A true Panther: The life and legacy of Sonny Walters


The number of lives impacted, in ways small and large by Sonny Walters, would be difficult to measure.

Suffice it to say that the number would be in the thousands.

Walters, a long-time fixture at Miami Trace Local Schools, passed away on Feb. 3 at the age of 85.

Though born in Pike County and a graduate of Waverly High School, Walters lived most of his life in Fayette County.

Walters had a life-long affinity for sports and especially for the young people who participate in athletics.

Walters was a member of the football, basketball and track teams at Waverly High School and his love for sports continued with him during the many decades he lived in this community.

Kim Pittser, superintendent of Miami Trace Local Schools, spoke about Walters.

“Sonny served our school community with unconditional love,” Pittser said. “He encouraged and supported students and families even beyond the school setting. His impact reached many, and it will continue to be felt in years to come. We send our sincere thoughts and prayers to Bev, who also served in the Miami Trace District, as well as to the entire family.”

The following is a statement, written by Miami Trace High School Athletic Director Aaron Hammond, that was read to the large crowd at the Miami Trace versus Washington boys basketball game Saturday, Feb. 4.

“Ladies and gentlemen – prior to the playing of the National Anthem, I would ask that you all please stand and join me in honoring a Panther legend who passed away last night.

“William “Sonny” Walters epitomized a true selfless spirit. He never met anyone he didn’t believe he couldn’t help. During his lifetime, Sonny helped thousands of individuals through his service in the Miami Trace Local District as a coach, staff member, athletic booster, mentor, and friend.

“Sonny had a passion for athletics and his involvement in Panther athletics spans decades – from the intra-mural junior high leagues, to being involved in virtually every athletic program in the district at some point. Sonny’s reach and influence extends far and wide.

“There are few who have passed through our halls that do not have positive memories of interactions with Sonny. Everyone knew Sonny Walters, and Sonny knew everyone. Sonny pushed students to succeed on the playing field, and he had high expectations for those he worked with, and if he felt he was not getting the best out of the individual he could be critical but that criticism came from the heart.

“He wanted the best for all those he coached and mentored. Even when his formal coaching days ended, Sonny was on the sidelines or in the stands continuing to support the Panthers.”

The statement concluded:

“Sonny Walters will be remembered as a true legend and his passing leaves a void in our Panther family. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Bev, to his children and extended family. Sonny loved Miami Trace and we loved him.”

“Additionally, on a personal level, I would like to say there have been three legends associated with the athletic department since my arrival to the district in the fall of 1996,” Hammond said. “Sonny Walters was definitely one of those legends and there will never be another like him. He will be greatly missed by our coaches, athletes, and the community at large.”

Rob Pittser, an intervention specialist at Miami Trace, gave a few thoughts about his friend.

“Sonny Walters positively impacted generations of people in Fayette County with his infectious spirit and kind heart,” Pittser said. “He was a coach, mentor and friend to many and will be sorely missed in the community. It was pleasure to have had the opportunity to sing with Sonny through the years at civic events and ballgames. He was a true pro and those will always be cherished moments for me.”

On Sept. 26, 2021, Walters took part in a special concert at Grace Community Church. At that time Walters was honored for his approximately half-century of service to the youth of Miami Trace schools.

“He has made a great impact on many students and families in his lifetime,” Teresa Seyfang of Grace Community Church said at the time.

Walters sang with several lifelong friends at the event.

Bryan Sheets, the principal of Miami Trace High School, has memories of Sonny Walters that go back at least to Sheets’ junior high football days in the early 1980s.

“All of the coaches helped out,” Sheets said. “Sonny was the freshman coach then, I think. He was always around.”

“Sonny was always positive,” Sheets said. “He wasn’t afraid to tell you the truth, but he also cared enough to help you out. He always found good in everybody. No matter who it was, he always had something positive to say.”

“When Sonny talked, he was a strong, stern guy,” Sheets said. “He had that way with people. He would put his arm around you and console you.”

Walters was and will continue to be synonymous with Miami Trace.

“When you think of Miami Trace, Sonny Walters is one of the first individuals to come to mind,” Sheets said. Walters played a part in athletics at Miami Trace from the early days, Sheets said.

“Every school has a super-fan and I would say Sonny Walters was that guy at Miami Trace,” Sheets said. “He’s one of the top five, for sure. Sonny is going to be sorely missed, that’s for sure. He was a big part of Miami Trace.”

Charlie Andrews, currently a member of the Miami Trace Local Schools Board of Education, knew and worked with Walters for many years.

“There are probably not a lot of people we could list and say they are a true Panther” Andrews said. “But, he was a true Panther. He just loved anything about the Panthers. He loved what he did. He loved the kids. It didn’t make any difference if it was baseball, soccer, basketball, football, track. He was there in support. He knew what the kids did and he would talk to them in the hall and the kids appreciated that. He was a mentor to so many, including coaches and staff members.”

“A number of kids I’ve talked to since his passing talked about how they would always see him in the hallway,” Andrews said. “Most of them would call him Uncle Sonny, because he had such an impact on their lives.”

“He was the attendance officer for a while,” Andrews said. “He would always show up, even when he was no longer the attendance officer. He would just come in and greet the kids in the hall, see how they were doing. I always said he should have been a teacher. He didn’t have his degree, but he would have been a great teacher in the classroom.”

“I know my four kids couldn’t say enough nice things about Sonny,” Andrews said. “You don’t get a lot of those in the school system. Miami Trace was lucky to have Sonny there to kind of help mold the lives of so many young individuals. Not only athletes, but students that he would mentor in the hallway. He would see what they needed. He would be there for them when they were having trouble. That meant a lot to so many young people. He was a role model to so many people and they’ll never forget that, either.”

“He’s hard to replace,” Andrews said. “I guess I always looked at him as invincible. He was one of those people you looked at and think, ‘he’s going to be here forever.’ None of us are going to do that. He sure made an impact on kids’ lives. He was so caring and thoughtful and he really loved what he did. He just loved working with kids.”

Andrews was the high school athletic director at Miami Trace for many years. Walters never failed to volunteer to lend a hand or help with pretty much anything in any way, Andrews explained.

Andrews said that anytime he asked Walters for assistance, Walters would invariably respond, “What can I do to help you, Charlie. What do you need? Can I help with this person, or can I help coach in this area?”

“He didn’t look for the glory or the rewards, but he sure will get them in his afterlife because of the number of people who thought so highly of him,” Andrews said.

Andrews recalled when Miami Trace High School switched from a cinder track to an all-weather track. Walters was one of the foremost proponents of the upgrade.

“When we put our new track in and our new field house, that was all community donations,” Andrews said. “Sonny basically was the one who headed up (the effort for) the new field house that we built. He helped us with the construction; putting the roofing on, helping to design it. He was kind of my right-hand man when it came to that. He and his brother, Tim, were really my consultants when it came time to put the track in.”

“Sonny was right there leading the charge, trying to help us raise the money for the field house and for the all-weather track,” Andrews said. “He just meant so much to Miami Trace and the community.”

“He did so much on volunteering,” Andrews said. “He didn’t have to be paid to do that. He would go out to help the kids with anything. From freshman football, freshman basketball, junior high, high school; he was always kind of the coach behind the scenes, I always thought.”

“He never had the glory of being the head coach,” Andrews said. “He was the one who built the programs. He was the one who built the student-athletes into better competitors. He planted the seed in so many.”

“I started at Miami Trace in ‘71,” Andrews said. “He and Bev got married in ‘72. She was my cheerleading advisor. I think he was pretty much helping with different things, even in those days.”

“He coached football for around 50 years,” Andrews said. “I would guess he was involved in programs in the early ’70s. If he wasn’t on the payroll, he was just there helping. He did so much with freshman football; he helped coach that forever. That was like our feeder programs. Our very successful coaches back in those days always put their best coaches, they tried to put them at the junior high and freshman level, to build those kids and put in the program they wanted.”

“Sonny was a good person to have in that role,” Andrews said. “He took care of his kids.”

“It’s a big loss for the community,” Andrews said. “They don’t make ‘em like that right now and I’m not sure there’ll be another one like Sonny.”

Only one person most folks could think has been a Panther through and through, for longer even than Sonny Walters, is Tom ‘Chatter’ Harris.

A Miami Trace High School graduate from the Class of 1965, Harris has never really left Miami Trace.

Harris is still involved in keeping the score book for boys basketball and has kept football stats for many decades, as well as working with the baseball and track programs and being advisor for the school’s chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

“He loved kids with all of his heart,” Harris said of Walters. “He’d do anything for them to help make them a better young man or a better young lady in the field of sports, or in life. He would never give up on them.”

“He was always the same, no matter where you would see him,” Harris said. “I know he loved the Lord with all of his heart. The Lord blessed with a voice box that he could sing. I heard him sing many times. He was at Heritage before he went to Grace Community.”

“I remember before we would break up to go to our Sunday School classes, we’d always meet in the sanctuary to see who the oldest person was there or the youngest person,” Harris said. “No matter where you saw Sonny, he was always the same, and that’s just a very, very caring person.”

“He’s going to be missed, that’s for sure,” Harris said. “Like they said at the ball game the other night, he was an icon. He worked hard at what he did and he always saw the good in everybody.”

“The good Lord finally called his number,” Harris said. “There’ll be no more suffering.”

Walters donated his body to the Wright State University School of Medicine for the advancement of science.

A Celebration of Life will be held Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Grace Community Church, 525 Glenn Avenue, Washington C.H.

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