Opportunity literally knocked on Geneva Ledford’s door in September.

When neighbor Carol Russell asked her to coach the cheerleaders at Walland Elementary School, Ledford was thrilled.

After retiring as cheerleading coach at Heritage High School in 2003, Ledford has missed what had been a major part of her life.

This past Friday, she was dancing with the cheerleaders on the Walland gym floor during a pep rally.

“I love it,” the 77-year-old said.

“I get so excited with them,” Ledford said. She woke her husband, David, up in the middle of one night to share a cheer she had just written.

Reconnecting

Walland’s previous coach had moved, and Principal Kim Sullivan remembers the call she received in September.

“Her introduction was hilarious,” Sullivan said. “She simply called me up and stated, ‘Mrs. Sullivan, this is Geneva Ledford, and I am your cheerleading coach.’”

“I loved it,” said Sullivan, who knew her as “G. Ledford, RN,” her Health Occupation teacher at HHS.

When word spread through Walland that Ledford would coach the cheerleaders, Sullivan said, the community was buzzing.

In addition to being the Health Occupation teacher, Ledford coached HHS cheerleaders for 24 years, and her squads performed at the Orange, Sugar and Peach Bowls.

“She brings out the best in you,” said Sullivan, who knows that firsthand.

“I became a nurse because of her,” the principal said of her first career.

When Sullivan was a high school student, Ledford encouraged her to enter a speech competition. Although Sullivan thought she couldn’t do it, she won regional and state honors with that presentation.

Ledford still has high standards.

She began the season with a list of rules she shared with the cheerleaders and their parents. It started with respecting their parents, teachers and friends.

Ledford tells them to do well in school and not make fun of friends.

She also has a zero-tolerance policy for bad language. If one naughty word comes out of a girl’s mouth, she’s off the squad. “Pat Summitt would do it, too,” Ledford said.

The coach will bench a cheerleader who isn’t smiling, too.

“I was really happy that she was strict on us,” said Alex McDonald, one of the fifth-grade cheerleaders.

“I love her structure and her innate ability to develop young ladies into leaders in our community,” Sullivan said.

“Her flare, sassiness and smile are contagious, and I am unbelievably proud of her,” the principal said.

Ledford not only has an opportunity to have a positive impact on a whole new generation, Sullivan said, but also is showing her how great retirement could be one day.

After the winter break, Ledford plans to prepare fifth-graders for middle-school chearleading tryouts and the younger students for next year at Walland.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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