Sunday Conversation: Sally Walker
At a youthful 53, Sally Walker is way too young to retire. But after 31 years at Uni High, Walker is ready for new challenges. Staff writer Bob Asmussen caught up with Walker in Salem, Va., where she is working at the NCAA Division II softball tournament. She is in charge of the umpires, so Walker has plenty on her plate for what will be a busy retirement.
For the last time, why retire now?
It’s just one of those things. I’ve put in my 31 years. The job just keeps taking more and more of my time. I decided I needed a little more balance in my life.
You are busy with softball, too, coordinating the umpires.
I took over the Big Ten this year, in addition to the Missouri Valley. I also have a regional adviser position with the NCAA. Those things take up a lot of my time.
You are also going to work for the Y.
I went over to talk to Mark Johnson, and there are opportunities for me to continue to teach and pursue my passion of fitness over there. They are going to start doing a PE program for home-schooled students. I’m going to be involved in that.
How did you get involved in umping NCAA softball?
I umpired college softball for over 15 years. When I retired from that in 2010, after I did the World Series, I knew umpiring was a passion that I had, and I had to find a way to stay involved.
What is your best moment as Uni AD?
Wow, there have been so many of them, I couldn’t really pick out a single one. I’ve been very fortunate to work with a lot of very good coaches. The number of stellar athletes that have gone through that place is pretty incredible for a school that is known for its academics. We have had a number of state champions. Obviously, what the boys’ soccer team did last year (second in state) is very significant for a school like ours. When you have been there for 31 years, it’s hard to put a finger on one significant thing.
What was your greatest challenge as AD?
When I came here, I had no idea what I was getting into. I got hired two days before school started. I’m from Pennsylvania. I didn’t know anything about Uni. All I knew was I was going to get to teach PE. I was going to get to coach girls’ basketball, and that was something I really wanted to do. The first day, I met the kids and they were asking things about me. I told them I had coached in Pennsylvania. They said, ‘Was your team any good? Did they win?’ I said, ‘We won sectionals.’ They said, ‘Don’t expect that here. We only won two games the last two years.’ I quickly learned that it was simply a matter of the kids didn’t believe in themselves. That was the one thing I worked on: Just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you can’t be a good athlete and doesn’t mean you can’t win.
How have sports changed during your career?
It has become way more intense. Way more time consuming. It used to be that you picked up a basketball in November. You picked up a soccer ball in the spring, a volleyball in the fall. Now there’s an expectation that you have to keep doing these things all year long if you are going to be good at it. The specialization has changed things. You don’t find as many three-sport athletes as when I first started.
What do you think the future holds for high school sports?
I’m usually a pretty optimistic person, but I’m afraid. You see what’s happened with girls’ basketball. A lot of girls are choosing to do one thing. It seems like clubs and specialization are diluting high school athletics.
Are the kids smarter now than when you first started?
They are more experienced, so I guess that leads to smarter.
Are the kids better athletes than when you started?
We have more good athletes than we did.
What is your favorite sport to play?
Softball. That was by far my favorite sport to participate in.
Favorite sport to watch?
I love to watch people competing. It really doesn’t make a difference what they are doing.
Do you have a favorite college team?
Tennessee women’s basketball. I love Pat Summitt. She was my idol.
Tell me about your family.
My whole family is back in Pennsylvania. My parents are Pete and Loralyn. My dad told me I shouldn’t retire because the kids are what keep me young. He’s also supportive of it.
Is there someplace you really want to go on vacation?
I want to go to Hawaii. I want to go to the Summer Olympics again. And I want to go to Austria to where ‘The Sound of Music’ was made. They are down the road.
Will we see you a lot on the local golf course?
Absolutely. I’m going to be playing a lot more.
Let’s say a year from now, a school calls and asks you to come back to work. Are you going?
What part of your job are you going to miss the most?
That’s easy, the kids. I’ll miss working out with them every day in PE class, and I’ll miss watching them compete.
It’s not like you are leaving town.
I live right across the street from the YMCA. I’ll be able to walk to work every day.
You are going to miss Uni.
It’s a great place to be. We’ve developed an athletic program there that we are very proud of.