Terry Lilly is more than a coach


“We start to die, the moment we are born, so why wait to the last minute to do something?

” coach Terry Lilly said.

One could sit and name every accomplishment that Lilly has achieved in life, but the picture in your head is one of a man with many trophies. Coach Terry is the epitome of a winner as a coach and as a human being. 

Says his long-time friend Coach David Ponton.

 “He is a perfectionist.” 

Says his long-time friend Coach David Ponton. But the most important matter is how Lilly accomplished the things he has and what type of person it has made him.

Born in Chicago, Lilly had both of his parents by his side. But his nuclear family childhood came to an abrupt end after he lost his father at the age of one. He continued to live with his mom until her death when he was nine.

“I didn’t let the absence of my parents hold me back.” Coach says.

“In my eyes, everything happens for a reason.”

The situation he was in at an early age did not cripple him but gave him motivation to do what he wanted to do. After the death of his parents, Lilly moved to Springfield with his aunt who opened up her home to him and his siblings. There in Springfield, Lilly played football as a wide receiver.

“And a good one at that,” he added enthusiasm. 


Defining moment 

 “I also was good at gymnastics and noticed that there were few black gymnasts and few people who played football do anything with it post-high school.”

This was a defining moment in Lily’s life because taking this route led him to become the first male cheerleader in Springfield. 

 “Having an older brother, Jeffrey Lilly, that I looked up to, I learned from him in two ways.”

When he did right, Lilly wanted to be like him. When he did wrong, he saw the consequences and knew not to repeat the wrong doings. However, the place that could teach him the rest of the things he would essentially need to know was college.

But for Coach Terry, right out of high school was post-prone being that he stayed in the hospital to look after his nephew who was diagnosed with spinal meningitis. 

Following that break from school, Lilly enrolled in Grambling State University.

“I chose Grambling because I had an uncle who worked in financial aid at the time and wanted to be far away from home.”

Grambling started off a little slow for him, but he grew to love it.

“Freshman year I was coming into the dorm I saw a sign that flyer that read ‘Dance Fever Star Search’ and the auditions were in Shreveport,” Coach Terry says.

“I tried out, I won and was flown to Los Angeles, that was an exciting opportunity for a college freshman.”

Not only did he do that, Lilly also was apart of a three-man team that won the The 1987 Crystal Light Aerobic Championship team competition. For Coach Terry, these things were accomplished because he had it in his mind that.

“It’s not where you are, but what you do where you are,” Coach Terry proudly stated. 

When he was a child he had dreams and aspirations to become a coach, go to the Olympics and be a choreographer. While in college Coach Terry got that chance to do one of those by going to the Olympics and A World Aerobic Championship represnting the United States. 

But it was not until post-graduation where he received the opportunity to become a coach. And not just any coach, but the coach for the very same cheerleading squad he once was a member of, the nationally ranked GSU’s 

cheer squad. 

However, Lilly started his tenure at Grambling in 1990s as a graduate assistant and worked his way up to be the cheer coach and director of the intramural. While at grambling, Lilly because of his affiliation with Just For Kix, a company that oversees programs in over 150 communities and approximately 18,000 dancers he was invited to be a guest choreographer Super Bowl XLV and XLVI 

“For me, GSU was different from when I actually cheered,” he went into detail by saying.

“Often times we had fun with what we had, more of a desire to be taught, and less freedom.” But with the world and economy changing HBCUs like GSU have no choice but to adapt to the new environment around it.

“Back in my days there were old dorms like Bethune and Tubman where you were looking directly at your roommate and had community bathrooms,” Coach Lilly says. Fast forward to today, students live in apartment style dorms and technology has expanded drastically.

“Although time has changed we have to instill in students honor, respect and responsibilities, these are the things that cannot change like right and wrong will never change,” says Coach Terry.

Now a days he works with different people at GSU who had nothing but great and interesting things about him. 

“That man is and shape and can move, he has so much energy, and I don’t think anyone on campus has as much energy as him,” Cyril Burch Coordinator/Chaperone of the cheerleading squad, Burch, recalls her first impressions of Lilly 20 years ago

“The Energy Man, Burch, calls Lilly. 

Under his watch and by using a lot of his energy, the university’s cheerleaders are 4th in the nation in their divisions. To accomplish things like this requires much dedication, sacrifice and plenty of energy.

“Back when I was a cheerleader for GSU, I came in contact with a person I probably would have never guessed they would be friends with,” says Coach Terry.


“He was the enemy!” 

David Ponton a former basketball player for Southern University, one of GSU’s rival team. Ponton and Coach Terry were at a basketball game against the two schools where Coach Terry was on the sideline rooting for his team and Ponton was on the court playing for his. 

“I recall at the game that Ponton had got injured and I laughed not knowing later down the road we would share laughs together,” he says. 

Now both employees at GSU for 20 years, Lilly and Ponton are working together with one goal, to ensure the success of students. “There are a number of experiences we have shared, and a lot have to do with students and their achievements,” Coach Terry says.


Life Coach 

Thankfully, not only is Coach Terry a cheer coach but a life coach as well. 

“Lilly has taught me how to be straight up and ask the questions he wants answers to, and being that he is an institutionalized person and empower he taught him to be those things as well,” Current GSU cheer captain, Marcus Kennedy says.  Kennedy has been the captain of the squad for two years and says that “having that position has taught me many of things, but the main thing is forgiveness.”

“Being on the mat with so many different people with different personalities, backgrounds and ages he had to learn to meet people where they’re and work with them from there,” Kennedy went on saying. And for him learning the power of forgiveness helped him. 

Coach would always tell me “Not to throw the babies out with the bath water.” 

“That means to not dismiss people after they make a mistake but instead working with them and helping them grow.”

Fast forward, today Lilly the man wearing many hats. The “Energy Man” is everywhere wasting no time getting things done and practicing what he preaches. 

Lilly has come far and plans to continue his success at Grambling State University where he feels his work is truly appreciated. 

So one may think they know Lilly by his accomplishments or what they’ve heard but in his words “before you think you know me, make sure you get to know me.”