Dave Walker, the late Golden Eagles coaching icon, holds court at NHS in perpetuity

Dave Walker, the late longtime Naples High girls basketball coach, was honored during a Thursday ceremony inside the NHS gymnasium. GREGG HARDY/CSI

BY RON HARTMAN
SPECIAL TO CSI

Buckets and buckets full of love and admiration.

That’s one way to describe the vibe of Thursday’s ceremony at Naples High School in honor of Dave Walker, the late longtime Golden Eagles girls basketball coach. The floor inside Naples’ gym was named “Coach Dave Walker Court.”

Walker, who died last year of brain cancer at the age of 68, won 612 games while coaching the Golden Eagles for 33 years. But more than the wins and losses, he had a way of rubbing off on people, making a lasting impact on their lives. 

So it seemed fitting to have Walker’s name permanently rubbed onto the court where he coached from 1975 to 2012. 

Naples High players look on during Thursday’s pregame ceremony announcing the name of their home floor, Coach Dave Walker Court. GREGG HARDY/CSI

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Sarah McFee had a great seat for the ceremony, which featured heart-warming speeches by Walker’s only child, Tiffany Walker Sigal, longtime girlfriend and assistant coach Leann Burkholder, and NHS athletic director Ernie Modugno. 

McFee also enjoyed the honor of being the first winning coach on Coach Dave Walker Court. After the ceremony, her visiting St. John Neumann Celtics defeated Naples, 52-32.

“In 2008, I was a sophomore at Neumann and Coach Walker came to our practice before we left to Lakeland for the state tournament and he gave us a couple of out-of-bounds plays,” McFee recalled. “He kind of walked us through what to expect, and most of all told us to make sure we enjoy the whole thing.”

McFee has looked up to Walker ever since. So she took the opportunity last week to sprinkle a few historical tidbits into her preparation for the game.

“We did a ‘Dave Walker Education Day’ every day at practice just to talk about him and some of the things he did,” McFee said. “My girls all wanted to be here to take in the talent and history that Dave Walker has given to girls basketball.

“They’re proud to be in a gym filled with so many other strong females.”

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Dan Walker reminisces about his brother Dave following Thursday’s ceremony. GREGG HARDY/CSI

Nobody knew Dave Walker better than Dan Walker, his identical twin brother. Raised in Columbus, Ohio, they played college football together at Ohio Northern, a Division III school in the northwestern part of the state.

Both started as engineering students, and while Dan enjoyed a long career as a civil engineer in Ohio, Dave decided to try his hand at coaching when he got an offer in southwest Florida. 

“He came here as a football coach, then he transitioned to JV boys basketball and then he got the girls varsity job,” Dan said.

“And we’ve come down here every year from Ohio to watch them play — we’ve never missed a year. It was always a special treat.”

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Dave Walker’s first starting five — clockwise from top left, Kay Rogers, Linda Lines, Lisa Lines, Sandi Springer and Missy Longshore Zeliff. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Many of Walker’s former players attended Thursday’s ceremony, including the entire starting five from his very first varsity team and Gulf Coast High girls basketball coach Mark Woodruff, who played football for Walker.

Woodruff said he’s tried to emulate Walker and former Golden Eagles head football coach Roy Terry with his coaching style.

“How I try to coach, and how I try to prepare myself as a coach, I’ve always sort of followed the examples of Coach Walker and Coach Terry,” said Woodruff, who took his 9-0 team to Washington D.C. on Friday for the She Got Game Classic. “They taught me about helping kids choose the right path.”

As Woodruff points out, times were different back then. And nobody wanted to incur Walker’s wrath on the football field.

“You didn’t want to screw up around Coach Walker,” Woodruff said. “He was always chewing tobacco and he’d get right in your face. Tobacco juice would be flying all over the place.”

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St. John Neumann’s Haven Craft puts up a shot during Thursday’s win over Naples. GREGG HARDY/CSI

Following the ceremony, Coach Dave Walker Court was christened with a doubleheader of hoops.

Neumann’s girls improved to 8-2 with their 20-point win over Naples. (They ended the week at 9-2 after a 50-41 home win over LaBelle on Saturday.) Sabrina Bolenbaugh and Haven Craft scored 13 points apiece to lead the Celtics. Bolenbaugh also had eight rebounds, and Craft knocked down three 3-pointers.

McFee singled out two Celtics for their performances. She was impressed with the all-around effort of Regan Metzger, who had nine points, eight rebounds and two steals, and the defensive intensity shown by Natalie Bergstrom, a sophomore who had six steals in addition to her five points, 10 rebounds and four assists.

Naples, which nipped Lely, 47-45, on Friday to improve to 3-6, stayed within hailing distance of Neumann until the third quarter, when the Celtics pulled away.

PHOTO GALLERY: View images from the SJN-Naples game

“This is the deepest team I’ve coached. We keep going at them in hopes of wearing the other team out,” said McFee, who, in 2016, succeeded her dad Shannon McFee after his 12-year tenure as Celtics coach.

In the boys game, Naples bounced back from an overtime loss to Lely one night earlier by beating Neumann 61-46. Nathan Raymond led the Golden Eagles (2-2) with 16 points. The Celtics (3-6) were led by Austin Allison, who led all scorers with 22 points.