Ever wonder who is responsible for getting Yukon athletes back in action following an injury? Since the summer of 2007, that has been Leander Walker.
March is National Athletic Training Month and Walker has led the way in growing sports medicine at Yukon Public Schools into one of the bright spots across the state when it comes to athletic training.
“Leander is great at his job because he truly cares for kids,” Yukon football coach Jeremy Reed said. “He coaches beyond a job level. I have watched Leander go above and beyond countless times to help kids and families. Yukon is very lucky to have Leander.”
Walker’s reach goes beyond Yukon. He was elected as the next president of the Oklahoma Athletic Training Association. He will assume that role in May.
“Leander is a tremendous asset to Yukon schools,” Yukon Public Schools athletic director Mike Clark said. “Last year, he even saved a girl’s life based on his assessment of her injury.”
Growing up in southwestern Oklahoma, Walker played sports, but always knew he wanted work in the healthcare field.
Walker wasn’t sure of what type of healthcare professional he wanted to be, so he decided to pursue physical therapy when he attended the University of Oklahoma after graduating from Tipton High School in 2000.
In his final semester at OU, Walker had completed his graduate record examination and was going through his 40 hours of observation in preparation for physical therapy school. It was at that time he met an athletic trainer who caused him to reconsider his future.
“I watched a lot of in-patient rehab during my 40 hours of observation and it was just really monotonous to me,” Walker said. “I didn’t think it fit my personality.”
After he graduated from Oklahoma in 2004, Walker called his father and after the two discussed the situation, he decided to do more research into athletic training. He called the University of Tulsa and Oklahoma State University to see what their athletic training programs had to offer, but he wasn’t completely sold on the idea until he called Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford.
Walker was put in touch with the SWOSU athletic training director Ron Walker, who invited Leander to Weatherford to tour the campus. Leander took him up on the invitation and by the end of the visit, he was enrolled in the SWOSU athletic training school.
“I remember just calling my friend (who was already attending Southwestern Oklahoma State University) and told him to start looking for a place with three bedrooms instead of two because I was coming,” Walker said. “I still really did not fully understand what athletic training was, but I knew that was the area of healthcare I wanted to join.”
Walker said what attracted him to the specific field was the active population athletic trainers get to work with every day.
“It was the best decision I have made professionally,” Walker said. “One of the reasons I like working with athletes is the mindset they have. As a former athlete myself, I feel like I relate to athletes.”
Walker graduated from Southwestern Oklahoma State University in December of 2006 and spent the next several months bouncing around working for numerous doctors.
He received his first official job offer from the Harlem Globe Trotters in early 2007 to be an assistant athletic trainer.
At first, the job-offer sounded like a no-brainer decision, but after consulting with his father and having more time to think on it, Walker decided to turn the offer down because he didn’t want to be away from his family for six months per year.
“I remember I turned the Harlem Globe Trotters’ job down on Tuesday and then on Thursday of that same week, I was working a middle school basketball game at Mayfield Middle School and I thought to myself, ‘What have I done?’,” Walker said chuckling.
Soon after that, Walker started to receive interest from Oklahoma City metro-area schools to be their head athletic trainer.
Westmoore High School made an offer to Walker and he was prepared to take it before he was convinced to interview with Yukon.
“Joe Waldron had been the athletic trainer at Yukon and really had laid the groundwork for athletic training,” Walker said. “Joe called me and told me about the position, so I decided to go ahead and do the interview. I loved it immediately. I am a small-town guy and Yukon still has that small-town feel to it.”
Walker interviewed with the high school principals and the athletic director Todd Wilson. The interview went so well, Wilson told Walker to call Westmoore and tell them he wasn’t going to take the job and he was going to Yukon. Wilson then drove Walker around the district and introduced him to the superintendent, administrators and coaches.
“I really felt like I was wanted here,” Walker said. “It was a good match and a cool situation.”
Walker was then officially hired by Yukon.
Nowadays, Walker has one of the top athletic training facilities in Oklahoma. However, that wasn’t the case when he first started the job at Yukon.
“We had three tables in a pretty small space at the old high school, which is now the middle school,” Walker said. “I knew what I was doing professionally and knew what I was doing from an athletic training standpoint, but I still had a lot to learn about how to do the job. I had to learn how to deal with 800 athletes.”
Once the new high school was built and the new football fieldhouse was built, Walker and his team moved into their new digs on the west side on the second floor of the fieldhouse.
“Moving into the new fieldhouse really helped us out,” Walker said. “We were able to get more staff in place and it really helped take some of the stress off of me. With the facilities, man-power and resources we have now, there really isn’t much we can’t handle here. We have great communication with our doctors and other medical professionals. Our top priority is to make sure the kids are taken care of and are safe.”
Even with the staff in place and the facilities and resources available, Walker said he would like to see more staff added as the school district continues to grow.
“We have to continue to do better for our kids,” Walker said. “Athletic training is still a young profession with a broad skill set. Different parts of the profession are seeing growth. I want to see athletic training in all secondary schools continue to grow and improve. Every school needs an athletic trainer of some kind. The risks that are 100 percent preventable that endanger kids’ lives are risks that should never happen.”
Since he began his career with Yukon in 2007, Walker said he has learned quite a bit and has grown as a person.
“One thing I have learned is how to deal with the different personalities when it comes to coaches,” he said. “Every coach is different and being able to work together for the safety of our athletes is the most important thing. I have also learned how to relax and enjoy my job. With the additional help I have received over the past few years, I have been able to take some stress out of my life and learned to relax more.”