Leonard Walters was more than just a coach during his time at South Hall High and then at Johnson.
Those that knew him say he was eccentric, captivating, caring, educated, demanding — and a life saver too. Walters passed away on Tuesday at 81.
Players under Walters, who coached girls varsity basketball and junior varsity football, remember a coach who demanded they fulfill their potential as athletes.
He also had no time for those who weren’t going to be fully attentive. But for Homer Myers, one particular story of Walters as a football coach comes to mind. The team center Gordy Black continued to pick up the football before the snap, making it a live ball.
Walters was infuriated by the lack of discipline, and told linebacker Ronny Attaway, "a terror of a linebacker", that if it happened again to hit Black as hard as he could. The premature start to the play happened once again, prompting Attaway to follow orders and unleash his hardest hit.
Unfortunately, Black was hit so hard that it caused him to choke on his tongue. That’s when Walters sprung into action, removing the players tongue from the back of his throat. "He saved his life, for sure," Myers said.
The former South Hall High coach carried over the same mentality of tough love to the girls basketball program. One of his training tools was to utilize the junior varsity boys football players to practice against the varsity girls to improve their skill and physical play.
As an instructor of both English and Spanish, Walters carried the same passion for sports into the classroom. He was driven to make students succeed. His Spanish II students were able to carry on basic conversations with native speakers, said his former student and eventual teaching colleague Ralph Mills.
Of course, students all remembered the retired educator’s unique teaching style, which included standing on desks to get students’ attention or snatching flies out of mid air. "He was a guy that you didn’t mess around with," Myers said. "But he was always on your side."
Mills says that Walters’ passion for education and philosophy encouraged students to write about a variety of topics, but always had a keen eye for the philosophers.
"Because of his influence in English and Elocution, there are countless adults who are held by no fear when attempting to express their deepest intimate feelings with the written or spoken word," Mills said.