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WCMS principal Gerald Tidwell passes at 54
Tidwell family with Daniel, L, 21 and Jordan, 24.jpg
The Tidwell family is pictured in this Easter 2021 photo. Daniel, 21, back left, and Jordan, 24, stand behind their parents, Gerald and Valerie.
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Floral tributes were left at Mr. Tidwell's parking space at WCMS.

The halls of Warren County Middle School have echoed with sorrow this week as students and staff mourn the death of popular principal Gerald Tidwell.

An inspiring leader, devoted educator, and highly regarded TSSAA football and baseball official, Mr. Tidwell died unexpectedly Saturday while umpiring a baseball game in Shelbyville.

He was 54.

Warren County Schools will dismiss at noon on Thursday so students and colleagues can attend his funeral set for 2 p.m. at Covenant Fellowship Church on Manchester Highway. TSSAA baseball umpires are wearing a pink ribbon with his initials for the rest of the season.

“He’s one of the best friends I ever had on so many levels,” said neighbor Ronnie Brown, a former state championship baseball coach who worked with Mr. Tidwell as an educator and as a TSSAA referee. “We have truly lost one of the good guys in our community. He would go out of his way to take care of anybody and he absolutely loved Warren County Middle School. He was known to stand out in the halls greeting kids between classes because he was a friendly guy who wanted to see his students. His passing leaves a huge hole.”

Gerald and his wife Valerie were high school sweethearts who started dating in 1984 and were married for 34 years. They moved their young family, with sons Jordan and Daniel, to McMinnville in 2002 when Gerald was hired as WCHS football coach after a successful football coaching career in Illinois.

Mr. Tidwell was hired to be an assistant principal at Grundy County High School for two years before he returned to Warren County to teach PE for one year at Morrison School.

Mr. Tidwell landed in the right spot when he was named principal of Warren County Middle School in 2011 upon the retirement of Betty Wood. He was finishing his 10th year as WCMS principal.

“One of the many great things about Gerald is he was always willing to grow and learn as an administrator,” said Bobby Cox, who served as director of schools for nine of Mr. Tidwell’s 10 years as WCMS principal. “He had a fondness for the students and staff at the middle school and I can say with confidence that he always acted with the best interests of the school in mind. He took over a school that was in really good shape and he kept it moving in the right direction. His death is a tragic event.”

Mr. Tidwell was known for his love of athletics. It was around 15 years ago when he started working as a TSSAA football referee and was highly regarded by coaches and his peers. He was assigned to several playoff games this past football season and worked deep into the postseason.

He started calling games as a TSSAA baseball umpire around the same time he started as a football referee. He would always travel with Perry Reed and they would make a two-man team calling baseball games.

“I can’t tell you how many dozens and dozens of coaches have contacted me to express their condolences and I’m sure most of them will be at his funeral,” said Reed on Tuesday. “So many of them have said, ‘I can’t imagine seeing one of you without the other.’ Coaches really liked Gerald because of what he brought to the field. He was my partner and we enjoyed calling games together. Some coaches would call us the A Team. There was one athletic director who called us the Dream Team.”

Reed said he called baseball games with Mr. Tidwell at Stone Memorial on Thursday, at Moore County on Friday, and at Shelbyville on Saturday. It was during the Saturday game when Mr. Tidwell passed away.

“We were heading into the top of the fifth inning and we had been out talking together on the first-base line like we always do between innings,” said Reed, who indicated Tidwell was calling behind the plate. “The inning was about to start so I turned to walk back to first base when I heard the Shelbyville coach hollering and pointing. I turned around and Gerald was lying face first on the ground. Nobody seemed to know what happened. I asked if he got hit by a ball and somebody said it looked like he was bending over to tie his shoe and just kept going. They were already calling to get medical people on the field.”

Reed said Mr. Tidwell showed no signs of poor health.

“He could run up and down the football field and he never would get out of breath,” said Reed. “We’d call three games of summer ball in the heat and he never said anything about it. We’d be hot like everybody else, but it never seemed to bother him.”

Valerie says she is thankful for the outpouring of support the community has shown for her sudden loss. She said even the TSSAA executive director called her to express his condolences.

Visitation for Mr. Tidwell begins Wednesday from 2 to 8 p.m. at Covenant Fellowship Church. Due to a large number of guests expected for the funeral service on Thursday, a live-stream will be provided for school system employees in the WCMS auditorium for any employee who would like to attend.