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Tinker man uses skills to mentor local youth on, off the field

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- When players complete their time on Tracey Walker's team, above all he wants them to have learned one thing.

"I want them to leave (the team) knowing they can achieve," Walker says.

It's a simple goal, but one that he works toward tirelessly.

Walker thrives on the potential of others. And the Gerrity Fitness and Sports Center recreation assistant never would've guessed his off-base coaching life would take such a turn. What started three years ago as him coaching a single 9-and-under football team has since spiraled its way into three teams and a bevy of side coaching projects. His three teams help round out the competition in a Midwest City full-contact league, and they're some of the top teams to beat, Walker says.

But winning records aside, Walker is more concerned about setting kids up for success off the field.

"Sports give them an arena to be around other positive kids, other positive adults -- women and men alike," Walker says. "I want them to have a positive outlook on life."

For Walker, he first got the mentorship bug in college. A baseball and basketball player, he lined the rosters in these sports for Northeastern State University while earning his degree. It was there that he began volunteering in group homes for boys with troubled backgrounds.

Inspired, he changed his major to counseling, a tipping point that would define the rest of his life.

But Walker had a problem.

Discouraged by the progress he could make with the group home boys once in the court system, he decided to instead tackle the problem on the front end. He wanted to prevent kids from erring in the first place.

The results are on the scoreboard.

In the last two years of coaching, Walker's Midwest City 9-and-under team has gone to the league Super Bowl each year, winning one and losing one to a Tulsa rival. His kids learn respect and hard work. They internalize how to play as a team and accomplish a goal. They also learn how to win ball games.

"We train hard, we work hard and we want to get results," he says.

And no one, absolutely no one is left behind on paying for the football fees, Walker says.

"We'll do whatever it takes. If we have to get out there and hold a bucket we're going to take care of it," he says with a laugh.

The players end up being a bit like family, Walker admits, as his house is a constant hive, as players come and go. It's just how Walker and his wife, Angela, like it.

Two years ago they co-founded the non-profit Together A Village Raising Youth (TAVRY) Group, which, among other things, helps fund football costs for those who can't afford to play.

Walker's youngest son, Rondel, is at home among his extended football family, as are his older siblings, Colby and Raven, standout high school athletes for the Midwest City Bombers.

"He's a monster on the field," Walker says, pausing to mention Rondel. But his son's talent is well matched across the team.

Recently, Walker's 9-and-under team made a trek to Dallas to compete in the Deion Sanders Longhorn Classic, an invitational event. Prime U, Sanders' elite football program, represents some of the toughest competition in the country. Walker's squad took them down in one game of a three game series. Considering more than 1,000 kids try out for Sanders' program, Walker was pleased with the win from his entirely walk-on troupe.

The fall season is just kicking off for Walker's rowdy bunch, and he expects they'll once again be a top league contender. But beyond the season of pigskin glory that awaits them, the things learned in the following months are ones Walker hopes will remain with them into adulthood.

"If they can have someone in their corner who is teaching them the right way, they won't have the excuse that nobody cared for them," Walker says. "We're teaching them the right things, giving them tools to be successful in life."