Learning to handle the heat

Boys lacrosse:

Glenelg Country School junior Danny Walker is a budding volunteer firefighter and a fast-improving goalkeeper.

High Schools

April 13, 2004|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Danny Walker's childhood environment is shaping his destiny, leading him to put out fires -- both real ones and the figurative ones that occur on lacrosse fields.

He's Glenelg Country School's goalkeeper, the grandson of a Baltimore City fire captain and a recently accepted member of the Ellicott City Volunteer Fire Department on Route 103.

"As a little kid, I used to go to my grandfather's firefighter reunions and I was always fascinated by the fire engines and the stories he used to tell me," said Walker, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound junior. "I might want to pursue firefighting as a career, because I'm not the type of person who likes to sit at a desk and do paperwork. I like to be on my feet."

His prowess as a lacrosse goalkeeper also stems from childhood.

"My older brother liked roller hockey and used to dress me up in goalkeeper equipment and fire shots at me," Walker said. "That's how I developed the hand-to-eye coordination, quick reflexes and quick feet that you need to be a good goalkeeper."

His interest in lacrosse sprouted from visits to his grandfather's house in Baltimore.

"He used to have these lacrosse sticks hanging up in his garage, and I asked what they were," Walker said. "After he told me, I said: `They're cool.' "

The sticks belonged to an uncle who played at Essex Community College, and to his father, who never played high school lacrosse but played football at Northern High with current Maryland lacrosse coach Dave Cottle.

It wasn't long before Walker took up the sport as a first grader, and by second grade, he moved into the goal and started stopping shots -- something he does with a talent that has helped the Dragons to a 4-0-1 start this season, and led them last spring to the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association C Conference championship game that they lost to Chapelgate.

Last summer, at the Blue Chip Lacrosse Camp at Fairfield University in Connecticut, Walker made the top 50 all-star team for rising juniors. And that's when letters from colleges starting showing up in his mailbox.

His Glenelg Country School coach, Tom Marechek, said Walker is drawing attention from schools such as Maryland and Massachusetts.

"Goalkeeper is the most exciting and best position on the lacrosse field, because the game always moves from the goalkeeper's eyes," he said. "I like to be in charge, and the goalkeeper is the quarterback for the defense. Some people think I'm a little crazy because I talk to myself in the goal. But a goalkeeper always has to be ready for the next shot, no matter how many goals he gives up. He can't afford to get mad."

Walker progressed from a Howard County Lacrosse Program recreation team to a COBRA travel team, where Marechek, a pro player, first saw him and decided he'd like to have him at Glenelg Country School.

Marechek, 35, was a four-time All-America attackman at Syracuse, a member of the All-World team and Team Canada, a nine-time All-Pro with the indoor Philadelphia Wings, a three-time all-star with the outdoor Baltimore Bayhawks and has played on 10 championship teams among his college, pro and Canadian teams.

"I knew he [Marechek] was one of the greatest players ever, and I was fascinated by having him shoot at me," Walker said.

He said he couldn't pass up the opportunity to have the pro for his coach, even though the Dragons play a less-competitive MIAA C Conference schedule.

"Danny is a good stopper who is poised and tries to dictate play by standing his ground and waiting until the last possible second," Marechek said. "He has courage, vision, reflexes and is like a coach on the field because he talks to the defense. Our team thrives on his big saves, and he starts our offensive transitions."

Although the game competition is not always as tough as he'd like it to be, Walker said he has Marechek to shoot on him to sharpen his skills. Walker also plays for the Baltimore Elite Lacrosse Club, a top-level travel team that participates in tournaments.

"Coach Marechek has definitely helped me step up my game," said Walker, who has been invited to the 205 Invitational Lacrosse Camp at Maryland this summer.

Walker, who lives in Howard County's Wilde Lake school district in Dorsey Hall, has had other athletic interests. He played for the Columbia Bulldogs youth football program for eight years as a center, and plays for Glenelg Country School's ice hockey team.

"He's a good athlete," Marechek said.

Walker eventually will take fire training classes that will qualify him to help put out fires. For now, however, he's just soaking up the firehouse atmosphere and hoping to become a better lacrosse player.

"I work hard because no matter how good you are, there's always someone out there better than you, and you always have to keep improving if you want to go to the next level," Walker said.

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