The "Old Coach" Has Departed the Playing Field

Ray Cliffe was probably the most important part of St. Louis' rich heritage in coaching.

One knows he or she is getting older when the daily routine means scanning the obit’s in the newspaper every day.

On January 8, 2013 the old coach Ray Cliffe departed the playing field for good. I spent almost my entire working career knowing the grandest of the grand, the old scrubby Dutch coach for the Cleveland High School Dutchmen. Ray Cliffe was the personification of the real coach.

He taught youngsters how to play football, but also how to play basketball, bowl, swim, you name it.

Cliffe was as South side as those hallowed gun turrets that adorn Cleveland High’s schools facade even to this day.

Cliffe would no more abandon the “old hood” next to Ted Drewes on South Grand than take up residence anywhere else.

But as the years went on and likely a concession to neighborhood crime, the Cliffe’s finally migrated to South St. Louis County.

That’s OK, because even now, the Dutch alumni gather at places like Royale Orleans in Lemay to regale those salad days on the South side.

Wars on the South Side

Battles were ferocious on Saturdays. Ray and his mudders would face Julius Blanke at McKinley; George Anastasoff, Roosevelt; Leon Anton at Southwest and Soldan and Ron Villers, also Soldan. Then, football teams would throw the ball about as many times as I could land on the moon. Throwing the ball meant three things could happen--and two were bad.

In the grand old days, the champion of the Public High League would meet the champion of the old Catholic League in the Accident Benefit Bowl Thanksgiving at the long-forgotten Public School Stadium on North Grand Avenue.

Cliffe had ties to St. Louis County. He started as assistant football coach and baseball coach at the old Country Day School on Brown Road. MICDS had a moment of silence Friday night to remember the late coach.

When his coaching days were over (1948-92); he continued his career as an active basketball official. To this day, I see Ray rolling his arms calling traveling even if he was some 40 feet behind the play;  a concession to old age and not being able to run with the young bucks.

Mr. Football will still remember

One who surely will miss Mr. Football is Mizzou’s Octogenarian John Kadlec. The two were tighter than a tick. Kadlec’s roots were at the old South Side Catholic (St. Mary’s today). When Kadlec wanted a bead on a St. Louis prospect, like All American Howard Richards (Southwest High) Cliffe was the reference source. Cliffe was a blocker for Mizzou in the 1946 Cotton Bowl.

In his later years, Cliffe would pull up his lawn chair to high school football games everywhere, draw out his pen and paper and evaluate the game officials. Those working the games knew they’d better be on their toes.

Cliffe was an accomplished artist, drew cartoons and left landscapes and murals all over town.  He left behind a gang of offspring, 15 grand kids and 10 great grand children.

Both the Missouri and St. Louis Halls of Fame were smart enough to induct him, prior to his passing.

Unequivocally, there will never be another coach like the late Ray Cliffe. Old Coach, RIP.

The family asks in lieu of flowers to make contributions to the American Cancer Society.

Kevin Smith January 15, 2013 at 07:21 AM
Not only was he the "Coach" he was my friend and taught me much about art...always in my memories....RIP Mr. Cliffe.
Rick Petzoldt January 17, 2013 at 03:12 AM
Hello sorry to hear about your father passing away. I Will alway remeber the float trips we took. I stoped by about a month ago to say hi and we talked for a good half an hour about a book I lent him about thirty years ago. What a menory your dad had. Sorry I did not find out sooner so I could visit with the family. Sincerly, Rick Petzoldt


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