WADESBORO — An Alabama super-fan and Wadesboro native passed away suddenly on Friday, April 2, shocking the nation and bringing up concern of a potential COVID-related death.
Senior Cameron Luke Ratliff, 23, was set to graduate from the University of Alabama in August with a degree in public relations. During his four years in Tuscaloosa, Ratliff became known as Fluff, or Fluffopotamus88 on social media, a beloved die-hard Crimson Tide fan.
He attended almost every home and away men’s basketball game, always rocking a plaid sport coat and leading the entire student cheering section as president of the Crimson Chaos. Ratliff also made it a point to attend other sporting events and support all student athletes.
Ratliff posted on social media he would have finished college going to 44 of Alabama’s past 45 conference and postseason games. Forty-two of those were in a row. He also said he drove 10,498 miles during his time at Alabama.
“We will forever remember our #1 fan,” the Alabama men’s basketball team posted on social media with a broken heart emoji. “We love you.”
Students and school officials held a memorial honoring Ratliff outside the Coleman Coliseum a day after his passing. Flowers, basketballs and signs reading “Fluff forever” were left outside.
“I know we are all heartbroken hearing the news about Cameron Luke Ratliff, @fluffopotamus88,” Alabama Athletic Director Greg Byrne said on social media. “Fluff brought a positive attitude and energy to everything and everyone around him, especially @AlabamaMBB. He inspired all of us. We will find an appropriate way to honor Fluff. #RIPFluff.”
Ratliff’s death gained national attention, and some began to question whether or not his death is linked to COVID-19 and his time attending the NCAA March Madness Tournament. The NCAA venues allowed up to 25% capacity into the arenas during this year’s tournament.
He was at the tournament in Indianapolis, but returned to Tuscaloosa on March 29 after Alabama lost.
Ratliff’s family doctors suspect his death is related to COVID-19, but his mother said he had three negative tests earlier in the week, according to WSCOTV.
The Marion Count Public Health Department in Indiana said in a statement that the department contacted the Alabama Department of Public Health to determine if anyone in Indianapolis may have been exposed to COVID-19 from an Alabama resident who traveled to the city recently. The department is following standard contact tracing procedures and investigating further.
“Devastating news,” Nate Oats, head basketball coach, posted on Twitter. “Doesn’t seem real. Fluff has been out biggest supporter since day one. Put all he had into our program. Loved sharing this ride with him. You’ll be missed dearly my man! Wish we had one more victory cigar and hug together. Roll Tide Forever.”
Ratliff’s mom, Pamela, wants everyone to remember Fluff as the son of a North Carolina highway patrolman, his brother’s Special Olympics team coach and of course, the leader of Alabama’s student section.
“For five years I’ve cried every time I’ve left Tuscaloosa because I was leaving my heart there to become a man,” Fluff’s mother posted on social media. “Tonight I’m crying because I’m not.”
Fluff’s spirit lives on forever from Wadesboro to Tuscaloosa and every sporting site he shared his passion.
Reach Liz O’Connell at 704-994-5471 or at email@example.com.