Steve Ledford, far right, is pictured with his 2017 conference champion Canton Middle School basketball team.

Haywood County’s Board of Education waived its rules Monday night to name Canton Middle School’s “big gym” after Steve Ledford, a beloved coach and teacher who died Sept. 2.

Normally such an action would require a three-year wait from the time an individual’s service to the school had ended. But upon the recommendation of its building and grounds committee, and following a request by Canton Middle School Principal Casey Kruk, the board voted to waive the delay before voting to name the building the Steve Ledford Gymnasium.

Ledford fell from a volleyball referee stand Sept. 2 and suffered a severe head injury, dying at Mission Hospital’s Memorial campus later that night. The physical education teacher had served as Canton Middle School’s athletic director and head coach of the basketball team and had worked at the school for 18 years. Between 700 and 800 people attended his memorial service, and the video of that service garnered 2,500 views in its first 24 hours online.

In addition to his service at the school, Ledford organized Mountain Sports Baseball, a travel baseball organization, with the aim of making travel ball free to youths. He hosted tournaments to support his teams, which meant that parents did not have to pay for tournament fees, dues or uniforms. Ledford also served as a deacon of High Street Baptist Church for 30 years, and organized voluntary devotional services for his baseball teams when they were traveling.

“He needs to be celebrated by us,” Kruk told the building and grounds committee Monday. “… We need to celebrate what he embodied, and what we want our kids to embody. … When you say ‘Canton Middle School,’ he is one of the first things that comes to mind, and will be for a long time.”

The earlier building and grounds committee meeting did discuss the question of waiving the normal three-year wait in giving such a tribute. While Jim Harley Francis said he had no hesitation about naming the gym after Ledford, he did wonder whether waiving the policy would set a precedent where others would expect the same consideration. Members of the committee said, however, that Ledford’s service to the school was so remarkable, his personal life so exemplary, and the circumstances of his death so unusual that they justified an exception to the rule.

“Three years, five years, 10 years, it would still be the recommendation of our community to name it after him,” Kruk said.

The recommendation of the building and grounds committee was then unanimous, as was the vote of the school board later that evening.

“We are not having to do anything. Steve already did it all,” said school board member Bobby Rogers, also chairman of the building and grounds committee.

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