EVERETT — During his 31 years at Everett Community College, Larry Walker did things the right way.
Walker, a soft-spoken but insightful man with a dry sense of humor, succeeded in his jobs as the Trojans’ men’s basketball coach and athletic director because he treated people well, valued loyalty, honesty and hard work, and always had his student-athletes’ best interests in mind.
It’s virtually impossible to overstate the impact Walker has had on the Everett athletic department over the past three decades. In many ways, he built the department to what it is today. He’s been virtually synonymous with Trojans athletics for a long time.
“(Our) athletes go on in school and they enjoy their two years here,” he said. “It’s all about the athletes, and it’s always been about the athletes. You see that in our goals and objectives. We’re trying to make it a very positive, rewarding experience for the student-athlete, and we make sure that we’re holding them accountable.”
Earlier this year Walker announced that he’s retiring from both jobs; Tuesday will be his last day of work. He’s looking forward to spending more time with his wife, three children and seven grandchildren.
“He’s going to be hard to replace. I don’t think they make them like that anymore,” said Chet Hovde, Everett’s women’s basketball coach since 1988. “He was able to relate to (athletes), and they respected him. That (mindset) carried over to the coaches for the different programs here. He always had the coaches’ backs (as the athletic director). He’s extremely loyal.”
“Larry treats you like you are one of his family members. His caring ways, willingness to help and positive attitude is never ending,” said Tammy Dunn, the Snohomish County Sports Commission sports development director. “He loves to teach — whether on the basketball court or in life or within our community.”
Walker was born in South Dakota and grew up in south Seattle, graduating from Glacier High School. He then went to Highline Community College, where he played basketball, and Eastern Washington University, where he played football for one year.
He worked as a teacher/coach at Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane for 10 years before landing the Everett coaching job in 1985.
The school had just resurrected its basketball program the year before after a long hiatus, and Walker knew that he’d have to build the program pretty much from the ground up. He did so by seeking out players who had a similar mindset to his own.
“I always recruited kids that loved basketball,” he said. “Sometimes they weren’t the greatest players, but they were kids that loved basketball, loved to be in the gym, and I had more success with that because that’s the way I was. I was basketball-crazy.”
During his 31 years on the sidelines, Walker guided the Trojans to seven appearances in the Northwest Athletic Conference tournament, taking fifth place in 2013, eighth in 2008, fifth in 1997 and second in 1995, when Everett lost to Clark in the championship game.
“He had a great way of getting his message across — straight to the point and honest,” said Zach Ward, a player on the 1995 Trojans team. “You knew as a player that when he said something, it was really important. He made it extremely fun to play basketball. He was a players’ coach. He put guys in spots to succeed. He was not set in ways; he molded what he had.”
Walker was named the school’s athletic director in 2001. He established good relationships with members of the school’s administration as well as its athletes to ensure that their efforts were coordinated when the athletic department made significant changes.
“He was always available, not just to basketball players, but to all athletes,” said Rich Haldi, who worked with Walker for many years as the school’s director of student activities and vice president for student services. “He always advised me about what was going on and what we needed to do and look at.
“He’s a legend out there. Whatever exists out there today is a lot because of Larry.”
Walker’s efforts to revive several sports that had been dropped in previous years were significant.
When he first arrived at ECC, the athletic program had been reduced to four sports — men’s and women’s basketball, men’s soccer and volleyball. It’s now at 11, with baseball, softball, women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country and men’s and women’s track and field added to the mix.
“That’s an accomplishment, because if a community college doesn’t have six or seven (sports), it doesn’t really have an athletic program,” Walker said. “We’re providing more opportunities for the local kids. To be able to bring so many (more) athletes (to campus is a good thing).”
Walker’s efforts were also instrumental in the construction of the Walt Price Student Fitness Center, which was completed in 2011. The new facility is home to the Trojans’ volleyball and basketball teams, and played host to the NWAC basketball tournaments for the first time last season.
“It’s been huge for recruiting,” Walker said. “This is one of the first stops (that potential recruits make) because we have such a fantastic facility.”
A family man – in more ways than one
Walker has been married for 42 years to his wife, Carey. Their children followed their father’s career path — Darrell Walker is a physical education teacher at Arts and Technology High School in Marysville; Julie Martin just ended a 15-year stint as the head coach of the Marysville Pilchuck girls basketball team; and Kelli Hawkinson is a teacher/coach in Bellingham.
Darrell played for his father at ECC from 1995-97 and later served with him as an assistant coach for 10 years.
“He is a man of good example. He leads by his actions,” Darrell Walker said. “For me, that was huge growing up, being able to see that — not just in basketball, but in all walks of life.”
A large network of coaches with Walker ties has spread all over Snohomish County and beyond, including Ward (Stanwood boys), Bary Gould (Marysville Pilchuck boys), Corby Schuh (Marysville Getchell boys), Brett Senff (Anacortes boys) and Joe Marsh (Arlington girls).
“Ask all those guys, and they’d say that my dad has had the biggest influence on their lives,” Darrell Walker said. “Everyone that came through the program, he considers family. He’s helped (former players) get jobs, find apartments. He took care of them if they needed something. My dad was more than a mentor for them; he was really there for them.”
Walker said he never made an enemy during his time at ECC, and the athletic department didn’t suffer any serious setbacks or scandals.
He never wanted to be anywhere else — his family was rooted in Everett, he enjoyed his job and co-workers, and perhaps above all, he relished the ability to forge positive relationships with student-athletes.
“I felt, actually, when it came down to it, that community college basketball and the community college (level) was sort of my calling,” he said, “and I felt good about that.”