Noted track and field coach Cedric Walker dies


written by JAMES JOHNSON     

Democrat and Chronicle   March 14, 2013                                                                                                  

Cedric Walker could pick up a phone, reach out to notable men and women in track and field, and connect.

Olympians. Up and coming youth champions. College coaches at national powerhouses. Leaders of track and field governing bodies.

Mr. Walker’s rise in USA Track and Field led him to numerous foreign countries and put him on familiar terms with at least one prominent government official, the prime minister of Jamaica.

The connections Mr. Walker was just as proud of, were his ties to track and field athletes in and around Rochester, some of whom followed the 1981 Madison High graduate into coaching.

“From the time we met, he took me under his wing,’’ former Franklin sprinter Garfield Ellenwood, 39, said. “He was so outgoing, he always wanted to help. You are drawn to that.

“At a young age (I was 14), you don’t know why you are drawn to people. As you get older, you see. It was his compassion.’’

Whether it was shelter for a teenager who lived in a stormy home or help searching for college scholarships or car rides to track meets in Rochester and outside New York state, Mr. Walker was always there.

Until Mr. Walker’s death on Tuesday, he looked forward to an upcoming track and field clinic at Penfield, because it would put local athletes face-to-face with accomplished coaches.

Mr. Walker was 49 years old.

“It’s so hard to believe that this man is gone,’’ childhood friend Wayne Washington, 49, said. “To me, there’s no one who can carry the torch like he did.

“All of the people that he helped, I don’t care how big you made it, he never asked for anything back. He never changed.’’

That passion for track and field, which caused Mr. Walker to toss a stopwatch or demand a repeat of a drill once in awhile, also came out before he was an adult.

Mr. Walker grew up on Kenwood Avenue, on the west side of Rochester, and competed in sprints and hurdle races while with the Madison varsity. He would also fill a key role on the team when the team’s coach had to hurry off to another school event.

“I thought that he was the coach because of the way he would organize things,’’ Penfield coach Dave Hennessey said. “Then all of a sudden, he was competing.’’

Leroy Dixon, a student at Franklin during the late 1970s and early 80s, first met Mr. Walker as a competitor. Mr. Walker, who went on to graduate from what is now known as The College at Brockport, later coached at Edison, while Dixon was at Franklin.

“One day, we said that we need something for the kids in the summer,’’ Dixon said. “He did a lot of the legwork.’’

The result was the Flower City Track Club, established in 1986 and a launch point for a number of Section V track and field greats. Gates Chili weight thrower Sonya Fitts was a member of the American 1989 Pan American Junior Games team and later set a world record.

East High’s Kim Batten went on to become an Olympic silver-medalist. Batten is among a list of East standouts, including Michael Ford, Zilla Higgs and Lisa Taylor, who went on to represent the United States in competitions. So did former Franklin sprinter Jermaine Stafford.

“You had kids from the suburbs coming to the city to run with us at the old Madison field,’’ Washington said. “If it was about track, he was going to help.’’

Ford lived less than a five-minute walk from those Flower City practices. He arrived as a jumper, but was encouraged to run the 400-meter dash. Ford later was a three-time All-American at traditional power Baylor, where he is an associate coach. “All I knew was that it hurt, one lap around the track,’’ Ford said. “I ended up liking it a lot more. (The club) just opened up a lot of doors.

“I’d never been outside of Rochester, beside Pennsylvania. My first trip was to Texas. It’s kind of ironic, I’m coaching in Texas. (Walker) has a knack of finding things inside of you that you don’t think that you have.’’

Dixon said that Flower City coaches worked with more than 2,000 athletes.

“He was my age group coach all of my life,’’ Greece Olympia assistant coach and original Flower City club member Demetrius Bennett, 38, said. “People on the outside don’t realize how much he has done. He shared so much.

“Thirty-three years. It’s more than track.’’

There are instances when Mr. Walker, a middle school social studies teacher in the Rochester School District, would make calls to find scholarship or financial aid for non-track and field athletes. He would use his connections to obtain shoes for teams.

Mr. Walker’s respect for the late Trent Jackson, a national 100-yard dash record holder while at Franklin who became an Olympian, could fill a track’s infield. It led to Mr. Walker’s drive to have an all-weather track built at Franklin and the school’s athletic complex named after Jackson.

The first Trent Jackson Memorial Invitational took place in February during the past indoor season.

“Plain and simple, he was the greatest of the great,” Mr. Walker said during Jackson’s funeral in 2007. “There will never be another Trent Jackson.

“I don't think there will be even a facsimile of the man.”

The same thought probably will be shared about a different man, with that same strong connection to Rochester.

“I can say that he was proud of what we’ve become,’’ Bennett said. “I said to him the other day that I was going to take a break from coaching. He said, ‘You can’t, you are doing good. You have to keep putting Rochester on the map.’

“Right now, I’m lost. I know I have to pick up the pieces. I can’t do it by myself, but I have to finish what he wanted.”

Mr. Walker is survived by his 90-year old mother Madie, his wife Kim White-Walker, children Domenique and Marcus Watts and stepchildren Medea White and Kevin McInnis and his brother Terry.