EDINBURGH — When David Walden accepted the job as athletics director at Edinburgh, the longtime coach and teacher did so wanting to get out of his comfort zone.
He needed something to push him a little bit, he insisted.
Walden got his wish. On both counts.
Starting in June of last year, Walden was out of his comfort zone all right — into a new job, in a different ZIP code, pushed to do more than just a little.
But home, as the saying goes, is where the heart is. It’s the major reason Walden, 53, summoned a vast amount of energy to cheerfully serve his alma mater last year, when he stepped away from longtime coaching, teaching and administrative positions at Greenwood to return Edinburgh.
Walden is a 1979 graduate of the school. Now, he leads its athletics department. That, and pitching in wherever and whenever needed.
“His title is athletics director, and he takes that (responsibility) first and foremost, but David does so much more,” Edinburgh Principal Kevin Rockey said. “He’s here days, evenings and weekends going above and beyond, and he’s such an important part of our school team.
“He has pride here,” he said. “This is where his roots are. For him, it’s a personal quest to make this athletic department, this school and this community better.”
Walden has always known a little something about being part of a team. Being highly involved at Edinburgh is nothing new for him, either.
When Walden was a student, he played football and basketball and competed in track and field for the Lancers. He also played the baritone saxophone in band.
He brought a good amount of coaching background with him down U.S. 31 in 2013. Prior to his arrival, Walden had coached football, basketball and track, as well as taught business, at Greenwood for three decades.
His first weeks on the new job were anything but a breeze.
Walden had a relatively short amount of time to prepare for the upcoming school year. Then, just a couple of weeks into the job, he had to have his right knee replaced.
But he was ready for all of the challenges.
“I knew what I was getting into,” Walden said. “I understood the amount of work it takes.”
He put in the time, attending every home athletics event, going to every varsity contest on the road in which he was able and never missing a day of school.
“The biggest thing I saw was his dedication,” Lancers volleyball coach Tina Bottorff said. “To see him at every match was pretty impressive. He’s also very approachable. It’s easy to discuss issues with him.”
When Walden arrived at Edinburgh, no one knew him better than boys basketball coach Drew Glentzer, a former assistant coach at Greenwood, where he worked with Walden.
“He did a great job. He’s an old-school AD who doesn’t miss any event,” Glentzer said. “If something is going on at Edinburgh, he’s going to be there.”
He’ll likely be there even if something is happening away from Edinburgh.
“I try to get to every varsity event on the road, too,” said Walden, who served one year as an assistant AD at Greenwood before arriving at Edinburgh. “The kids appreciate it, and the parents appreciate it.”
Walden credits the support of the school’s faculty and staff, the community and particularly his wife, Michelle, for making everything work and come together.
“In this community, people love being involved,” he said. “They stop by and say, ‘Hey, how can I help?’ I had almost forgotten how a small town feels about its athletics.”
The past year hasn’t been without some sizable challenges.
Last football season, varsity head coach Bill Unsworth missed the first few games of the year after undergoing serious neck surgery.
In the season-opening football game, running back Steven Bailey suffered life-threatening internal injuries during a game at Manual. He had to be rushed to a hospital after collapsing on the bench after halftime. He was then flown by medical helicopter to Riley Hospital for Children for lifesaving treatment.
After the football season, it was on to basketball, where one of Walden’s main responsibilities was to serve as host athletics director for the IHSAA Class A boys basketball sectional at his school, a well-attended event that requires extensive planning, organizing and logistics.
“Our sectionals are chaotic,” Glentzer said. “I thought he did a wonderful job. I know there was a lot of on-the-job learning for him all year. He figured out some things worked, and when some things didn’t work, he’d try something else, as coaches do.”
The final challenge of the school year occurred May 13, when the home bleachers at the football field were torn apart by winds from a severe thunderstorm. The damage, however, has been repaired in time for the Friday’s home-opener against Manual.
All in all, it was a good initial year for the first-time head athletics director.
“Last June, I was just trying to get by each day,” Walden said. “It’s so much smoother now. It’s been nice to be back (at Edinburgh) and know I’m doing something that means a lot.
“I just felt like I wanted to give back to this community that meant so much to me growing up.”