years since the first Webb football state title, as ’81 champs honored; key players, coach, talk about march to title glory

Long before a public-private championship split came along between Tennessee high school sports teams, the 1981 Webb Spartans football team made program history.

Winning the school’s first football state crown, then head coach Ron Gratz (1973 through 1984) led his Spartans to the Class A state title following a 7-6 win versus Memphis Prep Dec. 4 at Bearden High School.

Gratz, along with assistant coaches Ken Brewster and Wade Mitchell, joined a handful of 1981 players who were honored on the 40th anniversary of that championship during halftime of the Webb versus Silverdale Baptist Academy football game in David Meske Stadium Friday, Oct. 8.

“We were down 6-0 at the end of the (first) half,” ex-Spartan Ned Babb, who kicked the extra point to beat Memphis Prep, said about that game. “We got the kickoff to start the second half, and a quarterback scramble went for a 41-yard touchdown by Mark Clark.

“You cannot image how excited we were — because we were such underdogs all the way through,” added Babb, also the team’s center and outside linebacker. “We were OK during the regular season, had kind of a weak district and won that, and got into the playoffs and got on a roll.”

“It was awesome,” tailback Steve Fry recalled about the feeling when walking off the field as Class A state champs.

Despite losing three regular season games, “We were getting better and better, and as we got through into the playoffs we gained a lot of confidence,” Fry added.

Vividly remembering a 13-10 overtime playoff victory at Sweetwater, “They kicked a field goal” to go up 10-7, Babb said, despite having the ball 4th-and-goal at the Webb 1.

The Spartans also faced 4th-and-goal at the SHS 1 in OT— but decided to gamble on scoring the winning touchdown.

Fry got the handoff. “I went up, but came down without the ball,” he recalled. “... I was thinking, ‘I’ve lost this game for us, this is going to be awful.’ But I looked up and I saw the (official) doing this (raising his arms indicating a TD).

Sweetwater was “going crazy because they were thinking they had won,” Gratz said.

Other playoff victories were 20-16 at Coalfield and 32-2 versus Meigs County at BHS.