VAN ALSTYNE — Jack Walker’s Twitter profile says, “Truly blessed with family and health.” And indeed he has been, and continues to be.
The fact that Jack Walker is an active social media user is the first clue toward his youthful vigor.
Walker is days away from his 80th birthday — which he will celebrate on June 18 — and still has attacked his beat as a sports writer for the Van Alstyne Leader like a wet-behind-the-ears cub reporter six decades his junior. On his days off from work, if the weather is good, chances are he’s on a golf course somewhere.
But at some point, life always catches up and it’s time to enjoy other pursuits.
Therefore, after a couple of false starts at retirement from writing, Walker says he is finally stepping away for good after 13 years with The Leader.
“Writing about high school sports can be one of the most challenging and exhausting parts of a paper’s coverage,” said Miranda Wilcox, managing editor of The Leader and its sister weeklies. “The deadlines are tight, there’s some element of travel involved and the weather’s not always ideal. But Jack never shied away from that. He was always willing to go the extra mile to make sure he was doing right by those kids and their fans. He also brought his own unique writing flair to the table, which drew in readers.”
Walker started covering Van Alstyne and Howe sports for The Leader in August 2004, in time to cover the Howe boys’ basketball team’s run to the 2005 Class 2A state tournament, led by the University of North Texas-bound duo of Collin Mangrum and Justin Howerton.
Walker has covered numerous sports events in southern Grayson County, and beyond, ever since.
“I’ve gotten to go to five state championships,” Walker said. “I got to go to state basketball tournaments for both Howe and Van Alstyne. Neither one came out the way we wanted them to, but I still got to go and do that.”
Walker has also lent his reporting talents to the Herald Democrat as a correspondent ever since Stephens Media Group purchased The Leader, The Anna-Melissa Tribune and The Prosper Press in 2006. Today, all of the above are a part of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.
Twice before, Walker stepped away from The Leader to devote his time to other things — once to watch a granddaughter play basketball in Georgetown, and again for a year of travel. But after a while, the sound of whistles blowing and the hum of the Friday night lights sucked him back into the profession.
Walker grew up in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas and attended W.H. Adamson High School, where he graduated in 1954. He went on to the University of Texas, where he studied journalism. He worked for The Dallas Morning News in the 1950s and ’60s, both before and after he went to college.
“I always loved journalism, but I got out of it,” Walker said. “I had to make a living. You know how that goes.”
Walker worked for the U.S. Postal Service in Dallas, from where he retired after 32 years — 20 years as a letter carrier and 12 as a union president — giving him retirement security.
He met his current wife, Allie, through a mutual friend and postal worker. She lived in Van Alstyne, which led to Jack moving north. They will celebrate their 28th wedding anniversary this month.
Walker opened up a video store in Van Alstyne, which he ran for nine years before entering the newspaper business. He had a friend who introduced him to Will Cain, the owner of The Leader at the time, which eventually led to his hiring as a sports writer.
“I discovered I couldn’t play golf as much as I wanted to without some extra money,” he said.
Walker found his second go-round at journalism extremely rewarding. Basketball is his favorite sport, and Howe’s massive success in his first year drew him in.
“I’ve played it, I’ve coached it, I’ve written about it. It’s just something I’ve always loved and have a passion for,” he said.
Two coaches who have been at their schools since Walker started at The Leader are Jimmy Haynes, baseball coach at Van Alstyne; and Howe girls’ basketball coach Derek Lands.
“Coach Haynes lost a son and his wife to illness during the years I covered the Panthers and his faith never wavered,” Walker said. “He is truly an inspirational leader.
“We witnessed Coach Lands as he battled colon cancer this past season and he never missed a game, and rarely a practice. His example was something that I will always remember and try to copy.”
Walker has found it easy to draw close relationships with student-athletes from the two schools he’s covered. Half a generation of kids has gotten familiar with seeing him on the sidelines.
“I enjoy being around them,” he said. “It keeps me young. I don’t know if that’s scientifically proven or not, but mentally it does, I think.”
Walker has eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren who live in Van Alstyne. Two of his grandkids are college graduates who’ve moved out of state, and a daughter and son-in-law have been living in Van Alstyne but will be moving to New York state soon.
“I’ll have grandkids all over the place,” Walker said.
In the meantime, Walker won’t be disappearing from the sporting scene completely. He will continue to work for Oak Hollow Golf Course in McKinney one day a week while terrorizing the fairways and greens.
“I get free food and free golf,” he said. “That’s all I want.”