Though former Red Bank High School football coach Tom Weathers' memory isn't always what it used to be, he still finds great joy in walking around the track that surrounds the Lions' football field and recalling his "good old memories here."
Those memories are some of the best in our town's prep football history. Coaching for a state championship in 1978. An undefeated regular season in 1990. Winning it all 10 years later, the Lions players making snow angels on the Middle Tennessee State University football field after overcoming Riverdale in a late autumn snowstorm.
But after one of those recent walks with sons Jeff and Wendell, who's now an assistant principal at Red Bank, all three Weathers men went into the school building to move some desks and chairs and sift through some old yearbooks. They also studied all those trophies won by Lions teams over a span of more than 70 years.
And having recently attended the Class of 1982's 35th reunion while catching up with friends and teammates they hadn't seen in decades, Jeff and Wendell decided they needed to start a Red Bank football reunion for everyone they could find who had ever been a Lion. Then they thought even that wasn't enough.
"Let's make it for everyone who's ever supported the Lions," Jeff said. "Maybe a reunion could help rekindle some of the support the program once enjoyed."
The brothers started with a spreadsheet listing former players and coaches all the way back to the 1940s. Between emails and mailed letters sent by them and others, they've managed to reach a little more than 380 former Lions total.
To show how right the Weathers brothers were to embrace such a project, they've already received over 200 confirmations from those planning to attend the Red Bank Football Reunion slated for Saturday night, Aug. 18, at the Chattanooga Convention Center. They expect that number to grow to more than 250 by that evening.
"We've all gotten on with our lives," said Gerald Ware, the star running back and defensive back on the 1990 team. "But to see each other again, to see so many people who've played or cheered for Red Bank football over the years, is truly special."
It would be tough to find an individual from any year who had a more special beginning to his career than Ware. The first time he touched the football for the Lions as a freshman he returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown against City High School. The second time he touched it, on a play from scrimmage, he scored again. By the time the game was over he had scored four TDs. And he was the first player in school history to start all four years of his career.
"I weighed 145 pounds," Ware recalled. "I had no aspirations to be a starter, much less a four-year starter. I never saw myself as a leader, but Coach Weathers did. He didn't use a lot of words, but he had that inner strength. He knew that real leaders led through action."
But the words "Red Bank" always has meant something special, whether spoken or not.
"Playing for Red Bank was huge, it was your identity," said Soddy-Daisy principal Steve Henry, who also coached the Trojans to several wrestling state titles but graduated from Red Bank. "The last time I coached football here was 20 years ago under (the late) Little Tom Weathers. I wasn't going to coach football anymore. I had a family, other full-time responsibilites. I'd already turned him down once.
"Then he calls back and tells me again how much he needs me to coach the secondary. He tells me it's 'a Red Bank thing,' and he has to have me. I said, 'Oh, you just had to go there, didn't you?' So I coached. Just that Red Bank loyalty was almost impossible to say no to."
They aren't all tied to the Weathers family, of course.
Bob Brown, class of 1958, played for Bill Edwards before heading off to Emory and Henry College in Virginia, then later to a long teaching career in the Knoxville school system.
"Coach Edwards was a stern disciplinarian. He knew how to get things out of you you didn't believe you could do," Brown said. "I wouldn't be where I am today without him. I'm really excited to come back and see people I haven't seen in a long time."
Yet for most who'll return, honoring the career of Tom Weathers Sr. is a major reason to be there.
"He really pushed effort, giving 100 percent," said Mike Kelley, who starred for the Lions in the early 1980s before going on to play at Tennessee. "I still embrace that today in everything I do. You can't substitute effort."
A divorced father of three, Kelley said his time at Red Bank under Weathers always will be special.
"There's nothing more pure than athletics in high school," he said. "It's a business in college and the pros."
No one understands the Weathers legacy better than Kell Harvey, who quarterbacked the coach's final Lions squad in 2001 and whose father, Mark, played on his first Red Bank team in 1973.
"We've compared notes," Kell said Friday with a chuckle. "We decided that neither one of us would have wanted to mess with him in his young days or his old days, but we both enjoyed playing for him."
Of course, Kell most enjoyed his time as a backup quarterback to Fred Holder on the 2000 state title team.
"You never forget something like that," he said. "We were an average football team the year before. Then Coach Weathers' wife, Lynda, died right before the season started. One of the last things she wrote to us was, 'Go win the state.' And that's what we did. I've always said someone should make a movie about that season."
Maybe one day they will. But 27 days from today they'll gather at the Convention Center to discuss the entirety of the program's rich history. They'll lament such losses as Tom Weathers Jr. and former head coach Tim Daniels, who passed away in April at the too-young age of 58. They'll celebrate the better times.
And throughout the evening they're certain to focus on all those "good old memories" that Weathers Sr. still recalls.
For as Ware said late this past week, "This reunion is not only a way to celebrate Red Bank football, but also a way to celebrate Coach Weathers."
(Note: Anyone wishing to attend the reunion can go to rbfbreunion.myevent.com and RSVP.)
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.