Two people who had huge achievements in Western sports will be honored this weekend.
Former football player Pete Walters and Gayle Harris Watkins, a former track and field member, will become the 92nd and 93rd members of the Athletic Hall of Fame.
For Walters the journey to the Hall of Fame almost never became reality.
“When I graduated from high school, I was going to work at Peabody Mining Co. making $8 an hour,” Walters said. “My parents had told me they could not afford to send me to college.”
However Western football coach Butch Gilbert was so impressed with Walters’ football skills that he gave him an athletic scholarship. Instead of black lung, Walters would wear red and white.
During his football career on the Hill (1977-80), Walters lettered all four years and earned All-American and all-OVC honors his senior year as an offensive guard. He was named Western’s Male Athlete-of-the-Year in 80-81.
Off the field, Walters also excelled, winning the football team’s Academic Award in 1981. He said that a geology teacher was the one who inspired him to learn the most.
“He made the course so exciting,” Walters said. “He said while crying, ‘Don’t let anyone steal the joy of learning from you.'”
Walters later received his master’s and doctoral degrees in Kinesiology from Texas A&M.
He currently lives in Wheaton, Ill., with his wife Janet and their two daughters Corrie, 14, and Sydney, 11.. He teaches at Wheaton College.
The other inductee, Watkins is one of the most successful track and field athletes in school history.
“I am truly honored to be part of this group of athletes,” Watkins said. “But I’m not sure I deserve this.”
Watkins won a national title in the long jump in 1979 and was runner up in the 60-meter hurdles that year.
Watkins also set records in the outdoor 100-meter hurdles and the indoor 55-meter hurdles. Both still stand as school records today.
After graduating in 1980 she continued to compete.
From 1980-88 she competed in three U.S. Olympic Trials and was a finalist in 1984. She also ranked No. 2 in the world in the indoor 50-meter hurdles in 1983.
She currently lives in Walnut, Calif., where she is pursuing a doctorate in education from Claremont Graduate School. She is also an assistant coach for Mt. San Antonio College’s track and field team.
Because her daughter, Tanyita, also competed for Western, Watkins has had several opportunities to visit the Hill.
“I am amazed at the buildings for the athletes,” Watkins said. “We didn’t have a locker room for the women’s track and field team when I was there. We used the restrooms.”
In order to be selected for the Hall of Fame, an athlete or coach must be nominated by by a member of the W-Club and elected by the club’s board of directors.
Both Watkins and Walters will be inducted at the the W-Club Homecoming Luncheon on Saturday at 11 a.m. in the Knicely Conference Center.
They will also be honored during the Homecoming game at 4 p.m.
Reach Josh Buckman at [email protected]