Members of the East Ridge Alumni & Supporters Association honored the school’s record-setting football team Monday night during the annual awards banquet.
About a dozen members of the alumni association representing six decades surrounded Candace Bell, the secretary of the group and its President, Bobby Hudgens, in presenting Coach Tracy Malone a special plaque commemorating the team’s accomplishments over the 2015 season.
The award, designed by Bill Shipley reads:
“Your resilience through adversity and commitment to excellence has brought your team, your school and generations together. You have restored the Pioneer Pride to a thankful city. Rest assured you have successfully ‘Defended the Ridge.’ Your perfect season may never again be duplicated or repeated but you will always embody perfection! You will always be ours. Remembered always as … PIONEERS.”
Prior to the award presentation, Coach Malone addressed those in attendance _ coaches, players, family, alumni and friends _ at the event held at the city’s Community Center.
Malone thanked his players first. He said they were “the most focused, mature bunch” that he has ever been associated with in his 18 years of coaching. He said they all had a good attitude and “wanted to get better.”
Malone said that there were plenty of potential distractions during the long season, chief among them the condemnation of Raymond James Stadium. He said most high school programs “would have crumbled” worrying over issues with the stadium, but that didn’t bother his team.
Malone thanked his staff and invoked the Holy Bible. “Iron sharpens Iron,” he said in reference to his assistant coaches. He said that the staff and crew came together and genuinely cared about each other and all the players.
Malone continued by saying that 2015 was the best season (a perfect 10-0 during the regular season, with two playoff wins before falling in the State Quarterfinals) for a lot of reasons. One he couldn’t ignore was the student body itself, which got behind the team.
“They really gave us a 12th man,” Coach Malone said.
Malone said that the alumni “created a great atmosphere,” alluding to the establishment of a formal association and the tailgate parties they threw prior to several games.
Malone read a proclamation from East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert forever setting aside October 30 as “East Ridge Pioneer Football Day.” In part, the proclamation recognized the team for its “courage, perseverance and outstanding achievement in unifying the city.”
Malone said he’s been asked more than once to define the team’s catchphrase “Defend the Ridge.” He said it is about so much more than a team having its stadium torn down. He said the phrase “became our way of life.”
He said the phrase was “cemented” into the team and school’s lexicon after the third game of the year against Signal Mountain. It was the first official “home game” that had to be played at The Baylor School because the stadium was now off limits to fans.
He said that the Signal Mountain fans had put up a sign at Baylor that read “Least Ridge.” That didn’t go over very well. It was shared with social media on Twitter.
Finally, the coach got around to the real meaning of “Defend the Ridge.”
“What it means is that we don’t want your pity,” he said. “We wanted you to step on the grass with us and let the best team win.”
_ Last week it was announced that an anonymous donor is stepping up to help with fundraising by the East Ridge Alumni & Supporters Association. Hudgens said prior to the awards ceremony that this person is willing to give $50,000 to the group once the group raises an initial $50,000 on its own.
Hudgens said that the organization is finalizing its status as a non-profit organization that should encourage larger donations because those donations will be tax deductible. He said he is optimistic that the organization can raise the initial amount in relatively short order, which will be matched by the donor.
The next meeting of the East Ridge Alumni & Supporters Association is Monday, Feb. 1 at the ERHS library. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.