For many years, I had the good fortune to know legendary East Ridge head football coach Raymond James. When I first came to Chattanooga in 1975, he was one of the first coaches I met. The fact that the football stadium at East Ridge High School bears his name speaks volumes about the kind of coach, leader and man he was. Coach James had a reputation of not only building tough competitive teams but he was also a devoted member of the East Ridge community giving his life to making ERHS the best.
That stellar East Ridge High School has gone through many ups and downs and for the past 10 years or so, has had more than its share of struggles.
From 2000-2012, I was a front row Pioneer fan and spent many Friday nights watching the Pioneers play on Raymond James field. Red Bank versus East Ridge, a match up that pitted Gerald Riggs, Jr. against Charles White, was one of the best prep football games I saw during that time. Riggs went on to be the TSSAA Mr. Football winner that year, (White was also a finalist) but on this night it was Charles White who would dominate the field.
Sadly, a revolving door of administrations, multiple coaching changes and time and age took its toll on the stadium and the Pioneer program. In 2015, the school and the community took a huge hit as the stands were condemned and the storied Pioneer program was left to scramble for a resolution. Locker rooms, weight rooms, offices, meeting rooms and storage areas were all located under the condemned stadium. Situations like that could be a death blow to a football program. Who wants to play for a program like that? But the Pioneer spirit was still alive in the person of Coach Tim James, son of the legendary Raymond James. Tim had led the Pioneers through the glory days of the 2000s before leaving to become the head coach at brand new Heritage High School in North Georgia. But it didn't take long for Tim to listen to his heart and return home to his alma mater.
That leads me to the most important part of this story. A new day is dawning for the Pioneers. The Hamilton County Board of Education, led by Dr. Bryan Johnson and supported by the Pioneer Boosters and community, has stepped up big-time to build the much-needed facilities at Raymond James Field. It's a new fieldhouse complete with weight room and locker room facilities that a high school program must have. Johnny Jones, Sr. has donated $100,000 for new weights in the facility. Jones' son Johnny Jones, Jr. played for Tim James during those "glory days" and his generosity is inspired by his love for that school and what it meant to his family.
There is one common thread in the return to glory for the Pioneers' program and that is Tim James. Like his father, Tim has a passion for that school, that community, those kids and he has not given up on the belief that ERHS deserves the best and can be the best. When the new facility is opened, it should bear the name of Tim James. His legacy and his love for the Pioneer program is unmatched.
Randy Smith can be reached at email@example.com