Circular journey finds Mr. Don Walsh atop NPHS Athletics

Walsh was named the new North Penn High School Athletic Director this summer, following the retirement of longtime North Penn Knight, Bill Bartle.

Towamencin – Every stroke slicing through the water. Each gasp of breath. Cheering muffled by the rippling water. Every second is one stroke closer to the wall. Mr. Don Walsh (North Penn Class of 1994) wishes he could relive his days in the water all over again, and in a roundabout way, he sort of is. 

His days as a student are long gone, and after a journey over the last 22 years that took him from NPHS rookie teacher in 2000, to NPHS assistant principal, to Lower Merion Athletic Director, to Special Education teacher at Penndale, followed by stints at Northbridge and Pennfield, and then back to assistant principal at NPHS… he has finally found is way back into the athletic wing of NPHS as the new athletic director. Walsh, once a swimmer and water polo player here at North Penn, has found his way back to the bustling school that once served him as a place where he could get involved and form bonds that would last a lifetime. 

“It feels good to be back in the place where a lot of things started for me with school, sports, and involvement,” Walsh said when discussing how it feels to be back at North Penn.

It feels good to be back in the place where a lot of things started for me

— Don Walsh - NPHS Athletic Director

Sports have always played a significant role in Walsh’s life when it came to creating an outlet away from all the chaos.  Whenever he felt disconnected from school or covered in a blanket of stress, a quick jump in the pool and a hardcore practice never failed to alleviate it all. His experience with water polo and swimming also helped him to develop connections with peers and faculty members who became people he could always turn to for support. During his time as a student-athlete, he not only used sports as an escape but also as a learning opportunity. 

“Participating in swimming and water polo taught me sportsmanship, camaraderie, discipline, work ethic, and time management,” Walsh explained. “I believe all of that has actually helped me get to where I am in life.”

Seeing as how much sports have shaped his life, it is obvious that as athletic director Walsh hopes to create the same experience for all North Penn student-athletes. Getting involved is a moral of his and he strongly encourages every kid to get involved, whether it’s in sports or some other extracurricular activity. He supports the involvement of all kinds.  

For the students who aren’t connected to school academically I hope that those extracurriculars give them something to shoot for and hopefully they can start to make a connection to their academics

— Don Walsh - Athletic Director

 “I have always encouraged students to get involved. Some kids have connections with school academically and others don’t. Having those extracurriculars gives students a release valve. For the students who aren’t connected to school academically I hope that those extracurriculars give them something to shoot for and hopefully they can start to make a connection to their academics,” Walsh stated. 

With an already stellar athletic program at North Penn, many people wonder, what could be changed? In terms of what he hopes to bring to the athletic program, Walsh explained that he wants to reimage the programs. Along with that, going back to his strong urge for involvement, he also hopes to push for more participation. 

“One of the things I want to look at is trying to reimage our programs. Get our kids out there with a social media presence. Just really resetting the brand and getting more kids to participate.” Walsh continued to explain, “I want kids to get excited about coming out and supporting any of our extracurriculars whether it be sports or not.” 

 With the constant concerns and battle over Covid-19, resetting the brand becomes a much more difficult task. Covid has affected Walsh’s job along with the way sports are being run. Navigating all of this is certainly a challenge, but Walsh is making sure to take it head-on and work with all the staff to ensure students are staying safe and that their sports seasons don’t come to an abrupt end. 

“It is giving us something else to think about as opposed to just the daily routines of schedules, officials, competitions, and practices,” Walsh said, discussing how Covid has affected the athletic department. “We are also working closely with people we wouldn’t have before like nurses and other administrators to tackle contact tracing and seating charts on buses. Things that 25 years ago we weren’t talking about. Even three or four years ago we weren’t talking about our realm.”    

Although times are challenging due to the effects of Covid, Walsh does have mentors that he can turn to for advice for every obstacle. Previous North Penn athletic directors, Don Ryan and Bill Bartle, have plenty of experience to provide guidance. Walsh had a tight relationship with Ryan when he was younger which has helped aid him in his earlier roles as assistant athletic director and principal. 

“Don was a mentor of mine when I was growing up as a student athlete but also helped me when I first came back to North Penn. As I started my career down at Lower Merion he was always a phone call away,” Walsh said, expressing his appreciation. “ I always appreciate being able to run things by him. Bill Bartle did the same thing. Now pulling on both of them for information has been valuable as a resource.”   

When it comes to Walsh’s personal life outside of work, he isn’t taking a step back from sports. Walsh has three sons all of whom are highly involved in sports. He shared with me that he leaves the football games Friday night and is up early the next morning on another football field cheering on his kids.  When I asked him if any of his sons followed in his footsteps with swimming and water polo, he simply laughed and said no. While none of his sons are jumping into a pool, they are enjoying other sports like football, baseball, lacrosse, and basketball. Walsh isn’t disappointed that his sons did not take up his beloved sport. He is just happy they found a connection with something like he did.  

“For them, it was really about what they wanted to do and get involved in. All of our boys are very different and they have all found sports on their own. We have tried to support them in whatever they venture into.” Walsh continued,“ I just wanted them to be in something they enjoy and will take with them for life”. 

Fall sports are now in full swing and there are so many exciting things to look forward to. In football, the Knights are having an unblemished season so far, currently 6-0. Walsh also gets to see his old water polo team pull off win after win as North Penn boys water polo continues to succeed. Yet, when I asked Walsh what he was most excited about with managing his first-ever sports season here, he didn’t have much to say about the records and scores. Instead, he chose to focus more on relationships with the players and students supporting one another. 

 “I am looking forward to getting to know the student athletes as well as the other students that help support our competitions, whether it be the marching Knights, fans and spectators, the Knight Crier reporters, or any of our other media outlets.” Walsh also talked about why he enjoys being in the athletic director position saying, “It gives me an opportunity to see students do something other than academics. I also like seeing coaches give students the tools to go out there and perform in any extracurriculars.” 

Walsh may not be in the pool anymore, but he still gets to relive all the glory every time he watches North Penn’s water polo or swimming teams. He still plays a major role on the teams through his never-ending support and his hard work to create the best program possible. He has so much to look forward to in his upcoming years as a sports director and we certainly have much to look forward to as well. 

 “Anytime I see our students participating you get a little antsy and you wish you could jump in, but things aren’t the same as they were 30 years ago,” Walsh said with a chuckle.