Dave Walls’ primary goal for the past three decades has been to be a “great role model” for the many athletes he’s coached and then guided as athletic director at Pitman High School.
As the 27-year Turlock Unified School District veteran coach and athletic director prepares to retire at the end of this month, it’s safe to say he not only achieved that goal, but surpassed it.
“I wanted them to experience some of the great things I was able to experience as an athlete. I wanted to give back to the athletes in the way my coaches gave back to me, and I wanted to give back to the coaches in any way I could,” said Walls.
Pitman administration, faculty, staff and student athletes paid tribute to the Pride icon with a rally in his honor on Monday. Faculty and staff wore t-shirts with Walls’ image on the front and the saying ‘Live life and make somebody better’ on the back.
A host of student-athletes and colleagues touted his devotion to the school, and most importantly, to the students.
“When difficult situations presented themselves, you always taught us to stand up for what we believe in and act with integrity. Your values have rubbed off on everyone here and will continue to be a fundamental part of Pitman Athletics,” said Pitman athlete Addie Mettler.
Walls is retiring from Pitman after helping create a foundation for the new high school when it opened in 2002. Before that, the Los Angeles native spent seven years at Turlock High as coach.
As a new school, conventional wisdom says that it would take some time for Pitman to establish themselves athletically; that changes when an athlete like Colin Kaepernick is on the field. Kaepernick played football, basketball and baseball for the Pride and was nominated for all-state selection in all three sports his senior year. He went on to play college football at the University of Nevada, Reno and then was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft. He started at quarterback in Superbowl XLVII for the San Francisco 49ers after the 2012 season.
“He was one of ours, and in my opinion, will always be one of ours,” said Walls about Kaepernick. “When he was in high school, he was an outstanding young man. It was great to be part of that journey with him and watch him make his way through Reno and into the pros; everybody was able to enjoy that journey.”
Walls is leaving on a high note, as he was recently named the Sac Joaquin Section Athletic Director of the Year.
He has seen a lot of changes to athletics over the years, one in particular was a renewed focus on athletes competing on their high school team rather than a club team outside of school.
“We saw this movement away from the influence of travel and club teams,” said Walls. “I won’t say that it was a bad thing… It changed how coaches coach and dynamics about how athletes look at college and the pros. It’s been a dynamic change both good and bad.”
One of the closest relationships Walls has had at Pitman is with head basketball coach Harvey Marable; the two go back to college together and Marable wasn’t far behind Walls when he came to Pitman.
“I would like to thank Dave for the many years he has devoted to the district, students, athletics, athletes, community, fellow teachers and coaches,” said Marable. “He has exemplified three characteristics that have made him a mentor and a servant to others. He’s always gone above and beyond his job description and never settling on completing the bare minimum. Through all his accomplishments he has remained humble, along with his willingness to help others at the drop of a hat. His last characteristic comes from his willingness to listen to others when addressing an issue or implementing new programs. The patience he has shown demonstrates that he understands how his answers will be interpreted by the individuals he is working with and they can feel a sense of being heard. Thank you, Dave, for your time, support and friendship.”
The thing Walls said he is going to miss the most after retiring is the day-to-day interaction “with all the great people at Pitman.”
“Being the AD, you interact with everyone,” he said. “From interacting with the administration, to working with teachers to make sure the students stay on the right track and fist bumping students in the hallway. I got to work side by side with Mark, our athletic trainer who we basically made the Pitman athletic department. Coach Marable and I go back to college as well. I’m going to miss all of it.”
There are too many memories to list he said, but one thing he is grateful for is having his children attend Pitman during his tenure.
“Something that’s been so important is that I was up close and personal for my two kids –- my son Dominique, who played water polo and swimming and my daughter, Serena, who played basketball, soccer and track,” he said. “In addition to all the great games, athletes and coaches … Being up close for my kids who represented Pitman was just outstanding.”
— Kristina Hacker contributed to this report.