BROOKSVILLE, Fla. - You see his name on marquees in Brooksville and across social media: an entire community grieving over the loss of Bay Area coaching legend Ernie Chatman.
Late Sunday night, Chatman passed away in his Brooksville home after what family believes was a heart attack. His death came as a complete shock to friends and family of the 66-year-old two-time hall of fame high school coach.
"He always had this passion that you just didn't see in most people," said Weeki Wachee Cross Country coach Patrick Skiffer, once a member of Chatman's legendary Hernando High School cross country teams in the 1980s.
Chatman's passion for coaching lead to a 1997 cross county state championship, a 1983 Dixie Majors baseball World Series title, state playoff appearances with numerous varsity softball teams and 42 years of shaping young men and women in Hernando county on the field and in the classroom. Skiffer, a self-described "average" athlete, says Chatman made everyone, regardless of athletic ability, feel special.
"It was everyone he came in contact with. It could have been his hotshot shortstop or just a kid walking down the hallway," recalled Skiffer. "They all had the utmost respect for Ernie Chatman."
Skiffer is one of many former Chatman athletes across the state who has gone on to coach.
"We lost a leader. The community and educational field in the entire state lost a leader last night," said Hernando High School baseball coach Tim Sims. Sims first met Chatman as a batboy at just six-years-old and later took over the reins for him when the hall of fame coach retired.
"He taught all of us truth, passion and understanding of fellow humans. He treated everyone the way he would want to be treated and challenged always from a way of teaching. He's a teacher first and foremost," said Sims.
Whether one of his protégés, or a rival coach, Chatman was happy to give advice to anyone who asked.
"He was glad to help and glad to share. He was the type of person who didn't keep secrets. He'd tell you how he was doing it, knowing he'd still do it better than you," said Skiffer. "He just had a way of doing things that most coaches could learn from and they did. They sought him out time after time."
Among personal awards and honors Chatman received over the years and proudly displayed in his trophy room are pictures of his former athletes. Chatman kept scrapbooks full of articles that mention the kids he coached.
"He was so nostalgic," recalled Chatman's daughter, Beth Thompson. "His memory was incredible. He could tell you the exact date and final score from games played decades ago."
Beyond coaching titles, Chatman was himself a prolific athlete well into his 60s. Known around Brooksville as the running man, Chatman ran every single day for 8,814 straight days, a streak that spanned over 24 years. He completed marathons in all 50 states, running all but one (Hawaii) in less than four hours.
"You see everyone out running and they think I'm going to run an extra mile for coach because coach would do this," said Thompson.
Last fall, in what would later be diagnosed as vertigo, Chatman's running streak ended, but he continued to be actively involved in mentoring the coaches who once played for him.
"He's truly missed, not only in our small town of Brooksville but across the entire state," said Sims.
A funeral service will be held Friday, July 29, at the Michael Imhoff Gymnasium at Hernando High School at 6 p.m.