Sheila Proffit with James River quilts that are retirement gifts.
Photo courtesy of Martha Alphin

Sheila Proffit, who retired after 45 years at James River High School last week, is going to miss being at the Springwood school. Rest assured, the feeling will be mutual.

The popular Proffit recently had a send-off reception in the school gymnasium to honor her many years of service to the school. Among the speakers were former Principal Larry Journell, referee Randy Likens, longtime coaching cohort John Shotwell, former River athlete Melissa (Baker) Nice and others, including Cindy Thomas, who was on Proffit’s first basketball team. They took turns roasting and praising her over their experiences with one of James River’s all-time greats.

“You really get strong friendships through coaching,” said Proffit. “That’s one thing I’m really going to miss.”

A native of Kentucky, Proffit came to Botetourt County when she was a senior at Radford University. She was a student teacher at Botetourt Intermediate, then took a “temporary” job at James River a year later. She never left, and when she retired last week she was the last member of that 1972 faculty that was still at the school.

“You know I’ve lived in Roanoke all that time and I have a lot of friends in Roanoke City and Roanoke County,” said Proffit. “Many times they told me ‘Why don’t you try and get a job here and save all that driving?’ I would tell them I like the kids and the administration is great, so why leave? The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”

In her 45 years at the school, Sheila has coached girls basketball, volleyball, track and cheerleading, and served as athletic director for her final 13 years. Her first year at the school she coached both jayvee and varsity basketball along with cheerleading and spring track. When the girls were playing basketball she was in charge of both the team on the court and the girls hollering on the baseline.

James River didn’t even have a volleyball team when Sheila started at the school. She started the first team in 1974 and was the coach right through her first year of serving as athletic director. At that point, it got to be a little too much.

“I was teaching (Health and PE), coaching volleyball, and was the athletic director, and that was when we were building the new gym,” she recalls. “It was just too much. I had to give up coaching.”

And with that, she gave up a special part of her life. Not that she regrets it, but coaching was special for Sheila.

“I missed coaching a lot,” she said. “You really get close to the kids when you coach them. During the season you spend more hours with them than their parents do. When I became athletic director I missed that. Then I got closer to the parents.”

While Sheila was regarded as an excellent coach, trophies and championships weren’t the most important thing to her during her days at James River.

“As long as I did the best I could and as long as they did the best they could, that’s all that matters,” she said. “I like to win, but I didn’t get caught up in wins and losses.”

As an athletic director, Sheila was known for her friendly demeanor and affable personality. There was rarely a James River event that she missed, and she plans to continue to be a regular at Knights’ events.

“I can help with games and stuff since I’m going to be there anyway,” she said. “I’ve offered and I’m trying to work out a deal with Jamie (Principal Talbott) now.”

Tim Jennings, who has been serving as wrestling coach and football assistant, has officially taken over as athletic director. Sheila thinks he’ll do a great job.

“He’s going to be very good,” she said. “He’s much better at technology than I am, but it’s not all that textbook stuff, either. I had to learn on the job and he’ll have to do the same.”

What is Sheila going to do with all that extra time? Well, first of all she’s going to attend to her husband, Doug, another familiar face at James River. He’s had some health issues, and as soon as he’s up to it they’re going to do some traveling.

“We love to travel,” she said.

Sheila is also a big Virginia Tech fan. She’s had football season tickets for years and she also had low corner seats for Tech basketball for many years. However, shortly after becoming athletic director she gave up the basketball tickets because she just didn’t have the time to attend the games.

“We’re getting the basketball tickets back,” she said. “It’s going to be nice to have time to do some things that we just haven’t had the time to do.”