As a teacher and coach at Hall Elementary School and the owner of the Margie Grand Theater in the 1970s, Walters was connected to two of the things that meant the most to me as a teenager - sports and movies.
With an imposing presence and a unique drawl, Walters hasn't changed that much since he coached our fourth-grade basketball team at Hall Elementary School.
As I remember, we played only two games, beginning with a blowout loss to Cawood Elementary School. The only two things I recall about the game were Roy Britton lofting a Kareem-like sky hook over me and Cawood scoring our only two points by shooting on the wrong end of the court.
Redemption followed a couple of weeks later after several practices under coach Walters, who determined that our best bet was keeping the ball in Roger Broyles' hands as much as possible. We avenged our earlier loss in one of the sweetest victories I can remember, even though no one else outside the Hall gym probably cared, or even knew, since it didn't make the newspaper or radio.
Walters coached just about everything at Hall in those days, but he was best known for football. He was also the first girls basketball coach at Hall when the sport was reinstated in the 1970s. Walters led Hall to several county championships in the early years due in large part to the presence of Kim Kelley, the county's first star player. Kelley went on to lead Cawood High School to four 52nd District championships and the county's first regional title and Sweet Sixteen appearance in 1978.
Kelley coaches a new generation of girls at Black Mountain Elementary School and credits Walters, who was also her first coach, for helping her realize her dreams as an athlete at Cawood and later at UNC-Charlotte.
"He was instrumental in helping me begin to gain confidence and the necessary skills to become a pretty good player," Kelley said. "Not only did he help me, he helped my teammates and developed us into a good team. I appreciate the time that was taken and the effort that was shown. As a coach of young players, I know how important those first individuals are in a person's life, be it a parent, teacher or coach."
Walters has worked with thousands of students in a coaching career that began after graduating from Cumberland College in 1964. He coached one year at Parkland Junior High School in Louisville before coming to Hall in its final year before consolidating into Cawood High School. After two years at Hall, he moved to Georgetown, Ohio, for four years. He returned to Hall in the summer of 1971 and stayed until the spring of 1979.
Walters remembers Broyles and Kelley as two of his better players during that era. Broyles, in football, and Kelley and Lynn Rhymer in basketball went on to star at Cawood during that era. Walters also coached at Cawood as an assistant, first under Boyd Fox and then Joe Campbell.
Walters moved on to Evarts for three years, coaching basketball and football. His 1981 squad, led by Tim Burkhart, Robert Evans, Ronnie Curtis, Tony Ellison, Tracy Hopkins and Jerry Blakley, won the county championship.
After working in the coal industry for a while, Walters returned to coaching at Pineville, his alma mater. He was the head girls basketball coach for three years and baseball coach for 15, and during the entire time he served as an assistant in football.
Pineville's best teams during Walters' years were the five seasons that Tim Saylor coached in the 1980s. The Lions won five sub-district titles and two district championships under Saylor with a staff that included Walters as defensive line coach.
"Darwin was a good fundamental coach, and the players liked him," said Saylor, who is now the superintendent of the Harlan County School District. "Coach Walters was a Pineville High graduate and was a tremendous help with community relations."
Walters has remained at Pineville, working with numerous coaches through the seasons, including current coach Bart Elam, who wasn't even born when Walters began his coaching career over 40 years ago.
"Coach Walters is a heck of a guy and a guy that everybody loves," Elam said. "He's kind of contrary sometimes, but the kids like him and would do anything in the world for him, and I think he'd do the same for them.
"He's a good fellow and a hard worker. He's one of those guys that belongs in a school-type setting. He does a good job with the kids."
Walters said he has no plans to retire from coaching.
"I love the game and working with kids," he said.
Walters and the Lions will face their third straight Harlan County on opponent on Friday, playing host to the Harlan Green Dragons.