Abingdon High School football team pays tribute after beloved assistant coach dies from COVID-19

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ABINGDON, Va. (WJHL) – Just days after losing an assistant coach, the Abingdon Falcons will take on Christiansburg Friday night. Before the game, the team has planned several tributes for the late coach.

Robb Ratcliff died after a battle with COVID-19 on Monday. Ratcliff worked at Abingdon High School as a teacher in the alternate and virtual learning programs and served as the offensive and defensive line coach for the Falcons.

Ratcliff was an Abingdon High School graduate and played on the football team, wearing #76. Thursday, volunteers painted the field like they do before every game day, but a few special additions were added.

Three #76’s, two on the home sideline and one inside the large block ‘A’ on the 50-yard-line, painted on the field to honor the man they knew as Coach Rat.

Brock Hawkins, a life-long friend of Ratcliff, volunteered to paint the field. Hawkins also has a son on the football team.

“Today has been great therapy for me,” Hawkins said. “Just being out here all day on this field, I feel his presence with me.”

Abingdon Head Coach Garrett Amburgey said Ratcliff was a leader both as a teacher and a coach for his students and players.

“They saw how much he cared and how day after day he was there helping them develop and helping them get better,” Amburgey said. “That’s really what everyone’s going to remember.”

But Amburgey said Ratcliff’s pride was developing his offensive and defensive lines to dominate football games.

“He pushed them every day,” Amburgey said. “That’s a hard thing to get those five guys all on the same page and he really had a gift at it.”

Amburgey had a very difficult conversation with the team Monday night to tell them Ratcliff had passed away.

“Telling that football team in there on Monday, it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my career,” Amburgey.

Amburgey said the team asked Ratcliff’s family if Friday’s game should be played.

“They wanted us to play,” Amburgey said. “We brought it to our team and wanted them to have a voice in that decision and without hesitation, they said we wanted to play. We want to honor Coach Ratcliff.”

Hawkins said that decision is exactly what Ratcliff would have wanted.

“My son said dad how are we gonna have a football season without Coach Robb?” Hawkins said. “I said, dude, if he was here he’d tell you to get off this couch and go play football.”

Both Amburgey and Hawkins said players are fired up, ready to perform in honor of their coach.

“If we somehow get beat Friday night, it’s not going to be because of lack of effort,” Hawkins said.

The team plans to honor Ratcliff in a ceremony prior to kick-off. Players will also wear decals memorializing Ratcliff on the back of their helmets.

Friday night’s game against Christiansburg kicks off at 7 p.m.

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