By David Elwell
For the Decatur Daily

Wayne Ridgeway was a hot-shot basketball player at Moulton Heights Junior High School. When it was time to move on to high school in 1949, Ridgeway had a decision to make. Did he go to the county school he was zoned for, Austinville? Or did he go to the nearby city school, Decatur?

Austinville was on the verge of starting a legendary run in basketball that would produce four state championships in the next 10 years. Decatur offered Ridgeway something that Austinville could not match – the opportunity to play football. The Red Raiders were a football powerhouse under H.L. "Shorty" Ogle and had gone undefeated in 1947 and 1948. "I really wanted to try playing football," Ridgeway said. "So I decided to go to Decatur. At that time the only schools in the county with football teams were Decatur, Hartselle and Falkville."

The decision worked out great for Ridgeway and the Red Raiders. He starred in football, basketball and track and field at Decatur. When he graduated in 1952, he received the VFW Cup that honored the senior athlete who had contributed the most to athletics throughout his high school career.

Ridgeway's journey to stardom at Decatur really started in Lauderdale County. That's where he was born, but family problems forced him and his mother to move to Moulton Heights to live with relatives. It was there he discovered basketball. "I had a cousin that had a basketball goal," Ridgeway said. "We played basketball all the time. I was tall (5-foot-10) and I could jump well. I figured out how to shoot a pretty good jump shot."

Despite being an all-county selection in junior high, Ridgeway couldn't pass up football. "I got to go to spring football practice at Decatur my last year at Moulton Heights," Ridgeway said. "I loved it so much that I knew I had made the right decision."

Today, most people who travel through the Moulton Heights community don't even realize they have left Decatur. In 1949, getting from Moulton Heights to school at Decatur High was no simple trip. "I would walk eight miles every day to get to Decatur," Ridgeway said. "When I got to the corner of Memorial Drive, I could catch a bus to Decatur High."

Ridgeway played second team his first football season at Decatur. The Red Raiders extended their streak of undefeated seasons with a 9-0-1 record. That gave Decatur a combined 28-0-2 record from 1947-1949. "Coach Ogle switched me to end the next spring," Ridgeway said. "Before the next fall we lost several players to the military because of the Korean War. Coach Ogle moved me to left halfback." The rest of the backfield in 1950 had Buddy Crain at right halfback, Billy Joe Aycock at fullback and Bob Freeman at quarterback. Freeman, who earned All-State honors that season, later starred at Auburn and in the National Football League. "He was one of the best athletes I ever saw," Ridgeway said. "He could throw the ball 80 yards.

If you were the receiver, you didn't have to worry about running out of his range." Decatur went just 3-6-1 in 1950, but the Red Raiders bounced back in 1951 with a winning season (5-3-1). Ridgeway was a star on offense with over 1,000 all-purpose yards. His 97-yard kickoff return was the difference in a 20-14 victory over Lawrence County. He played in the North-South All-Star game in Tuscaloosa that August.

Just because Ridgeway chose Decatur primarily because of football didn't mean he gave up on basketball. Bill Isbell became the Red Raiders' basketball coach in 1949. Ridgeway was a key reserve off the bench in the 1950 season. Ridgeway moved into the starting lineup in 1951 and 1952. Both teams won district championships and advanced to the state tournament in Tuscaloosa. Both years the Red Raiders would fall just short of state championships with losses in the semifinals.

"My senior season we lost to Coffee (of Florence)," Ridgeway, who made all-state in basketball in 1951 and '52, said. "That was a tough loss because they were big rivals with Decatur." Ridgeway and teammate Marv Breeding were named to the all-tournament team in 1952.

The book "From Hard Dirt to Hard Wood" by Charles Riley chronicles the history of boys basketball in Morgan County. On pages 106 and 322 there is a Decatur Daily photo of a 1951 Morgan County Tournament game between Decatur and Union Hill. The photo shows the crowd hanging from the balcony. People are standing on the court. Ridgeway is shooting a jump shot. The other players in the photo are identified as Decatur's Roy Freeman, Bob Freeman and Union Hill's Earl Morris and Harold Morris.

The 2015 induction of Ridgeway into the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame means all five men in the photo are members of the hall of fame. "Wayne Ridgeway was a really good athlete," Earl Morris said. "He was quick and fast. In basketball, he could get the ball down
the court in a hurry. He had a great shot. "I saw a lot of his football games at Decatur. He used his speed and quickness to do things on the football field that you just can't coach."

Ridgeway's football talents earned him a scholarship to Vanderbilt. He left school in his first semester to return home and marry his high school sweetheart, Ann. After serving in the Army, Ridgeway got into the commercial printing business. He's now retired. He and Ann live in
Cleveland, Tennessee.

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