An interview with RecSports leading gent Jeff Walker
Contrary to popular belief, work can be—in both the greater and lesser sense—fun and games. At least that is what a day in the life of former Assistant Director of RecSports Jeff Walker entails. This week, I had the privilege of celebrating his 63rd birthday with an interview, inquiring about snippets from his life story and asking about a few of his favorite things.
Hired in 1996 to reboot the Notre Dame intramural sports program, and again in 2008 as Assistant Director of RecSports after working at Indiana University South Bend for five years, Walker is no stranger to the mechanics of recreational life that are so visible on campus. Originally a man of business, Walker owned and operated an insulation company in his 30s, while also officiating the local softball team.
Due to changing building codes at the time, it was difficult for Walker to keep his business. He went back to seek a degree in Parks and Recreation from the University of Southern Colorado due to his background in officiating because, in Walker’s words, “I thought I could be Ron Swanson,” from the aptly titled NBC hit sitcom, Parks and Recreation.
After finding few opportunities in the field, Walker and a friend sought their fortune through the National Intramural Recreational Sports Association, NIRSA for short—an acronym that Walker assured “had nothing to do with nursing.” As a result of this experience, Walker earned his graduate assistantship at the University of Missouri – Kansas City in 1989, and learned about the wider world of collegiate education.
Once Walker earned his degree, he moved on to organizing the intramural program at Notre Dame in 1996. One of the major efforts was re-evaluating women’s intramural flag football: “As I watched intramural tackle football for men, I simultaneously saw that the women were literally playing smash-mouth football … when, instead of running it straight up the middle every time, speed and finesse should really be the name of that game. I made the women’s flag football program more in line with the national norm, and became more or less the villain for changing their smash-mouth football to wuss-ball.”
Despite the initial tension, the intramural flag football team and others have seen great expansion in their programs. “Since this switch, there have been many more opportunities for team sports, including active competition in extramural, national events.”
When asked how his love for athletic programs has been sustained, Walker said of his work, “I enjoy being part of a big-time athletic program. I grew a love for the whole collegiate environment. I get to be involved in sports and activities every day. My wife happens to be a nurse, and she deals with life and death. If she doesn’t do her job well, someone’s life is on the line. If I don’t do mine well, then, somebody loses the opportunity to play.”
Walker prefers the less stressful environment in which he operates to the high stakes situation in which his high school sweetheart and wife of 42 years works. Jokingly introducing her as his “first wife,” Walker described how the couple met during their high school prom. Walker admitted, “We would not say either of us had good dance moves. But three great kids and several grandkids later, we are still enjoying ourselves.”
With the influence of his wife and the college students with whom he works, Walker noted, “These past 30 years have really helped keep me young. It’s fun for me to keep in touch with what students think is important.”
Tierney Vrdolyak is a freshman in Breen-Phillips Hall studying PLS and some form of business. Although she is indecisive in the ways of choosing a major, she can in fact decide what pattern of socks to don on a daily basis. If you need help deciding what socks to wear tomorrow, contact Tierney at firstname.lastname@example.org.