In what has become an annual tradition, Arison Walker was pulled up into the front row of the Acrisure Stadium stands following Aliquippa’s WPIAL championship win last Friday.
With a large red and black Aliquippa flag draped over the railing, Walker celebrated with hundreds of Aliquippa fans, among them two men Walker holds close to his heart — his father, Donald C. Walker III, and his uncle, Dwan Walker.
“I always know when we win, I go straight to them,” said Arison, a junior wide receiver-defensive back. “Those are my role models. I have always looked up to them.”
Added Dwan, “Every year without fail, we’re sitting in that front row.”
While some dislike being in leadership roles, the Walkers don’t walk but run toward them. The Walker family is a family of leaders, one that takes tremendous pride in Aliquippa, the city in which they were raised, live and now serve. Since November 2011, Dwan has served as the city’s mayor and his twin brother, Donald III, a city councilman. Dwan is Aliquippa’s first African American mayor in the city’s long history.
And as they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Not only does Arison play football for Aliquippa like his dad and uncle did three decades earlier, but he has also become a leader like them. Earlier this month, Arison was elected president of his junior class.
“I just saw it as an opportunity to improve my class and be a leader,” explained Arison, who holds a 4.1 GPA, is a member of the National Honor Society and ranks third in his class.
Along with smarts, Arison Walker has loads of athletic talent as he is a member of Aliquippa’s football, basketball and track teams. And when you consider his family tree, it’s easy to see why. Donald III and Dwan’s father is a Walker and their mother a Jeter. Those last names are synonymous with athletic success in Beaver County. Dwan said that family members include Ty Law, Myron Walker and Jarrett Durham. Oh, and “any Jeter,” too.
Arison has had a breakout junior season for Aliquippa, which claimed its third consecutive WPIAL Class 4A title and record 20th overall. Aliquippa (12-0) plays District 4 champion Selinsgrove (13-0-1) in a PIAA semifinal Friday at Central Cambria High School in Ebensburg. Walker leads Aliquippa in receiving with 23 catches for 293 yards, and his six touchdowns are tied for fourth best on the team. And from his safety position, Arison makes all the calls for the Aliquippa defense.
“He’s been great,” Aliquippa coach Mike Warfield said. “He doesn’t miss practice. He’s one of the hardest workers on the team, not just in-season but offseason. It’s not surprising that since he puts the work in, you can see his performance equals his preparation.”
Arison has been especially good in the postseason. He scored two touchdowns in a semifinal win against Mars, finding the end zone on an 84-yard kickoff return and a 26-yard touchdown pass from Quentin “Cheese” Goode. Walker then showed off his defensive skills against McKeesport in the final, as he intercepted a pass, forced a fumble and was second on the team with seven tackles. The Quips didn’t throw the ball much, so Walker only had one catch, but he did return a pair of kickoffs and even kicked a pair himself.
“I’m proud of him,” said Arison’s father. “All the hard work is paying off, and he’s only a junior. If he keeps God first, the sky’s the limit for him.”
It was actually Donald C. Walker Jr. (better known as Chuckie) — Donald and Dwan’s father — who laid the foundation for the family’s desire to lead. Donald Jr. worked in the mill for 18 years before becoming a “journeyman” electrician and bus driver.
“My dad is a man’s man,” Dwan said. “He’s just one of those guys who always preached that if you cannot serve, you cannot lead. If you complain all the time, you have to go and make a difference. Anyone can point fingers, so you have to get into the fire. Always be a leader and always be humble.”
Dwan and Donald III’s move into politics came at the same time the family experienced tragedy. In the summer of 2009, their sister, Diedre, encouraged Dwan to run for mayor, which Dwan at the time thought was far-fetched.
“My sister looked at me and said, ‘Go ahead and do it, bro. If you do it, you’ll win.’ She believed in me,” remembers Dwan.
Just two months later on Sept. 5, 2009, Diedre Walker was shot and killed while in her home. She was only 33 years old. But Dwan took his sister’s advice and ran with it. And just as little sister predicted, Dwan won, becoming Aliquippa’s first Black mayor just over two years later.
“I’m grateful to lead the city that I call home, the city that made me what I am,” Dwan said. “I don’t have an NFL contract, but I love the fact that I get to lead my city every day. We call ourselves brand ambassadors.”
One of Dwan’s first orders of business as mayor was to talk his brother into becoming a councilman. Donald III had previously considered running for a school board position, but he was ineligible due to the fact that he was working in the district as a substitute teacher. So, councilman it was, a decision Donald III said he doesn’t regret.
“Being a servant leader, you care about people,” he said. “Me being in this position, I was always taught that if you live in the community, you help the community.”
The younger Donald also has a daughter in a leadership role. Shania Walker is Aliquippa’s softball coach.
Donald and Dwan are identical twins. Donald is 10 minutes older, a fact he makes sure to remind his “little brother” of often. Dwan joked that his brother “is the ugly one.” In their playing days at Aliquippa, Donald played defensive end, while Dwan was a wide receiver. The two went on to attend Robert Morris, where they played football and graduated from in 1999. Both majored in communications. Donald aspired to be a sports broadcaster, while Dwan hoped to get into public relations, his dream to work for the Steelers, Pirates or 49ers.
While Arison looks up to his dad and uncle immensely, he said he doesn’t want to follow their path of going into politics. Instead, Arison said he wants to have his own business.
“No, I really don’t like politics,” Arison said with a laugh.
As it turns out, Arison’s biggest supporter isn’t his father or uncle. It’s his mom. Amy Walker made sure to sit in seat No. 15 of her row at last Friday’s game. Why? Because that’s her son’s number. Dwan Walker, by the way, donned an Aliquippa No. 15 jersey.
“Amy Walker, that’s my No. 1 fan,” exclaimed Arison.
Warfield is a 1987 Aliquippa graduate, which means he’s a few years older than the Walker twins. But with all three being big leaders in the community and also youth football coaches, Warfield has known them for a long time and said he has a ton of respect for them. Many Aliquippa players refer to both Walkers as “Coach twin” or “Uncle twin.”
“They don’t just sit back. They’re involved,” said Warfield, who has guided Aliquippa to four WPIAL and two PIAA titles in six seasons. “The whole family has always been that way because they love and care, not just about their own, but all the kids in Aliquippa.”
Now it’s Arison who is following in their footsteps. Arison’s uncle said he anticipates that the teen will be a good leader. Dwan said that people can be a quiet leader or vocal leader, but that Arison is “50/50,” as in he knows when to lead by example and when to voice his thoughts.
And if Arison ever needs any pointers, his father and uncle are always nearby.
“I just love how they carry themselves,” Arison said. “They’re always humble and just great people.”