BACK TO SCHOOL: Yesterday, it was my honor to return to Malcolm Elementary to catch up with my all time favorite teacher – Mr. Walter. He was my K-5 PE teacher and he is ageless.
For forty years he has taught PE and retiring next week. Days when I should have been sick and stayed home if it fell on a day scheduled to have gym class I forced myself to go just because I wanted to see him. He was the ‘Big Brother’ I never had and to hundreds upon hundreds of Charles County students over the years I suspect he was the father figure to many who’s Dad was not in the picture. No joke, as a child I emulated him and as an adult he’s still TEN feet tall to me. He was much more than a gym teacher but a friend, encouragement and life coach. To be at same school during his entire career makes him part Cal Ripken with his loyalty and Dick Clark with his youthful looks.
Playing dodgeball, kickball, rope climbing and other sports were always a blast with my friends. We were so competitive and I’ll never forget my final gym class in fifth grade we were playing kickball inside the day before graduation. I was already on first base and began to lead off as if I were Ricky Henderson. Lamont Smith was pitching (actually rolling) because you don’t throw the ball to awaiting kicker but he surprised me. As a youth my sports skills were strong but Lamont threw that ball from the pitcher mound and caught me off guard like a deer in the head lights and beamed me good. He got me out as if I were really going to steal first base but on that play he was on the money. I couldn’t believe it and the game was over and the bell rang simultaneously that class was over. My final gym class of elementary school ended and what transpired next was greater than kicking a Home run in the balcony of the gymnasium.
Mr. Walter as he dismissed the class said, “Frankie, come to my office!” At first it was not music to my ears. Secondly, I thought he was going to lecture me for getting picked off first base. Actually he never mentioned it. He said, “Frankie, I’ve enjoyed having you all these years and I’m going to miss you around. As you go to John Hanson Middle in the Fall you will be with bigger kids at a bigger school with bigger temptations. You are a fine young man and something is special about you. Whatever you do – Frankie, keep doing right and you will do just fine.” His words were more powerful than any preacher I heard at that time. His words often danced in my head like kids on a trampoline long after walking out of his office. The fact is life and kids at times can be cruel but he was forever cool.
In middle school I was honored to become President of Student Government out of 800 students. In high school, I played varsity basketball and was Prom King out of 1,200 students. In college elected President of Christian Student Fellowship at the community college and twice named Distinguished Alumni from Gardner Webb University in N.C. However, it was grace, my parents upbringing and applying Mr Walter’s counsel the last day of fifth grade gym class it has been a wild ride!
What a blessing he was to us all and is to those kids today who have the honor to have him for one final week. I’m sure they realize what they got with him but for the few students that don’t now they will all treasure him and the countless, selfless teachers that poured into all our lives in the future.
The day I graduated from high school I drove back to elementary school to shake his hand and thank him for his investment in my life, my siblings and countless friends who had the honor to cross paths with him. Yesterday, exactly 24 years later after high school graduation my five year old son, Andrew and I drove back to thank him before he walks off in the sunset. This week, If I could introduce my son to a president, professional athlete or my old PE teacher it was a no brainer. Over the years, I’ve met a few folks in life but Mr. Walter is practically in a league of his own. He is still a great encouragement and Godly example. For my friends who had him drop by or surprise him with a card because I know he would love to hear from you!
In a world of cubic zirconia he indeed is the Genuine Article. Thank you Mr Walter and God used you immensely in my life. Than again, God used you in all the lives of those who were part of Malcolm Elementary. #HappyTrails #ClassAct #Hero #Winner
This post above on FB generated such a buzz that Malcolm Elementary School somehow read it and they were so touched the staff contacted my office after reading it. They noted that they were moved to tears and invited me to come back and surprise Mr. Walter and speak at his retirement on Saturday, June 14, 2014. WHAT A PRIVILEGE!
We had a blast and they gave him a STANDING OVATION after my remarks. Without question, I know they were standing not for my speech but the one I had the pleasure to speak about. He forever will be TEN feet tall to me. I shared on FB that it was more exciting returning to Malcolm than if Madison Square Garden invited me. Ironically, it was in that same school and almost exact spot some 32 years before (almost to the date) that I gave my graduation remarks while in fifth grade at Malcolm. Fortunately, you CAN go back home! #Honored #Humbled #Happy