Taylor has fond memories of Hatchet battle

Mark Martin
Fred Taylor is pictured following the 1975 Hatchet win. He is surrounded by Jeff Stefanov, Gary Blair, Greg Davis, and Bryan Canterbury.

Fred Taylor had triple-bypass earlier this summer.

But all in all, the Ravenswood Red Devil football coaching legend is doing just fine.

Taylor, who led Ravenswood to two of the school’s four state championships, always gets excited at this time of year when the annual Battle of the Hatchet is about to be played.

The 83-year-old Taylor, who resides in Spencer, was on the winning side of things 16 times during his tenure at Ravenswood, which stretched from the seasons of 1966 to 1996.

“It was always a fun game. There was so much excitement by both schools,” Taylor said when asked about being handed the Hatchet after wins against arch-rival Ripley. “It was always a big part of the season.”

When discussing which victory stands out, Taylor said they were all special but leading the Red Devils to victory, 13-0, in his first year as head coach in the 1966 season is one that races through his mind quite often.

Taylor had taken the Ravenswood job after serving as an assistant coach for one season at Ripley.

He had made his way to Jackson County after being the head coach for three seasons (1962-64) at his alma mater of Walton in Roane County, where he led the Tigers to two winning seasons. (Walton is now a part of Roane County High School). Taylor had a head coaching record of 17-13 at the school, where he was once a star athlete.

In the 1965 game, the Vikings of head coach Steve McMillion whipped the Red Devils by a final of 53-28.

“It was kind of crazy to be coaching in the game one year for Ripley as an assistant and the next year being the head coach at Ravenswood,” Taylor said with his patented smile.

Ravenswood's 13-0 win was the last for McMillion's successful stop at Ripley, where he posted a fabulous 23-7 mark over three years. Taylor and McMillion were teammates and friends in college at Glenville.

Taylor moved his record to 2-0 against the Vikings following the ’66 game with a convincing, 40-13, conquest in the 1967 showdown at Ripley’s Memorial Stadium.

The first loss he suffered came the following year in what is considered possibly the biggest upset in Hatchet history. Taylor’s 9-0 Red Devils were taken down by the Vikings, 12-0, costing them a shot at playing for a state championship.

“That was a tough one,” he said. “Field position dictated that game.”

But Taylor’s Red Devil program returned the favor the following year in upset fashion beating the Vikings, who came in at 8-1, by a final of 18-7.

The win started a record string of eight consecutive victories by Red Devil teams under Taylor. During that period, Ravenswood also won Class AA state championships in 1972 and 1976.

Ripley ended the run of wins by Ravenswood in 1977, but then Taylor-led teams came back for two more victories in 1978 and 1979.

Add it up and Taylor was on the winning side of the Hatchet game as head coach 10 of his first 12 years at Ravenswood. Throw in his one year as a Viking assistant and he enjoyed being a winner in 11-of-13 Hatchet battles.

“You never got tired of having that Hatchet handed to you that’s for sure,” Taylor said of his Ravenswood years. “We had some really good ball teams, some great players and great kids.”

Taylor had to endure a run of seven straight losses to the Vikings from 1985 through 1991.

Then the series resembled a tennis match by going back and forth from 1991-2001 as the home team came away victorious.

For Taylor, his time at Ravenswood as head coach ended with the 1996 season.

Ravenswood pulled off a 27-8 win in his last go-round coaching in the Hatchet affair.

“Winning the first one and then winning the last one was special,” he said of his Hatchet game experiences.

While Ripley has dominated in recent years and currently owns a six-game winning streak, Taylor hopes things work out in order that the Hatchet series will live on.

Taylor’s final Red Devil team not only won the Hatchet but reached the Class AA playoffs and advanced to the second round.

He closed out his career at Ravenswood with a spectacular 193-120-4 record.

Last season, Taylor, who is a member of the Ravenswood Red Devil Hall of Fame, the Mid-Ohio Valley Sports Hall of Fame, and the Glenville State College Athletics Hall of Fame, had the highest of honors bestowed upon him when Ravenswood’s football facility was renamed.

What was long known as Flinn Field is now Flinn Field at Spano-Taylor Stadium. The names of both Taylor and the late Jim Spano, who guided Ravenswood to their first state championships in 1957 and 1959, were added to recognize the two coaching greats.

“A lot of time was spent there,” Taylor said of his years patrolling the Devil sidelines. “To have your name on the stadium is special.”

It was well-deserved.

For Fred Taylor was a special coach during a special time of football in Ravenswood.