The Coach That Made A Difference
By Gordon Pynes
After graduating from Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, Donna Walker sought a coaching job in Texas. A job came open at the high school in Atlanta, Texas. She had never been to Atlanta. Several college friends had gotten coaching positions here and alerted her about an opening.
During the summer of 1986, Donna was hired to coach girl’s basketball, girl’s track, and girl’s volleyball. Her first coaching job was big and broad. She tackled the position as school began in August 1986. Donna would stay with the Lady Rabbs for the next 19 years and coach four different sports. She served as the Head Girls basketball coach for each of the 19 years. In addition, Coach Walker would head up Volleyball for 5 seasons, Girls track for 4 and tennis for 14 years.
Donna played high school basketball, tennis and ran cross country at Sparkman High School (Arkansas). The small school gave her lots of sports opportunities. Ability on the tennis court brought her to State qualification her Senior year in high school and a scholarship to play for the Henderson State Reddies. During her time at Henderson she was offered a chance to try out for the volleyball team. She earned a position and played for two seasons.
Coach Walker quickly made an impact on the Lady Rabbs in the four sports she was assigned to coach. Those 19 years at Atlanta High brought a great deal of success to each team. In the four years of track she took several individuals and relay teams to Austin for the State track meet. Tennis had good success for both boys and girls with some great District wins. Most prominent was the boys doubles team of Scott Bish and Patrick Tomberlain. This duo made it to State twice going to the final match their senior year. Basketball proved to be a strong entry for the Lady Rabbs.
Donna took teams to the basketball playoffs twelve seasons. Her 2003 team is believed to have gone farther than any Lady Rabbs team by advancing to the Regional Finals. A total of 331 basketball wins were compiled in her 19 seasons at the helm. Twenty plus wins seasons totaled ten with the most wins at 25. Several girls got college scholarships and Coach Walker had a big hand in obtaining the grants. She was named the district coach of the year, eleven different years and Fox Sports television featured her in their Sports Extra as “Coach That Makes A Difference”, in 2003.
Although Donna certainly came through with the Lady Rabbs winning success her impact in Atlanta sports goes far beyond just tallying up the winning stats. Talking with some of her former athletes you quickly understand the positive influence she brought for the young ladies here in Atlanta. Everyone talked about the role model she exhibited for them. She paid close attention to the girls in Middle School and began to give them what to expect with Atlanta Pride at the high school level. Always confident, positive, patient and prepared were her attributes that stood out for the Lady Rabbs. Leadership was a big teaching factor for her athletes. Several spoke of her kindness but passion for each sport and careful preparation for each season and game. They also talked of how easy and comfortable it was to talk to her about any subject. One former player who went on to play college basketball informed me about how Coach Walker impressed on her the need to play all high school sports for which one had talent.
Ben Scharnberg served with Coach Walker for 17 years and as her Athletic Director. Ben calls her a “real stalwart” who always got the job done. He just asked what she needed, made sure she had the support and had no worry that Donna would deliver in every sport she coached. This writer first met her as we both were new to Atlanta in the Fall of 1986. We worked together in track and in all those following years became friends. Her impact in coaching was top notch for the Lady Rabbs.
Coach Walker left Atlanta in 2005 and took a job at Rockwall Heath High School, as their ladies basketball coach. After four years there she moved on to coach tennis at two Houston area high schools. Now recently fully retired, she has become involved in the sport of Pickleball and is already a top player. Over the years, she developed into a very good golfer, also.
Donna Walker’s hiring and her subsequent 19 years mentoring the Lady Rabbs was a real prize for Atlanta. Her contribution to the Rabbit High School sports program will long be remembered. Her induction into the Atlanta Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2023 honors the success and difference she made for our student athletes.