Photo by Sam Chandler.
Walker Long, seen practicing at Spain Park High School, will be gunning for his fourth consecutive Class 1A state discus title at May’s state track and field championships.
As a kid growing up in Cullman, Alabama, Walker Long’s athletic pursuits had always unfolded upon the canvas of a hardwood court or Little League diamond.
That is until the sixth grade, when Cullman Christian School started a track and field team.
“I’m not the biggest fan of running around, so I thought I might as well try to throw something,” Long said.
He hasn’t looked back since.
Now a senior at Shades Mountain Christian School, Long, whose family moved to Hoover following his sixth-grade year in Cullman, is one of the state’s top discus throwers regardless of classification.
To open the season, he won six of his first seven meets while extending his personal record to 169 feet, 5 inches. The most prestigious of those victories came on April 2, when Long claimed a first-place finish at the highly competitive Mobile Challenge of Champions.
He defeated top talent from across the Southeast on his way to the memorable triumph.
“It wasn’t just another meet,” Long said. “That was probably the most competitive meet with everybody that was there. It felt good to win it.”
In May, he’ll have a chance to further boost his resume at the state championships.
Honing in on the 20-year-old Class 1A record, Long can clinch his fourth consecutive title with a victory.
“It’d be nice, but the bigger goal is probably to try to set the state record,” Long said. “That would mean more than winning the actual event.”
Aspirations aside, there’s more to Long’s story than what appears on paper.
The lone field athlete at SMCS since he began attending, Long has been coached by his father, Raymond Long, a retired firefighter and Auburn alumnus. The father-son duo can be spotted four to five days a week practicing at Spain Park High School, with Raymond shagging discs while offering Walker critique, encouragement and motivation.
“For me it’s been very enjoyable. He’s done real well at it, and I get to see stuff a lot of parents don’t,” Raymond said.
Although Raymond never threw discus — he played football in high school — he’s learned the key to sound technique alongside his son.
Through voluntary instruction from various individuals, including several coaches and one former area standout, the two have continually increased their level of mechanical aptitude.
“He’s probably as proficient as anybody in the state in terms of technique,” Raymond said in reference to his son. “He’s learned an incredible amount about throwing discus.”
Walker attributes his expansive knowledge to two pivotal tutors: Josh Caldwell and Joe Williams. Caldwell, a former thrower at Samford University, held the position of athletic director when Walker first arrived to SMCS. After school, Caldwell would advise his pupil as he heaved discs across a grass parking lot on campus.
“It was nice to even have someone that threw in college and knew something about it,” Walker said, “but every time it rained…it was almost a little creek.”
In need of a more conducive — and drier — facility, Walker received approval from Spain Park midway through his seventh-grade year to use its discus ring. There he came in contact with former Jaguars’ and current University of Alabama throwing star Joe Williams.
A junior when they first met, Williams served as a kind of athletic mentor to middle-school Walker, teaching him to throw from a full spin while imparting lessons of lasting wisdom.
Although the pair still keeps in frequent contact, their friendship could experience a coming hitch. A lifelong Auburn fan, Walker aspires to follow in his father’s footsteps by attending college on the Plains. In the fall, he plans to walk on to the Tigers’ track and field team.
“If it all works out, it’d be pretty fun,” Walker said. “It would be an honor.”
But with the talent disparity between Class 1A and Division I, will he be able to adjust to the level of competition?
Evan Johnson, a SMCS senior who’s called Walker a friend since seventh grade, believes it’s certainly within reach.
“He works really hard in school and works really hard with throwing discus,” Johnson said, “so I know whatever he wants to get better at he can do it.”
SMCS athletes moving on to next level
Dylan Pausic has accepted a scholarship from the University of South Alabama and will run cross-country and track. Dylan is currently the state champion in AHSAA Class 1A/2A Cross Country and Indoor Track 1,600 and 3,200 meters. He is an honors student with a 4.0 GPA. Dylan is the son of Frank and Donda Pausic, and lives in Pleasant Grove.
Harrison Boozer has accepted a scholarship from Lawson State Community College and will play baseball. He is an honors student with a 3.70 GPA. Harrison is the son of James and Andrea Boozer, and lives in Bessemer.