Fairbanks brothers a Chattanooga area football refereeing tradition

Fairbanks brothers a Chattanooga area football refereeing tradition

September 9th, 2016 by Ward Gossett in Sports - Preps

Referee Billy Fairbanks officiates a prep football jamboree game at Finley Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Hamilton County Commissioner Randy Fairbanks works as a referee during Hixson's prep football game against Central on Friday, Oct. 24, 2014, at Hixson High School in Hixson, Tenn.

Hamilton County Commissioner Randy Fairbanks works as a...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

For at least six decades, at least two Chattanooga-area football teams have seen a Fairbanks brother working their games.

So when Bill Fairbanks, the youngest of the four officiating brothers, hangs it up, Chattanooga football may be at a loss.

"That's a matter of opinion," said referee Randy Fairbanks, who "moonlights" as a Hamilton County commissioner. "Some might say Chattanooga football will be better off."

Randy was recently awarded his 40-year service pin by the TSSAA as he started his 40th season, his 25th as a white-hat — the man in charge of an officiating crew. The honor had Bill, a state representative for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, bursting at the seams.

Skipper, Gene, Randy and Bill Fairbanks have totaled 150 years of service, prompting Bill to say, "I guess the TSSAA is about fed up with the Fairbanks family."

They're widely known but especially well-known in the Red Bank community. Each of the brothers — Gene is now deceased — were football and baseball players at Red Bank High School, and Gene and Skipper fought for the Red Bank boxing team.

It is Skipper, a retired federal probation officer, who probably is most renowned. He was one of the biggest proponents of boxing in Chattanooga, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, and he is still coaching fighters. And his name has been tied to Red Bank Dixie Youth baseball for decades. He also taught and coached at Red Bank Middle for 15 years.

"He'll work till he passes, I reckon," Bill said of his 82-year-old brother.

"Yeah, Skipper was the first," added Randy, a self-employed accountant before joining the county commission. "When I got out of college, Skipper and Gene were doing it, and Bill and I just fell in line and started doing like they were. It really was a family affair."

There is 35 years separating Skipper, the eldest, from Bill, the youngest. There also are two sisters, a basketball player and a cheerleader.

"We didn't have any backyard games. When I was little, Skipper and Gene carried me around on their shoulders, up and down the hills where we lived in White Oak. I do remember that," Bill said. "Randy I grew up together, so we were best friends besides being brothers."

They occasionally worked together over the years, although serving as referees once they were established limited those times. There is one specific occasion Bill remembers well and repeated with glee.

"I was Skipper's back judge in a game at Hixson. He got run over and knocked completely out," he said with a laugh.

Randy remembers getting plowed at McCallie by quarterback B.J. Coleman. It cost him knee surgery and Randy, remembering the incident with a chuckle, recalled, "I told him I'd never forgive him, but I surely did enjoy watching him play for UTC."

For all the combined years of service, the brothers worked together as a group only once, returning to their alma mater to call an alumni game at Red Bank. They have been recognized collectively as a welcome sight, though, in Chattanooga athletic circles for decades.

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