Ask anyone who had him in class – Ray Winton was an exceptional English teacher. He was also a great coach, both football and basketball. When considering what made him so successful in each arena, it seems to come down to one thing: he encouraged his students and his players to focus on learning the fundamentals and practicing to develop those skills well. He was tough and expected your best effort, inside the classroom, on the field, and in the gym. Ask his family and they will tell you time after time, the number of his students and players who came back years later to tell Winton how much they learned from him.
Ray Winton was born February 16, 1930, the sixth of seven children to Leonard and Nina Winton of Coalmont. His father worked hauling coal and later owned a garage; his mother was known around the area for taking care of people who were sick, taking in those who needed a place to stay, inviting anyone who wanted to come home for Sunday dinner to do so, and hosting the best parties for their children and friends in the community. Winton graduated from Coalmont Elementary School in 1945. When you ask him about his experience in school, he is more than happy to credit some wonderful teachers like Kathleen Warren, Marie Flury, Fayna Payne (Curtis), Julie Mae Wooten, and Margaret Curtis.
One teacher, Bonita Cain Curtis, was especially exciting for Winton. She encouraged the students to perform theatrical productions and was extremely musically talented. Winton carried on that love of theatre during his own teaching career directing plays at both the elementary and high school levels.
He became interested in learning the guitar shortly after his time with Mrs. Curtis, and taught himself to play, going to the barn every day to practice (when he tells it, he played shows all over the country in that barn). This eventually led to he and a few local boys (Lamar and Johnny Meeks and Doug Ruehling) starting a band that played on WMSR in Manchester every Saturday from 1959-1962. Winton says they had one lady from Chattanooga that would drive close enough so she could hear them each week.
Winton enrolled at Grundy County High School where he played basketball all four years. He played as a freshman on the team with Raymond Hargis who later came back and coached Winton his senior year. He was a starter his last three years and averaged over 20 points a game each of those years with many assists from Lee Peterson, a Chicago transplant.
“Lee was left-handed and the finest ball handler and passer that ever hit this area,” Winton says. “He was completely unconcerned with scoring or who got credit. He set me up perfectly for a corner shot more times than I could count. The Chattanooga papers even said they had never seen a playmaker like Lee anywhere.”
Winton was named to the Central Tennessee All-Star Team as a senior and credits Coach Dillard Roberts as a special coach from whom he learned a great deal.
“Coach Roberts related to us so well, he was fair in everything he did, and he just flat out knew the game inside and out. I learned a lot as a player, but looking back, I think I learned as much about being a coach from him as anyone.”
Winton was also active in the Dramatics Club, Press Club, National Forensics, Annual Staff, and Government Club. He says he had great high school teachers. “I really never had any bad teachers, ever. It always amazed me when I went to college that students from other areas didn’t know what we had already covered in high school. I knew I had some of the best all the way through my education in Grundy County.”
He mentions Ethel Coulston, Rudolph Shields, Jewel Hamby, John A. Anderson, Anna Mary Parker, and Lacy Yarber as just a few that stand out in his mind.
Winton graduated from GCHS in 1949 and enrolled at Middle Tennessee State College in Murfreesboro. Back then, a person could teach on a permit. He got his first teaching assignment at Victoria in Gruetli that fall and worked with the Coalmont boys’ basketball team. He later taught at Tatesville, from which he was called into the service.
Winton left Coalmont for the Army on February 8, 1951 and shortly found himself in North Korea where he spent a year; he says it was a very cold winter and hot summer.
When he came home in 1953, he went back to what had become MTSU, and graduated in 1955. Winton taught school briefly but then went to work in the post office. It did not take him long to know that being a Postmaster was not his calling; being a teacher and impacting young lives was. So, he began a teaching career that spanned 30 years, going to school in the summer to earn his master’s degree.
Winton picked up coaching football, combining the Shook Midgets and High School freshmen as one team in the mid-fifties. He remembers an excellent team that beat most of the high school freshmen teams they played. Some of those who played for him were Kenneth Shrum, Don Guyear, Freddie Hale, Jimmy Gilliam, Don Tate, Wayne Clay, R. B. Sanders, Ronnie Geary, Vernon Pirtle, and others.
In February 1963, Winton and Doris McCormick married. They lived for 20 years at what was known as the Patton place where all three of their children were born. He taught and coached girls’ basketball at Coalmont and Shook Annex with Ricky Richards.
Winton talks about the 1979-1980 season at Shook. “We enjoyed a great season going 30 and 0. The unusual part of the season was we played 6 on 6 in Grundy County and 5 on 5 off the mountain games.
“That year we played in the Mid-Tenn Volunteer State Basketball Tournament. The first two games were a breeze, but in the Friday night semi-final, we caught Murfreesboro Middle School, a Mid-Tenn powerhouse with a 59-0 record. No one gave us a chance but we took away what they loved to do and upended them to enter the Saturday night finals. Everyone that had been beaten by MMS joined in the celebration. It was quite an evening!”
Richards, Winton, and the Shook Midgets brought the first state championship to Grundy County with Winton’s two oldest daughters, Lisa and Marcheta, playing vital roles. He returned to Coalmont where they dominated the Big Eight Conference for a time with his youngest daughter, Laurie, leading that team. Most practice days you could find Winton’s girls’ teams scrimmaging against at least a few of the boys, an unusual tactic at the time. He always believed you had to practice against someone better than you if you wanted to improve, and the boys challenged the athleticism of the girls in a way they could not push each other.
Winton and his family moved to Franklin County in 1982, which became their home for almost 30 years. He retired from coaching in 1985, and from teaching in 1992. The Winton sisters were all excellent athletes, signing scholarships with mid-major colleges: Lisa to UT Martin, Marcheta to UT Chattanooga, and Laurie to Belmont University. They graduated and hold advanced degrees today, of which Winton is especially proud.
He and his wife have four grandchildren – Chris, Tiffany, Megan, and Sam, along with one great-grandson, Gage, who they enjoy spending time with and seeing them grow into fine young people.
Teaching and coaching have been a large part of Winton’s life, but there’s another piece that must be told as well for it speaks to the heart of who he is. He is not very handy with a wrench or a hammer, but has always said that God blessed him with a gift to speak and he could use his mouth to teach and preach.
Winton became a Christian in 1948. He preached at Palmer, Coalmont, Daus, and Sherwood, and filled in for churches in Grundy, Franklin, Marion, and Warren counties. He led singing for gospel meetings all over the mountain (that is where he met Doris) and held revivals throughout the southeastern part of the country.
Winton and his wife moved back to Coalmont in 2009 where he remains active preaching somewhere every Sunday, coordinating community events such as the Creighton Christmas Express, and helping care for others. He is the chairman of the Grundy County Veterans Historical Society and remains very active in veteran’s affairs.
Winton expresses this sentiment, “I am proud to be from this county where people work hard and still look after each other as neighbors and friends. Thank you for bestowing this honor upon me and my family. God Bless America and especially Grundy County