Former Arundel Coach Bernie Walter Enjoying His Return To College Park

By Eric Meany

When Bernie Walter left his home just outside of Baltimore to attend the University of Maryland as a 17-year-old freshman in 1959, the recent Brooklyn Park High School graduate dreamed of playing basketball and baseball for his new school, unsure of his chances but determined to give it a try.

When he returned to College Park 50 years later as the winningest coach in Maryland high school baseball history, the university’s newly-minted director of baseball operations hoped to use his wealth of knowledge and experience to aid a new coaching staff in lifting his beloved Terps out of their perennially losing ways.

During the intervening half-century, as he forged a career that would lead to his induction into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2007, Walter remained a loyal and passionate supporter of the University of Maryland and its sports teams. As a season-ticket holder for the school’s football and basketball teams, and as a member of the Terrapin Club, the M Club and the Home Run Club, Walter never wavered in his love for his alma mater.

“He eats, sleeps and breathes University of Maryland,” third-year baseball coach Erik Bakich said. “The guy has Terps blood running through his body at all times. There’s nobody that wants the University of Maryland to succeed more than Bernie Walter.”

When he was a high school student, Walter listened to Terps basketball games on the radio and knew the names of all the team’s players. As a 69-year-old he drives a car decorated with Maryland floor mats and a Terrapin dashboard ornament.

“I’ve always been a homer, I guess,” Walter said.

Bernie Walter (left) led the Arundel Wildcats to 10 state championships during his 36-year tenure.

No matter how broadly the sphere of allegiance has been defined in his career – Arundel High School, University of Maryland, Team USA – Walter has always directed his considerable passion for winning towards supporting the home team.

“I guess in the War of the Worlds, I’d root for Earth,” he said with a laugh.

If the war involved an interplanetary amateur baseball tournament, team Earth would be hard pressed to find a coach with a more impressive resume than Walter. In 36 years leading the Arundel High School baseball team, he won 10 state championships and more than 600 games, both Maryland state records. He also won four All-American Amateur Baseball Association titles with the Leone’s Boys Club team, coached the Mayo Post 226 American Legion team to four state championships and one national title and led the USA Baseball Junior National Team to its first-ever world championship with a win over Cuba in 1988.

When Bakich was first hired at Maryland, he scheduled a meeting with Walter with the intention of getting to know the most influential high school baseball coach in the state.

“Once I started talking to him and found out all of his connections to the university, it was pretty clear that we had to get this guy on our staff and create a position for him,” Bakich said. “It was a no-brainer.”

Now in his third year back at Maryland, Walter is actually in his second stint on the staff of the baseball program. He coached the freshman team to a 10-1 record in 1964 and was an assistant under Elton Jackson when the Terps won their first Atlantic Coast Conference championship in 1965. Walter was also a finalist for the head coaching job when vacancies arose after both the 1990 and 2000 seasons.

“When coach Jackson left [in 1990] I really thought I had a great chance of getting the job,” Walter said. “I applied for the job and was told in an interview that I had more letters of recommendation than anyone in the history of the school in any sport. But then [former Jacksonville University coach Tom] Bradley got the job.”

Walter said he has since been told that he was passed over because some at the school were leery of hiring a coach from the high school ranks after the trouble experienced in the basketball program under former Dunbar High School coach Bob Wade.

Walter also applied for the position in 2000, but was passed over once again, this time in favor of former University of Tampa head coach Terry Rupp.

Despite being twice turned down by the school he loves, he had no reservations about returning to College Park when Bakich offered him the chance.

“I can’t hold it against the school because the people who were in charge then didn’t make the wise decision I thought they should,” Walter said with a chuckle. “But that’s not why I’m here. I’m just loyal to the school and love the school and love all the things that I was able to do here.”

With the Terps having achieved just their fourth winning record in the last 20 years this season, Walter is proud of the role he has played in helping Bakich and the coaching staff revitalize the once-dormant baseball program at Maryland.

“I recognized that the baseball program had been struggling for a long, long time,” Walter said. “And I knew that not just by the win or loss record, but a lot of my players that I coached either in the summer or at Arundel High School came here and were not happy. That broke my heart, to be perfectly honest with you.”

Bakich credits Walter with repairing the relationships that made it possible to get top-tier in-state recruits to play for the Terps again. Local products, like freshman third baseman K.J. Hockaday from the John Carroll School in Bel Air and sophomore infielder Kyle Convissar from Severna Park High School, have been key figures in the team’s revival.

“Bernie came in and instantly reconnected all the broken bridges with high school baseball in the state of Maryland to the University of Maryland baseball program,” Bakich said. “He was absolutely invaluable in that regard.”

Said Walter: “There were many high school coaches in the state of Maryland that would not even think about sending a kid to the University of Maryland. That’s no longer the case.”

Before taking his current position, Walter had looked forward to spending his retirement tending to his garden and spending more time with his wife Barbara, a fellow Maryland alum, and their grandchildren. He is content with his job at Maryland for now and prefers not to speculate on what the future will bring, but Bakich hopes Walter will choose to stick around for a while.

“I don’t ever want him to leave, he’s too valuable,” Bakich said. “I’m sure there will be a time when he won’t be able to do this, but I hope it’s not for another 10 or 20 years.”

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