Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame: Pam Carter guides sport of cheerleading

Perched in the front corner of Pam Carter's desk, the first thing you see when you walk into her office on the Phenix City campus of Troy University, is a Grandparents' Day gift. On a card, above a small handprint of her granddaughter Claire, is a short poem entitled "A Granchild's Hand."

"The promise for tomorrow and the hope of dreams come true A reminder of the childhood that is still a part of you The wonder of a miracle from which this love began There is so much found in the touch of a grandchild's hand."

Each of her five grandchildren has impacted her in their own way. They have taught her, a woman who has been hands-on and involved in so much throughout her life, to step back and be a fan.

The same can be said of her two children -- her daughter Libby, who taught her how to listen and relate to her athletes on a more personal level, and her son Andy, who taught her that you make your own way in life.

In fact, every person she came across throughout her long career as a teacher, cheerleading coach, GHSA state cheerleading championships coordinator, Miss Georgia sponsor and now as the multi-campus internship coordinator at Troy University has impacted her in some way, Carter said.

When she is inducted into the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame on Feb. 20, she said, each person's hand prints will be visible all over her career. She will be inducted along with Jimmy Blanchard, Speedy Gilstrap, Cecil Cheves and Tim Walton.

Opening doors

Carter was born and raised in Columbus. A graduate of Columbus High, she laughed at the idea that she might, back then, have

been considered for the area's most prestigious athletic honor. Despite her long career as a cheerleading coach down the road, the thought to participate in something like that back then never even crossed her mind.

Instead, she concentrated on getting a degree with the hopes of becoming a teacher. She attended Middle Tennessee State and, upon graduation, got her first job in Jacksonville, Fla. That's where she met her husband, Donald, who was in the Navy, and began a long and winding road that eventually led her back to Columbus.

Along the way, she was roped into cheerleading, a sport she had never been a part of and one that really wasn't even considered a sport at the time.

She applied to a math position in Jacksonville, Fla., and was told they needed help with cheerleading. The principal convinced her that all she'd need to do was sit on the bus in between the girls and boys on the football team.

" 'That's all I'm asking of you,' " she recalls being told. "'If you'll take that on, we'll give you the job.' And I said, yeah, I'll take that on. Why not?"

She laughs looking back on it now, three decades worth of coaching and working on state rules committees and national federations later. She jokes about how she didn't even attend practices that first year. There was a lot of work in the concessions stands and riding the bus to and from games.

"But I wasn't coaching them," she said. "We weren't even called coaches. We were sponsors."

As competition became more of a focus, though, rules, understandably, became more complex. Once, during a competition when she was coaching at Hardaway, the team received a penalty.

"I'll be honest, I wasn't aware of all the rules at that point," Carter said. "And that concerned me because, I thought, you know I'm an active coach and I go to camp and they always offered coaching classes. I took them, but I didn't understand that there were rules that governed us. Those concerns led me to explore it."

After schools began competition cheerleading, Carter and a colleague decided to meet with different coaches around the state and organize the Georgia Cheerleading Coaches Association to help educate all member schools on the state's regulations. That led to serving with the National Federation of High School's Board and Spirit Rules Committee and, later, as a judge in state, national and international competition. She has worked with the GHSA to coordinate its state championships for the past 20 years.

"It was a slow, progressive process of understanding what I didn't know and using that to learn what I needed to know," she said.

In all, Carter coached cheerleading for over 30 years. In addition to her involvement in state and nationwide committees, her teams didn't fare too bad either. Hardaway won its region every year from 1992-2004, the last of which was the year she retired. It won state one year (1994-95) and was top five in a number of others.

She also got to see the world.

Her teams attended the Gator Bowl in Florida and the Sugar Bowl in Louisiana. They performed at halftime of the Super Bowl and traveled to Hawaii for the Hula Bowl. There were the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, and '96 Olympics in Atlanta. Hawaii was her favorite, Carter said.

"Who would have thought cheerleading could open so many doors?" she asked. "Cheerleading opened doors to the world for me, and I never would have ever thought that could happen."

Making a difference

So did her work with the Miss Georgia pageants, where she served on the board, worked on helping contestants prepare for the Miss America pageant and sold tickets, among other things. She was involved with Miss Georgia for over 30 years, from the early 1980s until 2011.

"And, gosh, I can't believe they finally won Miss America and I wasn't there," she said, referring to Miss Georgia, Betty Cantrell's win in Sept. 2015.

While a part of that, she traveled all different parts of the state and country, from Iowa and California to New Orleans and New York. Her favorite part was touring the back roads of Georgia.

"What a neat state we have," she said.

"There's just so many wonderful people in this state, and seeing what's in this state. I got to see the backroads and the people from small towns and I think that was important to me."

But nothing was as important as teaching.

Carter taught special needs students for 27 of her 33 years as an educator, and her eyes light up still whenever she gets to talk about them.

"Teaching is my heart," she said. "I loved working with my students. I loved going to school with them every day. They make you who you are. They teach you that no matter the challenge, you can stand up to it. No matter how difficult the road becomes, you can walk that road."

And her road did become difficult. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2002 and faced chemotherapy treatments, among other difficulties, but was able to face it all with help from her students and cheerleaders.

"The first card I received when I was diagnosed was from one of my former cheerleaders," she said. "She told me on the card: 'Mrs. Carter, you taught us to give your all, fight for everything you want in life and to do the best job you can do and never give up. So it's time you taught yourself that. It's time you use those skills you taught us.' I read that every morning, and I thought, OK, I can make it through the day."

She beat cancer in 2005 and has suffered no setbacks since.

Carter said it took all the little pieces, people she had met along the way and different experiences, to get her to where she is.

"You are what those people make you," she said. "Everyone of them that you work with in coaching or every day life or your students. Every piece of you is a piece of them."

And, like the hand prints of others that are all over her life, she hopes hers can be seen on others she's touched along the way.

"That's what this induction has made her realize above all else.

"Watching all of that makes me feel like some of the steps that I took in life were good," she said. "That they made a difference. I hope."

David Mitchell, Follow David on Twitter 67

High school: Columbus High, Class of 1966

College: Middle Tennessee State, 1970; Columbus State, 1980

Ties to Columbus: Born and raised in Columbus and graduated from Columbus High in 1966. Taught and coached cheerleading at both Carver and Hardaway.

You need to know: Coached cheerleading for over 30 years, helping lead Hardaway to the 1995 Class 3A state championship. Helped found the Georgia Cheerleading Coaches Association, served on the NFHS board and spirit rules committee, and has served on the board of the Georgia Officials Association Organization. She has two children and five grandchildren.

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