Whatever the game, Coach William Henry “Chip” Liner knows the score. His name is even on the scoreboard at Lakeview Fort Oglethorpe High School where he coached for 30 years.
Chip knows adversity on and off the field, especially when heart trouble nearly took his life. “My dad and grandfather both died at age 54 of a heart attack. My goal was to get past that,” Chip says.
Born in Chattanooga, as the third ‘William Henry Liner’, a pair of ladies in the neighborhood decided little Henry Liner needed a name to differentiate him from his father and grandfather. The Ellis sisters decided to call him “Chip” because he was a ‘chip-off-the-old-block(s)’.
Chip was a sports fan before he reached double digits. He was 10 years old when he began playing organized sports. He played ball up through high school and graduated from City High in 1967. Chip went to MTSU and chose education so he could coach. He met his wife Judy during his sophomore year and they have been inseparable ever since.
After graduating, there were not a lot of job opportunities for him in area schools so he took a job at Hamilton Bank and worked for a little over a year until he was hired at LFO High.
“Coaching helped me feel young by staying involved with the youth,” Chip says. "At age 64 I still think of myself that way.”
Judy was also in education and taught English at Ringgold Middle and Lakeview Middle.
While teaching Health and P.E. Chip came up with challenges for the students.
“We had different units of activities in P.E. We would have badminton and ping pong and would have a tournament. At the end, it would be doubles or singles for the students, but to be champion of the class …you had to beat me,” Chip says.
“Those kids would just hit it back, but I had a strategy and would make them run for it. In the spring we had a softball unit and we would walk the track for a mile in order to do an activity or you could choose to just walk the whole period. The girls always wanted to walk. In order for them to get a mile in, I couldn’t pass them. We gave the students a head start and we would do our pace walking and the kids could not let us pass. When we would get closer to them they would start jogging, because if we passed them, they had to do an extra lap. The guys would always take off jogging. They wanted to get that over with so they could start playing,” Coach says.
In the autumn of ‘74, Chip started coaching all different sports. He coached his daughters Amy and Betsy who played basketball.
“I felt like I was unfair to my daughters because I wouldn’t play them as much as they deserved. Amy ended up in her senior year starting for me, but she was always the first person I took out. I would take her out sooner than I should have. She was a really good defensive post player. We won two huge games against Ringgold and Northwest Whitfield and Amy held both of them,” Chip insists.
The night before Amy’s wedding Chip and Amy were talking and he cried while confessing to her that he should have played her more than he did. Amy said, “Oh Dad, I never even think about that!”
Amy was valedictorian of her class and Betsy could have been also, but she did not like the idea of giving a speech. “When Betsy had to declare a major at UT, she started to go into education, but when she found out she would have to take a speech class - she went into nursing,” Chip laughs.
After leaving LFO in 2004, Coach Liner went to David Brainerd for two years and then accepted a position at Silverdale Baptist Academy.
In September of 2008, the night SBA dedicated the football field, Chip was the announcer in the press box and it was an exciting game.
“In the third quarter, Edgar Montgomery ran a kick-off back for a touchdown. When he caught it he took off and when he got to just 30 yards to go, I knew they weren’t going to get him. I became like a radio announcer yelling, ‘Edgar Montgomery is going to return this for a touchdown…’ I was getting all excited and whatever happened, I said to the guy next to me, ‘I need water’. When I drank it - it just burned all the way down and I said, ‘I have got to sit down… something is wrong with me’,” Chip confides.
Unlike his father and grandfather, Chip did not suffer a heart attack. Instead he had an aorta dissection which occurs when a tear of the inner wall of the aorta causes blood to flow between the layers and force them apart.
Many cases of aortic dissection lead to death so rapidly that the person doesn't make it to the hospital in time.
“Chris asked if there was a doctor, to please come to the scaffolding where the press box was. Tim Ballard was there first and he was one of the ones who saved my life. Tim, though he specializes in orthopedics, believed that I was having aorta dissection and that is exactly what it was,” Chip maintains.
Dr. Ballard insisted that Chip go to the hospital but the on call ambulance had already left campus when a student had a seizure previously that evening.
The odds were stacked against Chip and he didn’t have long to live. To make matters worse, when 911 was called they were given the address of the church and the responders were circling around the building far away from the field.
Allen Edwards was another person instrumental for Chip being alive today. He ran to get the ambulance while Titus Freuler led a prayer over the PA. The headmaster of the school, Becky Hansard, placed her hands on Chip and also prayed for him.
With Chip’s daughter Betsy working at Memorial, the ambulance was headed there only to find they had no beds. Living on borrowed time, Chip asked the paramedic, “Am I going to die?”
That was the last thing he remembered before waking up a few days later at Erlanger Hospital.
“Dr. Zelner was my surgeon and he is one of the best. The surgeons at Erlanger are like Top Gun pilots - they are good and they know it. Zelner said that when you have AD if you are not operated on within two hours, that your survival rate is 10 percent,” Chip relays.
The operation didn’t take place until 9:00 the next morning and blood had filled the cavity of his heart.
“I really think that in 12 hours it should have suffocated my heart. I believe the prayers slowed it down. The Lord reminded me that He can take me any time He wants. I tease Edgar that he was the cause of all this,” Chip jokes.
Grateful for a second chance, Chip looks back at his years of coaching with humility and honor.
“I loved coaching girls because they gave me such a great effort,” Chip declares.
One of the most competitive girls he coached was Katie Speiser. At a recent banquet held at LFO, Katie gave a speech singing the praises of her beloved coach.
“Coach Liner was the greatest of motivators when it came to game time, but what I remembered the most was the motivation and direction he would give us off the field. He showed guidance and leadership in all areas of our lives – even the high school girl drama. His enthusiasm was contagious and, although my competitive spirit was hard to tame at times, Coach Liner encouraged it and showed me how to channel it in a positive way.”
Out of the nine years that Coach Liner was coaching fast pitch softball, LFO never lost a home game.
“We won over 50 straight games on that field. We were the region champions for nine years and went to the state tournament for eight years. We never won but finished second and third a few times,” Chip says.
With seven grandchildren, Chip and Judy enjoy retirement and Chip attends a different SEC stadium game each year with his grandsons.
“Will is 12 and Henry is five. Will is a Tim Tebow fan and we went to the Tennessee/Florida game during Tim’s senior year.
Having helped coaches with tryouts or summer ball, Chip says he is now through coaching.
“I never liked being away from Judy – we spend 20 hours a day doing everything together. I loved coaching,” Chip says, “but my passion now is to spend my time with my grandchildren.”