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High school student-athletes from Wilson County during the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s must have viewed Jim DeRatt, at 6-foot-4 and 200-plus pounds, as a big man.
And the big man, in the words of his daughter, Kathy DeRatt Mullis, lived a big life.
For some 30 years, DeRatt coached football, boys basketball, girls basketball, baseball and junior varsity sports at Stantonsburg High and later Saratoga Central High.
He coached winning teams, but some didn’t finish at .500 or above. DeRatt was at the helm of teams that contended for state championships.
His teaching career spanned 38 years, ending with his retirement at Beddingfield High in the 1990s.
But his children, acquaintances and those familiar with him professionally understood that DeRatt’s top priority was always family.
“My dad and my mom put family first and foremost,” declared Jimmy DeRatt, the eldest of four children. “If he was going to do something, it was going to be in the best interest of his family.
“He was a disciplinarian and expected your best effort. He treated people fairly.”
REWARDING AND FULFILLING LIFE
Surrounded by his beloved family, DeRatt passed away on Oct. 6, 2017 — three days before his 93rd birthday.
He lived a rewarding and fulfilling life — a life that is well-documented in a biography of sorts penned by Kathy DeRatt Mullis. His days of coaching six-player football in the early 1950s are thoroughly addressed in the publication “The History of Six-Man Football in North Carolina” (1948-1958).
DeRatt later coached eight-player football and started the 11-player game at Saratoga Central.
His Stantonsburg Pirates of 1953 went undefeated during the regular season and captured Wilson County and District II championships before falling in the state semifinals.
The 1954 Pirates repeated as Wilson County champs.
The 1956-57 boys basketball team flirted with winning the state title, losing in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 1-A semifinals.
“We were pretty good in 1957,” commented Don Webb, who would become DeRatt’s dearest friend. “We won the county championship. We had 65 students in high school.”
Webb started at center and was joined in the starting lineup by David Pope, Wicky Shingleton, Donnie Grimsley and Selby Ray Lewis. Shingleton and Lewis are deceased.
Webb still laughs about “the shot.”
Jump-balls were frequent during those days and, before a jump-ball at the foul line nearest the Saratoga basket, a teammate challenged Webb to tap the ball into the net.
Webb, then a senior, swatted the basketball in the direction of the goal; it stripped the net and counted for two points.
“That was my great shot,” Web declared.
Webb was coached in basketball, football and baseball by DeRatt.
“He was always pretty fair and made us behave,” Webb remembers. “You didn’t smoke a cigarette and let him find out about it.
“I think he was great. He was a gentleman and a fine man. He did it all. I am a former coach (at Hatteras) and I don’t know how he did it.”
Webb reports he first met DeRatt when he was in either the fifth or sixth grade. He said DeRatt drove up in a Studebaker.
TYSON ON DERATT
DeRatt’s coaching career was winding down when M.A. Tyson played football (defensive tackle) and basketball for him as a freshman, sophomore and junior (1964-66).
Tyson remembers DeRatt always appreciated an all-out effort.
“He was a good person, a disciplinarian,” Tyson continued. “He had good work ethic and taught us fundamentals. He helped us out a lot. Coach DeRatt spent a lot of time with youth in Stantonsburg and played pick-up ball with us.”
However, Tyson emphasized Coach DeRatt was firm in his pledge to never coach his children in high school.
Tyson was a senior when Jimmy DeRatt was a freshman and, by then, DeRatt had turned coaching responsibilities over to another legend, Tommy Hawkins. DeRatt assumed a driver’s education position.
Hawkins reflected upon being interviewed by DeRatt in 1965. Hawkins was then coaching at Middlesex.
“We talked a little bit,” Hawkins said, “and he hired me as an assistant in football, basketball and baseball. Then, he got into driver’s education and I became the football coach.”
Hawkins would find DeRatt’s services invaluable and the former coach stayed in step with the athletic program.
DeRatt not only worked on the scoreboard clock when it malfunctioned, but he operated the clock during games.
Saratoga developed a knock down-drag out football rivalry with Robersonville and Hawkins chuckles and remembers the occasion when DeRatt stopped the clock with a second remaining to give Saratoga one more shot at victory.
“He was always working on the field, working on the clock or keeping the clock,” Hawkins noted. “I never heard him say a cross word. Jim left me some good guys and miles and miles of trustworthiness.”
DeRatt is among deceased sports figures from 2017 whose memory next week’s Wilson chapter of the Hot Stove League banquet will be dedicated.
“I think it will be great for the Hot Stove to honor him,” Hawkins expressed.
DeRatt lost his wife of 49 years, Emily, several years ago. She possessed an athletic background and joined Jim in passing it along to the four children.
Jimmy DeRatt resides in Wilson, Kathy Mullins in Holly Springs, Laura DeRatt Lewis in Morehead City and Monty DeRatt in Cary.
Jimmy, Monty and Kathy were star athletes at Saratoga. Jimmy and Monty both played baseball at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where Jimmy was also a standout football player. Laura played basketball briefly before turning to cheerleading. His grandchildren distinguished themselves athletically.
“Early memories are some of the best,” Mullins assured. “He was a big man but, to us, he was normal because that’s what we saw every day.
“Daddy was a great coach. He was about doing it right. His approach was that athletes needed to perform at their best. But the most important thing was sportsmanship. To him, it was truly not whether you won or lost, but how you played the game.
“It didn’t matter where we were; he followed us. I don’t think he coached us because he knew he would be harder on his children than he would others.”
Jim DeRatt was perhaps over-protective.
Kathy remembers spending a Sunday morning playing baseball with the family. She decided to steal home and ran into Jimmy’s backswing and was knocked unconscious.
“That was one of the scariest things for him,” she said.
On another occasion, Jimmy cut his hand while roller-skating and jumping bottles.
“Any time one of his children got hurt, it was like his heart stopped,” Mullis declared. “But he took things as they came and never overreacted. We all had to have stitches at one time or another.”
AHEAD OF HIS TIME
Jim DeRatt tutored Jimmy and Monty and provided instruction during their Little League and Pony League days — when he coached teams. The girls, through their dad, learned to throw and swing a bat.
“He was our biggest cheerleader,” Mullis said. “He offered advice. He was ahead of his time when it came to girls being involved in athletics.”
Tough times prevented DeRatt from finishing high school. He joined the Merchant Marines and, at his father’s urging, enlisted in the Navy.
He served in the Pacific in World War II and one of his experiences was spotting the mushroom cloud after the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
After the war, he was reunited with his brother, Al; earned his GED and continued his education at Atlantic Christian (now Barton) College.
His career and life changed drastically upon suffering a stroke in 2010. But even then, DeRatt, a skilled carpenter, built some of his rehabilitation equipment.
As much as possible, DeRatt witnessed the athletic endeavors of his grandchildren. Teaching them to drive and relaxing moments with them were sources of tremendous joy, said his children. He enjoyed gardening. DeRatt taught Sunday School.
“If there was a sporting event anywhere around, even if his grandchildren were not playing, he was going,” remarked Jimmy DeRatt. “He enjoyed going to a sporting event.”
His close circle of friends would include Webb and Hawkins. Webb’s Sand Pit proved to be the perfect retirement spot.
With several sand holes available for fishing and other water activities and a building available, DeRatt and his cronies gathered for fishing, cooking, eating, spinning tales and arguably stretching the truth.
“We spent 23 years fishing and coaching,” Webb revealed. “He was my fishing partner for 22 years and one of the greatest friends I’ve ever had.
“Any time you want to talk about Jim DeRatt, let me know.”
Agreed Mullis: “He was a pretty special person.”
“I wish everybody could have known Jim DeRatt,” Hawkins concluded.