Please excuse me. As a veteran sports columnist, basketball official and sports fan, I’ve been around long enough to be suspicious and cynical when good news involves a coach or college athletic program.
There are plenty of times when supposedly honorable coaches have done dishonorable things. And a multitude of stories have been written about colleges and universities looking the other way rather than owning up to the truth.
When I first heard the story of 42-year-old Wake Forest baseball coach Tom Walter, I thought, “Seriously?”
Thankfully, the joke is on me, because Walter isn’t just another coach interested in winning at all costs. He epitomizes what it means to care about student-athletes; someone who does whatever it takes to help another person in need.
The beneficiary of Walter’s generosity is Wake Forest baseball player Kevin Jordan. Jordan was recruited by Walter to play baseball at Wake Forest. Jordan started feeling ill in January 2010, after he had committed to Wake Forest.
In April 2010, Jordan was diagnosed with ANCA vasculitis, a condition in which abnormal antibodies were causing his white blood cells to attack healthy tissue in his body. It left his kidneys functioning at 8 percent by August, according to an article on ESPN.com. However, he still attended Wake Forest for the fall semester, despite needing 18 to 20 hours of daily dialysis. A transplant was needed as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, none of Jordan’s family members were a suitable match for a kidney transplant. Enter Coach Walter. He realized he had the same blood type as Kevin, and suggested to the doctor that he be checked to see if a match was possible. Walter underwent numerous and strenuous tests to see if the donation could be made. He passed all of the tests and was told he was, in fact, a match for Jordan.
When Walter met with Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman and informed him of his desire to donate his kidney to a kid who’d never made as much as one plate appearance for Wake Forest, Wellman never hesitated.
Just days before the surgery and less than two weeks before the start of their season, Walter told the team what he was about to do. The news was met with shocked silence; then a round of applause.
“When we recruit our guys, we talk about family and making sacrifices for one another,” Walter said before the operation. “It is something we take very seriously. I had the support of my family, Wake Forest and my team. To me it was a no-brainer.”
The surgeries on the player and coach were successful. The lead surgeon said both should recover fully.
Maybe it was just chance. Or, maybe it was divine. But the slogan for Wake Forest’s baseball team in 2011 is “What are you willing to sacrifice to help make this team better?”
Coach Walter may have intended to have his players thinking about sacrifice bunts and moving runners over, giving up personal glory to benefit the team. But what the Wake Forest coach chose to sacrifice is more than taking one for the team.
According to USA Today, Walter said, “If (Jordan) makes it back to the playing field, that would be a great story. But I just want him to have a normal life and have the chance to be a normal college student.”
Keith Jordan, Kevin’s father, told Baseball America there’s no way to describe what Walter’s decision means to his family.
“It’s like divine intervention when you look at everything that happened and how we even got to Wake Forest,” Jordan said. “And then to meet a coach like Coach Walter and look at some of the things he had been through and done, and then to now do this, you just can’t express it in words.”
In an era when many sports figures are selfish and put themselves first, we can thank Coach Walter for giving today’s youth a real hero to emulate.