Blast from the Past: Remembering the Legend Ralph Stout

Published 7:51 pm Tuesday, July 5, 2022

BY C.Y. Peters

Ralph Stout was born as far East of Tennessee in a small town on the edge of the state, Mountain City. He was the most recognized and respected man in both football and basketball. If you want to know a rule or the explanation of a rule, pick up your phone and call Johnson County native Stout. In his time, he was the best referee in the business. He was the Supervisor of referees, the master of sports and a friend to all. Some old folks say that when James Nasmith invented basketball, he called on Stout to help write the rule book.

Stout was nearly a century old, but he still attended games somewhere and never missed a Friday night high school football game. He never forgets a face or a name and can he talk about the days past. Latter years he dependent on his longtime friend Larry Hutchinson to provide him with transportation.

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He started his career as a stellar sports player at what is now Johnson County High School in Mountain City. Stout was one of the best guards in the area, leading the Longhorns to many victories. His long walk to school, nearly six miles as he would joke, was uphill both ways and many times in the snow. He continued his career at LMU college in Harrogate, Tennessee. Stout was a co-captain on the basketball team along with Gene Husky. While attending college he fell in love with a Kentucky girl named Margie Baker, who was by his side for over 75 years.

“I have a great wife,” he would say. Stout once said, “when I was working games all over the country, I would drop in to change clothes and get something to eat, and Margie was still here.” Although Stout stayed gone during the sports seasons, she stuck by his side.

After college, he joined the Navy and was stationed at Norfolk,

Virginia and then to Memphis. After the Navy, his ties to his Hometown kept calling him back, so he attended Elgin Watchmaking College in Illinois to continue the family work as Ralph’s dad was a watchmaker.

Stout got to live the dream of every referee or official. He has worked games in 45 states from high school to college to the professionals. He was a member of the SEC, OVC, Southern Conference and the VSAC. When he retired from calling games, he became a supervisor, where he traveled almost every day and night to observe officials. He traveled enough miles to circle the world twice. When on the road calling games, he might be in Kentucky tonight working for the Wildcats, at Unaka or Happy Valley on a Tuesday or Friday night, and then to the University of Tennessee, Georgia or South Carolina for a college game on Saturday. Stout worked the VSAC conference tournament for 23 straight years. He officiated the Southern tournament for thirteen years and refereed in the NCAA sixteen years.

Over fifty years of calling games on the road. Most people don’t keep a job that long. Stout was in Los Angles and the next night in New Orleans. Today’s officials make more in a night than he made in a season. He officiated games with Pistol Pete Maravich, Jerry West, Art Hamon and former Elizabethton Superstar Skeeter Swift, who went on to play at ETSU and in the ABA.

“Always do the right thing; you’re not perfect, was Stout’s motto. He would say at meetings, if Charlie Bayless or Bobby Snyder disagrees with you, then check yourself, but always do the right thing. He always tried to ensure kids got a fair shake; John L. Treadway once told him, “If he were playing for the national title, he would want Stout calling the game. Stout said that he probably called ten technicals on him and deserved every one of them.

When Stout officiated football, he had a good crew. Charlie McConnell and Larry Hutchinson worked with him and worked hard to get every play right. When Ralph started officiating, he already had two strikes against him, being from a small town in Tennessee. Although he worked for every big team in the nation, his secret to being a good referee is just being down to earth and using good common sense. One of Stout’s best comments came from an LSU radio host. He said no matter who the other referee is tonight Ralph Stout is here and he will have control of the game. Stout once called seven technicals in a game between Maryland and North Carolina. Dean Smith didn’t like it too well.

Stout served as Mayor of Mountain City for almost twenty years. He is a member of the TSSAA Hall of Fame and the Tennessee Hall of fame. I once asked Mr. Stout what the secret to being married for over 70 years was and here is what he told me, “You have to have a mutual understanding in a disagreement, take thirty minutes off and be willing to give in when you’re wrong, besides Margie and me, we just got too old to argue. Stout was a five-time winner of the Southern Conference Silver Whistle Award and the local town park bears his name.

He began officiating sports in 1946 and served as an official, supervisor, and commissioner during his 65 years with the TSSAA. Unfortunately, Ralph Stout passed away on August 18, 2017. He and Margie were married for 75 years. If you go to a football or basketball game today, someone always mentions Ralph Stout. He left an ever-lasting impression on many people.