WADESBORO – He told his mother that he didn’t understand why people always asked for pictures with him or made a big deal out of it; he was just a kid from North Carolina who loves basketball. But for the rest of the Crimson Tide fandom, Cameron Luke Ratliff had a unique spirit – captured in his plaid sports coat he wore to every game and a smile you could spot across the Colosseum – that none of them will soon be forgotten.
Fluff, as many knew him, was due to graduate from the University of Alabama in August. But Ratliff died suddenly on April 2 following complications from COVID-19, sending shockwaves across the country. Now, the University of Alabama will present the mother of the Wadesboro native, Pam, with her degree in public relations in December. The university also honors its heritage by inscribing its name on a paving stone on the Crimson Promenade and placing a plaque in memory of Fluff on his seat in the stands.
His mother learned on June 18 that her son would be honored by the school he fell in love with.
“They are commemorating it with a special event there,” Pam said. “They put a plaque on his seat. They are going to have a ceremony at the Tide Tip-Off this fall where they will present the new President of Crimson Chaos with an oath jacket in honor of Luke as a tradition from now on.
Ratliff was Alabama’s No.1 fan, attending 44 of Alabama’s last 45 conference and postseason games, covering more than 10,000 miles away. He was the president of the Crimson Chaos, the student section of Alabama. He would always wear a plaid sports coat and lead the cheers throughout the game.
His contagious spirit not only encouraged the fans, but also caught the attention of the basketball team.
“Fluff has been our biggest support since day one,” Nate Oats, head basketball coach, said on Twitter after his death. “Put everything he had in our program. I loved sharing this ride with him. We will miss you a lot my man! I wish I had had another victory cigar and a hug together. Roll Tide Forever.
Oats, along with other coaches and players traveled to Wadesboro for Ratliff’s funeral. Several players and managers were its carriers and Oats spoke at the funeral.
Even though the weeks have slowly passed, Pam said that at least once a week a team member reaches out and checks how the family is holding up. The Coleman Coliseum has not only become a second home for Ratliff, but also for the rest of his family.
On June 18, Pam was informed that the University of Alabama would honor her son. There will also be funding for the new leader of Crimson Chaos to travel to away games, just like Fluff did. Fluff paid for all of his trips out of his own pocket, according to Pam.
“We knew he was a big deal with the basketball team,” Pam said. “It’s amazing. We’ve been contacted by all the SEC teams… I’ve had people contacting me on Facebook and Twitter from as far away as Seattle, Washington… For one thing or another, not only for basketball, but for his platform where he stepped out and spoke about the death of national mental health awareness about his battle with anxiety.
She said neither the family nor Fluff himself knew how many lives he had touched. His larger-than-life personality followed him even after he went out of his way to cheer on Alabama.
“I got to watch him run that student section and rally the crowd in person,” Pam said. “He, honestly, I think he could have told them to strip down, run around the Colosseum and they would have. He preached to this crowd.
Pam saw Fluff lead the Crimson Chaos in the last home game of the season in Alabama. While not sure what her favorite basketball memory is, she thinks it would have been high on the list. The team presented him with an autographed basketball from Oats and a piece of the net which they cut. She said she watched him hold back tears.
“As we walked away from the Coleman Coliseum that night, he pulled up to the parking lot and took a photo of the Colosseum as it is, the last time,” Pam said.
The fun, down-to-earth super fan won’t be forgotten by Alabama fans from afar and the Anson community.
Contact Liz O’Connell at 704-994-5471 or [email protected]