Monday, June 18, 2018
Sports

Ernie Chatman, a legendary Hernando County coach and runner, dies

BROOKSVILLE — One of Hernando County's greatest institutions wasn't stationary. Unlike Weeki Wachee Springs, Brooksville's Coney Island Drive-Inn or Tom Varn Park, Ernie Chatman never was embedded in a singular spot.

This local fixture — teacher, coach, mentor, umpire — got around, typically at a pace that belied his birth certificate.

Every day, humidity or freeze warnings be darned, the married dad of three and grandfather of six churned out one mile after another, usually in preparation for an upcoming marathon. For 8,814 consecutive days — a stretch of more than 24 years — Mr. Chatman ran at least one mile (and typically several more).

With nary a sliver of body fat even in his mid 60s, some pegged Mr. Chatman for ultimate centenarian status. Fate, however, had other plans.

Today, a community grieves as a result.

"He was an institution," former Brooksville mayor Lara Bradburn said.

Mr. Chatman, a Hernando High alumnus whose uncanny coaching success spanned several Leopards sports and decades, died Sunday of an apparent heart attack at his Brooksville home. Chatman's daughter, Erin Sullivan, said her father died shortly after — what else — going for a run Sunday evening.

His wife, Linda, who had been out walking, found him in the shower with his running clothes and shoes nearby, Sullivan said. Mr. Chatman was 66.

"His heart just stopped," Sullivan said. "It's such a cliche, but he truly died doing what he loved."

Though he had broken his streak of running every day last year, complaining of a lack of energy and an abnormally low heartbeat, he had seemed to be feeling better lately, said Sullivan, who lives two blocks from her family home.

Even when he was supposed to be just out walking, she said, she'd watch from her house as he broke into a jog.

"He just couldn't help himself," she said.

Though in recent years he was best known for his marathons and his running streak, he probably made a far bigger impact as a coach and teacher. Bradburn, 53, remembered Mr. Chatman as a demanding physical education teacher.

"He instilled discipline in thousands of kids over the years," she said. "When you think of a disciplinarian, you think of a whip, but that's not how he did it.''

A member of at least two sports halls of fame, Mr. Chatman coached football, baseball, softball, basketball, track and cross country in a 42-year career, most of it at his alma mater. Success accompanied him to each sport.

"He had the ability to identify talent and be able to communicate it," said Hernando baseball coach Tim Sims, himself a Chatman disciple.

"Whether you wanted to listen to him or not, he had the ability to reach you and communicate with you. He was gonna figure out a way to communicate with you to make you realize you had that talent."

Mr. Chatman led the Leopards boys cross country team to a state title in 1997; directed the softball team to the 2000 and '01 state tournaments; and coached the '93 baseball team to a 30-5 season, tying a school single-season wins record.

He coached Saint Leo's baseball team for one season (leading it to a program-record 46 wins in 1984) and guided the Hernando Christian Academy softball team to consecutive Class 1A state tournament berths in 2009-10.

"Ernie had the 'it' factor," said former Hernando football coach/athletic director John Palmer, a 1983 HHS graduate.

"I think whatever he did he was successful with it. Certainly I think his work ethic played a large part. He was a grinder. I don't know how else to say it, because he'd do the things nobody else wanted to do to be great."

Tim Jinkens, a former owner of Brooksville's Red Mule Pub, played junior varsity football for Mr. Chatman; though distance running, softball and baseball seemed to be his specialties.

A number of his baseball players went on to professional careers, and his former runners include University of Florida assistant track/cross country coach Jody Spangler.

"You expected to win every game," said Jinkens, who played varsity baseball for Mr. Chatman in the 1970s.

"You dang sure knew you were going to work hard and the beginning of the year you wondered, 'Why do we have to do this drill one more time?' But at the end of the year, when you made the plays you needed to make, you were saying, 'That's the reason we did it.' "

Sims called Mr. Chatman "arguably the most successful (coach), period, in central Florida." Spangler, a 1993 HHS alumnus and the Leopards' top cross country runner three consecutive years, said Mr. Chatman possessed that "old-school mentality."

"He demanded the best out of his runners. He expected you to work hard," said Spangler, who recalled Leopards training runs starting and ending at the Chatman home.

"He was a very no-nonsense type of guy. … The people that wanted to work hard, to make the sacrifices to be great, he got the most out of those people."

Including himself. When he ended his running streak last September, Mr. Chatman had run marathons in all 50 states. Two minutes faster at a Hawaii marathon in 2006, and he'd have done a marathon in under four hours in every state.

Though Mr. Chatman had said he ran partly to avoid the fate of his parents, who both died young, he also said he did it mainly for the pleasure it brought him. That was obvious to anyone who witnessed the common sight of him running the streets of Brooksville, Jinkens said.

"You could just tell that's what made him happiest," he said.

Contact Dan DeWitt at [email protected]. Follow @ddewitttimes. Contact Joey Knight at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

Comments
For starters: Rays at Yankees, looking to avoid a four-game sweep

For starters: Rays at Yankees, looking to avoid a four-game sweep

UPDATE, 11:37: Interesting decision by the Rays to move Adames to 2B today and reinstall Hechavarria at SS as he came off DL following Arroyo injury.Here is the Rays lineup:Duffy 3bBauers 1bRamos cCron dhAdames 2bHechavarria ssGomez rfRefsnyder lfFie...
Published: 06/17/18

Tarponsí Castillo, North squad notch FSL All-Star Game victory

TAMPA — The Tarpons' Diego Castillo led the North squad to a 5-0 victory in the 57th Florida State League All-Star Game on his home field Saturday night.The game MVP went 2-for-4 with two doubles and started the scoring for the North in the sec...
Published: 06/17/18

Captainís Corner: Trout bite at its best

The trout bite has been the best Iíve seen all year. Fish up to 26 inches have been common recently. Fish are sitting on the flatsí deeper edges, where the water is deeper and cooler, and moves a little more swiftly. Live sardines and hard plastic ba...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Peering into the crystal baseball to see what Rays could look like in 2019

Peering into the crystal baseball to see what Rays could look like in 2019

The Rays are still talking, as they should, about playing for something this season. The reality is that almost every move they've made, going back to the end of last season, and in some cases further, has been about 2019 and beyond.Clearing out vete...
Published: 06/16/18
Updated: 06/17/18
Rays lose again to Yankees, this time 4-1

Rays lose again to Yankees, this time 4-1

NEW YORK — Kevin Cash was not going to go all Lou Piniella on his Rays, raging and ripping and roaring over their latest mess, a 4-1 Saturday loss to the Yankees that didn't feel that close.Which is too bad because Piniella, the volcanic former...
Published: 06/16/18

Sports on TV/radio for Sunday, June 17

TODAYAutosXfinity: Iowa 250 qualifying2:30 p.m.FS2Xfinity: Iowa 2505 p.m.FS1BaseballMarlins at Orioles1 p.m.FSFRays at Yankees2 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMAstros at Royals2 p.m.MLBRed Sox at Mariners (in progress)5 p.m.MLBCubs at Cardinals8 p.m.ESPNCollege b...
Published: 06/16/18
Rays journal: Arroyo on DL, Hechavarria returns

Rays journal: Arroyo on DL, Hechavarria returns

NEW YORK — Just when it seemed like SS Adeiny Hechavarria might not play another game for the Rays, he will rejoin them on Sunday.The Rays announced after Saturday's 4-1 loss that INF Christian Arroyo was placed on the DL due to an oblique stra...
Published: 06/16/18
Marc Topkinís takeaways from Rays-Yankees

Marc Topkinís takeaways from Rays-Yankees

RHP Ryne Stanek did his job as the opener just fine in getting four outs on Saturday, but for the Rays' unorthodox pitching plan to work it takes a team effort. And LHP Ryan Yarbrough's inability to throw strikes quickly put them in a hole.The experi...
Published: 06/16/18
For starters: Rays at Yankees, trying to break through

For starters: Rays at Yankees, trying to break through

UPDATE, 11:49: Cash said he played Cron at 1B in an effort to get him more involved in the game, indicated he may do so again Sunday (with Bauers off vs. LH Sabathia) and should have done so more as Cron struggled. … Cash reiterated that CF Kev...
Published: 06/16/18
Bucs journal: O.J. Howard poised to take off?

Bucs journal: O.J. Howard poised to take off?

TAMPA — There's always a lot of attention on the rookie class this time of year, rightfully so. There's a reason the Bucs focused on defense, and DT Vita Vea, CBs M.J. Stewart, Carlton Davis and S Justin Whitehead all look like they could have ...
Published: 06/16/18