Rival schools, fans have provided support for Ringgold teams

Rival schools, fans have provided support for Ringgold teams

May 3rd, 2011 by Lindsey Young in Sports - Preps

Ringgold Middle and High schools were severely damaged during last week's storms. Staff photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press

RINGGOLD, Ga. - It has not surprised Brent Tucker one bit that area businesses and individuals have contributed money or equipment to the Ringgold High School baseball team.

The extent of that help, however, has both caught the Tigers' coach off guard and given him a different perspective on the human spirit.

"It's amazing," Tucker said, pausing to get his words right. "If you take us and folks like Cartersville and Carrollton, Northwest Whitfield, LFO, Heritage and put us on the field, we're big rivals. But there's a respect for each other that goes beyond the competition, and it's showing."

The first phone call Tucker got the morning after the EF-4 measured tornado ripped through parts of Ringgold, including the high school and middle school campus, was from Cartersville baseball coach Stuart Chester. He basically told Tucker that anything the Ringgold program needed he would help provide, including baseballs and other equipment.

That, Tucker noted, was hardly a surprise. The coaches are good friends who talk regularly. It's a different story in the stands. The teams' fans the past two years have squared off in each of the games and regularly insult each other on message boards.

However, Cartersville played a game last Thursday and a bucket was passed around for donations to the Ringgold program. Stuart later handed Tucker "several hundred dollars" along with equipment.

"For Stuart to help, well, he's just a classy person, but for some of the Cartersville fans to do what they did ... that was a pleasant surprise," Tucker said.

Carrollton isn't even in the same region any longer, yet the Trojans raised about $700 for the Tigers during a game. Other programs, such as Northwest Whitfield, also has raised money.

The Georgia Dugout Club has offered its support, and Eric Beagles, former Ringgold and current Heritage coach, offered Ringgold the use of the Heritage field for practices and playoff games. The Tigers will host a first-round Class AAA series Friday against Riverwood.

"Eric has been great through this," said Tucker, who estimates he's had at least 60 phone calls from people wanting to help. "Again, we're county rivals, yet he's not only allowing us to use his fields, he said we could put Ringgold stuff on it and around it."

The help isn't just pouring in for the baseball program. Ringgold athletic director and football coach Robert Akins has started a fund at Northwest Georgia Bank to help coordinate the effort. Akins points out that much is needed because insurance likely will replace only the lost buildings.

"We were able to save some of the stuff from the high school field house, but the middle school lost everything," said Akins, who estimated the loss of equipment, uniforms and field maintenance equipment to be between $50,000 and $100,000. "We've had a lot of phone calls, and folks like [rival football coaches] Mark Mariakis, Tim James, Todd Windham, David Crane and Northwest Whitfield principal Britt Adams have been great in their support."

Akins will take his Tigers through spring practice beginning May 9. Since Ringgold students will be attending school in the afternoon at Heritage, football practices will begin at 9 a.m. The spring game will take place at Heritage on May 21, and county rivals Heritage and Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe also will participate, with all the money raised that night going to the Ringgold programs.

The Atlanta Falcons and owner Arthur Blank also are getting involved, and Akins is working with Merrill Eckstein to secure Finley Stadium for the Tigers to play their 2011 games. The support for the many athletic programs will help some right away. It will be felt more when school starts in August.

"Most athletic programs rely on donations for equipment, and we need a lot now," Tucker said. "But we're going to need even more when we start over. It takes a great deal of money to run a high school program these days."

Meanwhile, work continues around the clock to help clear the worst-hit areas around town. Tucker has talked to many volunteers and has marveled at the attitude of those affected and those pitching in. During one conversation this past weekend, someone asked him if there will even be a Ringgold.

"I looked at him and said, 'Heck, yeah, there's going to be a Ringgold,'" Tucker recalled. "This town has way too many good leaders and people who just plain work hard for it to go away. We'll be back and better than ever."

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6296.