Several thousand LeadingAge members got their first look at new board chairman Steve Fleming recently, and if initial reactions are any indication, it’s going to be a wonderful relationship.

A poised North Carolinian with a polished, folksy speaking style, Fleming formally introduced himself and laid out his game plan for the association at the opening session of its annual convention.

He officially takes office Jan. 1, when he will succeed Kathryn Roberts, who is finishing her two-year term.

The president and CEO of the Well•Spring Group, Fleming is no stranger to leading — or making important calls on his feet (we’ll get to that part later). Yet, he seemed genuinely surprised and a little embarrassed when the 5,000 in attendance rose in a standing ovation to endorse his election.

Perhaps it was the tables-turned nature of the moment. Fleming has been a major college football official for 10 years, and it’s not likely he nor his standout crew had ever faced a massive ovation — let alone one with smiling people.

“For too long we at Leading-Age have been playing defense, now it’s time for us to focus on offense,” he declared.

He urged LeadingAge into a new era of stronger advocacy to combat the “constant” regulatory burdens and funding shortfalls. He called for a concise, clear and transparent strategy.

Just as in athletics, practice is needed for any skill, Fleming explained. To that end, he urged members to lobby public officials and elected representatives not just once, but often.

And then he stepped away from the podium. He spoke of his early career at a Quaker community, and meeting a resident who was a good gardener. Fleming engaged him and asked advice on how to grow his own green beans, a staple of the region.

The first crop wound up with “runners” that led to tangled messes of plants on the ground and a weak harvest. After further consultation with the wise old green thumb, Fleming learned to create a trellis that would lead the bean vines up and clear of one another. They flourished.

“LeadingAge is our trellis for growth,” Fleming explained. “It will help us ‘run’ less and climb more.” A “bumper crop” will ensue, he predicted.

“It’s Game Day,” he announced, “and our turn to change the way America ages.” In other words: It’s time to play ball.