A Wonderful Life
How one math teacher impacted Mount Vernon’s storied basketball program.
“I like basketball a lot, and the team and the outlet it gives is so important,” Walters says when trying to verbalize what drew her to the Mount Vernon basketball team 40 years ago. “And I think it can be used as leverage to make them (the student-athletes) do what they need to do. I always tell the kids, You don’t just show up at game, you practice. Well homework is practice and when you have a test, that’s the game. They all understand practice and games. Math, well not so much.”
But it’s when she says the following that you see what the real reason for her desire to support Mount Vernon’s athletes.
“I don’t have any children,” Walters says. “But I have a lot of kids.”
Speak to any number of Walters’ former students, and her impact becomes clear. Just mention her name and you can hear the appreciation and admiration in their tones. “She was so funny,” says Iona College assistant coach Garee Bryant, who played for Mount Vernon from ’92-’95 before going on to play for CW Post in Long Island, NY. “She was one of those teachers who never turned her back on a student. To this day I still have a great relationship with her.”
Walters’ support was not limited to her male students. Shireyll Moore, who graduated from Mount Vernon in 2005 before going on to play college basketball at Fairfield University, and who is now an assistant coach for the Lafayette women’s basketball team, describes Walters as a motherly figure.
“She was more than just a teacher, she treated us like we’re her own kids. To this day she still sends me care packages every holiday.” Moore says. “To have someone like her be around all the time, it’s awesome. It’s nice to have someone there who really cares.”
In fact, it was Walters’ ability to act as a parental figure that Bryant says made her so special, and, as silly as it may seem, integral to the on-the-court success of Mount Vernon. “The fact is a lot of the Mount Vernon kids come from a single-parent family where the parents aren’t always involved,” Bryant says. “When the faculty is involved, it really helps out a lot.”
This help is not lost on Mount Vernon’s current coach, Bob Cimmino, a man who happens to know a thing or two about what it takes to win at the high school level. Since becoming the head coach of Mount Vernon 18 years ago, Cimmino has won four NY State PHSAA championships, three NY state Federation crowns and has been named New York State Coach of the Year four times. He also knows as well as everyone that building a winning and respected high school program is not something that can be done without the help of people like Walters in the Mount Vernon community. After all, if it wasn’t for their support, Cimmino’s team would have been cut, along with the rest of the athletics program at Mount Vernon High School, in a series of city budget cuts in 2008 (check out the film Hoop Knight for that story).
“It’s great to have faculty members appreciate our players,” Cimmino says. “It means that they’re more than just basketball players. Part of my job is to make sure the student athletes are doing the right thing, and to do this, we have to have constant interaction with the faculty.”
Walters retired from Mount Vernon in 2004 and is now teaching at a Catholic School in Westchester, NY. Her support for Mount Vernon’s student athletes, however, did not leave with her. When she retired, Walters established the Carolyn Walters Student/Athlete Award, a scholarship that is awarded to one or two deserving Mount Vernon student athletes every year. Past recipients include West Virginia senior forward Kevin Jones and George Mason sophomore guard Sherrod Wright.
“My favorite movie is It’s a Wonderful Life and I feel that I’ve had one,” Walters says. “And the most wonderful part of it has been the kids.”