving forward in athletics, but two that stand out are the middle and high school football teams having 55-60 players out when both finished last year with less than 35."

Chuy views it as a matter of cycles.

"You will always have some classes with more gifted athletes and some with less," she said. "There is an ebb and flow in academics and athletics."

Contact Ward Gossett at wgossett@timesfreepress.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.

about Ward Gossett...

Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...

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