Parkway South’s Walker ends wrestling career as a state champion
By: Warren Mayes
Parkway South senior Donnell Walker knows there is only one path winning at the state wrestling tournament.
“Hard work and sacrifice can make anyone into a state champion,” said Walker who finished his Patriots career with a 119-12 record, including going 35-1 this season.
A three-sport standout, Walker won the heavyweight class at the recent 82nd annual state tournament in Columbia when he defeated four-time medalist and defending champion Evan Boehm, of Lee’s Summit West. Walker pinned the Mizzou football recruit in 4 minutes 50 seconds.
Walker became just the fourth state champion in Parkway South history.
“Last year at state in the semifinals, I had faced him,” Walker said about Boehm. “I was winning 4-2, but in that same match I torn my ligament in my foot and I had to drop out the state tournament to take sixth place. I knew that it was going to be a big match, and all I was saying was that I was going to give it my all.”
Walker did and is a state champion after he finished sixth and fifth, in two previous state appearances.
“Yeah, the whole school is,” Walker said about being called champ. “I love the fame and love that everyone has given me. It’s just different.”
Winning state has been on his mind for some time.
“I dreamed about it every day,” Walker said. “It got so bad that I would daydream about it in the middle of class.”
Parkway South coach James Lake said he believed Walker could win a state title.
“I think our expectations were the same as his; wrestle his best tournament, and finish with a state title,” Lake said. “Knowing the work he had put in to prepare, we knew he had the ability. We also knew going in after seeing the bracket that he had a tough road. He had three ranked wrestlers on his side of the bracket — all from the Kansas City side of the state. He was gonna really have to earn his way to the finals.”
A forfeit got him off with an easy win to start his journey to the championship. Ozark’s Jarrett Rogers told Walker at weigh-ins he might not wrestle.
“We didn’t know for sure until they called the match,” Lake said. “We were told then of the forfeit.”
Walker’s first match on the mat at state was against Park Hill’s Nolan Smith. The tough Patriot won a 4-3 decision over Smith (46-7).
“We wrestled him in 2010 and won, but we also realized that that was two years ago,” Lake said. “He is a great wrestler from a great program and Donnell respected that. Donnell was a little tight in the match, but won the scrambles and ultimately the match.”
“This year I had to outthink him,” Walker said. “I know that I would have to think about what I would have to do in this match. He’s just a great wrestler.”
Walked followed that with a 1-0 victory over Blue Spring’s Jacob Clark.
“I got that point from a stand up in the second period, and in the third period, I had to hold him down to keep it 1-0,” Walker said. “It was the longest two minutes of my life, I can tell you that.”
Lake called the match a big test for Walker. It was a test he aced.
“It was a very tough match. Like Nolan Smith, Jacob comes from a monster of a program, that being Blue Springs,” Lake said. “He did a good job of tying Donnell up on our feet and taking away his shot.
It came down to Donnell either was gonna have to ride him out for the entire third period, or look at a possible overtime match.
“In the end, he rode him out. He did a great job of what is a tall order — riding out a heavyweight for a period.”
That brought up the championship match against Boehm (22-2). This was the match that Walker wanted, Lake said, because he got hurt wrestling him last year. Walker wanted to show his skill and ability.
“What a matchup,” Lake said. “A four-time medalist and returning state champ against a three-medalist. It was a real clash of the titans. Donnell lost to Evan in his sophomore year, and then last year in the semifinals against him when he injured the plantar fascia in his foot and couldn’t put any weight on it. He ultimately lost the match 6-4.
“This really stuck in his craw for the year leading up to the state meet. Donnell all year wanted the opportunity to wrestle him again. After he won the semifinal, the first thing he said to us was ‘I’ve got my chance.’”
Walker certainly made the most of his opportunity. It was a very tight match. For the first period, both guys were testing each other out.
“Through the second, things started to open up a little more. Donnell took a couple good shots, one of which led to a great scramble with no points for either wrestler. Evan took a good double leg shot, and
Donnell countered it well for no points.
“In the third, we took bottom. Evan was riding him well, and Donnell locked his leg and wrist in a Peterson roll position (which is not a typical position for guys close to 300 pounds). Donnell put Evan to his back and pounced on him. He locked up a hold and got the fall.”
Walker said when he saw his chance, he took it.
“I really was trying to use this move to set up a stand up,” Walker said. “But then I noticed that the Peterson was there. I wasn’t looking for the move; it was just there at the time so I used it. So I went ahead and rolled him though.”
The sudden ending left Walker a little dazed.
“I just freaked out,” Walker said. “I just didn’t know how to react to that.”
Everyone else did know how to react, Lake said.
“It was very emotional to say the least. There were a lot of tears from Donnell and coaches alike,” Lake said. “Euphoric is the best adjective I can think of. So many things happening all at the same time. It was the first state champ for South in 10 years, only fourth in school history. All of that being said, it came down to this kid’s dream came true in epic fashion.
“The overwhelming joy that I had for him, my assistants had for him. I get a little emotional still just thinking about it now. We just couldn’t have been more proud of him. That was all still in the tunnel. Once we got topside to his teammates and fans, the tears, hugs, and euphoria were just amplified.”
Beating the defending champ would be called an upset. Lake did not agree but he pointed out Walker was just as good.
“I think for 99 percent of the state it was an upset, and when you look at the history and credentials of the two, it was,” Lake said. “For Donnell, and us as coaches having seen him put in the kind of work he did this year, we thought it was a match we had a chance to win, if we got the chance to wrestle it.”
Looking back, Lake said Walker has had a terrific career at Parkway South.
“He absolutely improved every year,” Lake said. “Donnell had never wrestled until ninth grade. He was a pretty good JV wrestler that year, but it wasn’t until about halfway through 10th grade (his first year on varsity) that he kind of turned it on. After last season, he went to the Mizzou intensive camp and he really came out of that with a renewed confidence and intensity. He really started to train like a college wrestler after that.”
Now, it’s on to track season for Walker. He throws the shot.
“I love this sport just like wrestling and football,” Walker said. “I hope to do as great in football and wrestling.”
He is still looking at colleges. Plus, he has to decide on what sport to play.
“That’s the thing. It’s so hard to pick just one sport,” Walker said. “All three sports help me become who I am today.
“It seems like yesterday that I walked in the wrestling room as a freshmen knowing nothing. It’s just sad to see it all end. But I learned so much from this sport.”
Lake said he will miss the big man.
“He is such a great kid. He is so big, and so strong, but I think his heart is his strongest attribute,” Lake said. “He is very humble. My 4-year-old son loves him, I think because he can be so powerful and aggressive in a match, and yet play with a little guy like him as gentle as can be.
“He has so many people at South and elsewhere that care about him because he is such a good kid. I think that added to the emotions after the match was over because he had so many people who really wanted this for him.”