When Leroy Holden left North Mecklenburg High School five years ago, working there again was almost inconceivable to the longtime teacher and coach.
Yet there was Holden last week, wandering the hallways at North Meck on the way to his office.
“I never thought I’d be back here,” Holden said.
For the next several months, Holden will once again be a fixture at North Meck, returning as the school’s part-time interim athletics director until a full-time replacement is hired.
Holden was brought on board by Lynn Rhymer, who took over as North Meck’s principal this year, after current interim athletics director Rick Gardner became overwhelmed with balancing his job as a business education teacher and his assistant coaching duties with the Vikings’ football team.
“We had looked at a candidate from out of state, and that didn’t go through,” Rhymer said. “We had a staff member step up and help us out, but once we got into the school year … the athletics director position entails tons and tons and tons of work. It’s certainly not a part-time position, and it was somewhat overwhelming.
“Just from knowing Coach Holden and all that he had done before, and the fact that he had been a stabilizing force at North Mecklenburg for so many years … I just spoke with him, and asked if he could come back to North Meck until we could get somebody on the staff that we feel really good about.”
Holden spent 40 years as a teacher and coach in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, 38 of those at North Mecklenburg High. During his time there, he was head coach of the school’s boys’ basketball team, in addition to coaching football, baseball, softball, tennis and track.
In 1985, Holden was promoted to North Meck’s athletics director, pulling triple-duty as administrator, coach and teacher until 1999, when he stepped down as the Vikings’ boys’ basketball coach to concentrate on his duties as AD.
But in 2009, Holden was among 456 teachers laid off by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools because of an anticipated reduction in federal, state and county funding due to the economic downturn.
“I wasn’t ready to retire just then,” said Holden, 69. “I didn’t want to go on Social Security just yet.”
Holden kept busy. He became a part-time physical education instructor at Queens University of Charlotte, was a doting grandfather to his grandchildren, and even played nurse when his wife, Ginny (who retired from CMS in 2004), twice underwent knee-replacement surgery.
Holden was also a frequent visitor at North Meck High sporting events – “I went to a few football games, and was at a bunch of basketball games,” he said – and booster club fundraisers.
It was at one of those fundraisers that Rhymer first broached the subject of getting Holden’s help.
“I ran into (Rhymer) this summer, after they had hired her, at the boosters club golf tournament,” Holden said. “She said, ‘Hey, I might need to call on you sometime.’ Jokingly, I said, ‘Well, I’m always around, y’know?’
“Then I was at the first home (football) game … and I saw her coming right towards me, where I was standing at the field house. She said, ‘Hey, I need your help. … I could use you to come help get things organized. I’m overwhelmed with getting things opened at school.’ So I went home and thought about it that weekend.”
So from 6:30 a.m. until lunchtime every school day, and the occasional nighttime event, Holden is at North Mecklenburg High, sorting through the myriad of tasks – paperwork, scheduling, dealing with coaches, etc. – that an athletics director goes through daily.
“There’s such massive paperwork now, but it’s all online now,” Holden said. “It’s mind-staggering how much things have changed. How these guys continue to do this and teach classes is unbelievable. There’s so much on their plate, there’s so much accountability and so much that athletics directors have to do now. It’s a full-time job in itself.”