Scott Walker steps down, leaves legacy behind

Grace DeKoker, Editor-in-chief

Scott Walker has coached both girls and boys swimming at LT for nearly three decades, leading the girls team to their first state trophies, and leading the boys team to two consecutive state championships in 2016 and 2017. He won Illinois Coach of the Year award three times in a row, and in 2018 he announced he would be stepping down from his position.


His positive attitude, emphasis on work ethics, and student-before-athlete mindset changed LT swimming culture. His presence on the pool deck will definitely be missed, his son and former athlete Spencer Walker ‘18 said.


Michael Walsh ‘19 has been swimming competitively for the majority of his life. Taking summer swim lessons, he can vividly remember the first time he pushed off the wall as a four year old in swim lessons and swam a full length of the pool without any assistance. Walker, his coach at the time, was so ecstatic that he pulled him out of the water and bought him a slushy.


“[Walker] is a great guy, he does everything the right way,” Walsh said. “For him, it was attitude and sportsmanship and work ethic, all of that came before winning. That’s not something a lot of coaches can say. For so many teams, it’s winning first, but for him, he did it the right way. That is what is great about him.”


Walker has impacted more than just LT swimming; he has played an integral role in the area’s swimming community. Walker taught swim lessons to young children at La Grange Country Club, La Grange Field Club, and Western Springs Pool. He also coached club swim teams, including Lyons Aquatics and Academy Bullets. He is also a physical education teacher at LT, a position he will continue, and has been involved in LT aquatics for the past 24 years.


“[Coaching at LT] means so much to me, because it has helped develop me into the person I am today,” Walker said. “I’ve had a lot of trials, tribulations, good times and bad times through all these years that have made me into who I am today, and I cannot forget that.”


This year, his son Spencer is on the starting lineup for University of Alabama’s swim team, and coaching the high school team means he has less opportunities to watch his son compete at the college level.


“He didn’t want to coach this year and not give 100 percent,” Spencer said. “He’s a man of if you can’t get 110 percent, why do it?


LT swimming under Walker have been record-breaking, literally. A unique goal of his was to “clean off” the record board- that is, for swimmers to break every record on the board during his tenure, he said. His goal was achieved.


When he first started coaching at LT in 1994, he initially coached the girls swim team. They felt as if they had little respect at the time, Walker said, and were not very successful. He fought to change that, and emphasized they needed to be involved in school spirit.


“The best way of developing an identity is to train hard, and to start becoming a bonded team more than anything,” Scott said. “With that, the pride comes in with the team, and winning and swimming well comes after that.”


The team grew closer than ever under Walker, and began dressing up together for Halloween, sitting together at lunch, and attending every football game with painted faces- all 60 girls. Over the course of a few years, their state finish jumped from 15th to fifth, and then they began to place in the top three.


“When they started feeling good, like they meant something to the school and the school meant something to them, it just exploded,” Walker said.


For a two year stint, he juggled girls swim team in fall, boys in winter, and boys water polo in spring. He did all this while receiving his masters degree in education. The strain of pouring himself into so many different teams took its toll, and in 2009, he suffered a serious, life-threatening heart issue, he said. His chest pain turned out to be a ventricular tachycardia, and for 45 minutes his heart rate was 280. The doctors had to defibrillate him while he was still conscious, he said.


“The next thing [I remember was] when I woke up I had a defibrillator,” Walker said. “My wife wanted me to stop coaching altogether, but my doctor said ‘You can’t do that to him, that’s his life.’”


Even his doctor knew swimming was in his blood. Walker couldn’t bring himself to stop coaching, but he knew something had to go for the sake of his health. As a result, he cut back on his time on the deck. He stepped down from coaching the girls team to allow for a full summer that could be used to rest, and a smoother start to the school year.


Walker still coached club teams, and poured his heart and soul into the boys team for the following nine years. In 2016, he led them to their first ever state championship. In 2017, he did it again.


“[Winning state] is still a blur to me,” he said. “I’m still in shock we were capable of doing what we did, because what we did was truly historic.”


Only five other programs in the IHSA have been able to repeat state championships the way LT did, Walker said. His motivation for swimmers drove them to beat their personal times, and work together as a team- the success would follow, and by driving the team forward like this, it made each swimmer feel important, even if they weren’t on the state team or even a varsity member.


“We developed [swimmers] into something they thought they couldn’t be,” Walker said. “The coolest thing is watching a kid open their eyes and say ‘wow, I am a lot better than I thought I was.’”


Walker was awarded Coach of the Year three times in three years, consecutively since the boys team’s first state win. After so much success in the past three years, it is difficult for many to imagine why he would choose to step down.


More than just striving for state titles, coaching a large team well is extremely challenging.


“I have to listen to my body,” Scott said. “With Spencer being away, where the team is at right now, it is a good time to transition. I want to be able to watch my boy compete in college, take the time off if I need.”


Walker will leave behind a legacy, hard work, and respect to the sport he loves. The new coach has not yet been announced, though Walker is confident whoever is chosen will do well with the team this year.


“I will always find a way to be coaching,” Walker said.