Shreveport twins say, ‘Make room, Venus & Serena’
29th October 2012 · 0 Comments
By J. Kojo Livingston
They are already being compared to Venus and Serena Williams, just in different sports. Actually, a variety of sports.
Jocelyn Walker and Chelsey Walker are both 14 years old. Both have been in competitive sports since their earliest years in school. “We were average kids then but we were always striving to be the best,” Chelsey says. “We were always striving to be better than our opponents and people on our team.”
While they are winners in track and field, the Johnson girls have excelled in soccer and softball, two sports not commonly associated with Black athletes. “I always wanted my kids to be in another venue,” says Johnson Walker, the proud father, encourager and trainer of the girls. Walker is the owner of Silver Back Enterprises a construction firm specializing in paving work of all types.
“Being in the South, most Black kids are thrown into a pool where they have an option to play basketball or run track. They’re consistently competing against other Black kids, so I felt they should venture out. Soccer, worldwide, is a sport of color, and softball is a sport where kids get a lot of scholarships and a lot of recognition. So I decided to get them into something where they could really excel instead of the traditional Black sports.”
And excel they have. Jocelyn has competed in two cross-country Junior Olympics, 2009 at Reno Nevada and 2010 Birmingham Alabama. She has played soccer in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama and Texas. In her eighth grade softball year her team made city champions, “I played left field for my team. I never struck out, never dropped the ball,” she says.
Jocelyn also competed in four Iron Fish triathlons, which involves a 200-yard swim, a 7.5 mile bike ride, and a 1.5 finish to the end. Her first year she placed 24th, second year 1st, third year 4th and this year 1st. Not just a girl jock, she was a national-level middle school debater. She competed in the Novice Nationals debate in Atlanta and has won debate tournaments across Louisiana. “Most debaters don’t start until their high school years. I was accomplished as a middle schooler. I strive to become even better as I progress in my high school years.”
Chelsey Walker won Athlete of the Year in 2011-2012. Her basketball team won the district championships in 2010-2011 and the city championships in 2011-2012. She finished the Iron Fish triathlon second this year, behind her sister. “My first year I came in 25th, second year 2nd place, third year 5th place.” She was in a track and field Junior Olympics in Wichita Kansas, a cross-country Junior Olympics in Alabama and was a finalist in the Hershey Track and Field in 2009-2010. “I was the fastest 100 meter sprinter in the district, third-fastest in the city. Played t-ball in little league, starting shortstop for softball team for two years. I was starting point guard for my basketball team for three years and competed in several 5k around Louisiana.” She is in the National Junior Honor Society and plays in the orchestra.
Asked about the role their father has played in their sports activities, Jocelyn replies, “Dad is an encourager, a personal trainer, a parent of course and a coach.” Chelsey said, “He’s been there for us, sticking by our side, encouraging us to be better than our next opponent.”
“I give glory to God that I’ve been put in a position to train my daughters,” says Johnson, “People are not paying attention. We have a lot of great young Black athletes but it seems that Black men get so caught up trying to be compared to people in society that we forget about the major thing, which is taking care of our kids. It’s not another set of rims or living in a fancy neighborhood we can’t afford, it’s about investing in our kids. At one point in my life I fell into that trap myself. We need to invest in our kids, they are really our future.”
Asked about their future plans, both girls immediately point to the 2016 next Olympics in Brazil. They have choices of competing in track and field, soccer, or basketball or some multiple sports.
Now in their first year of high school, both girls already have their eyes set on college. Joycelyn is keeping her options open, “I would like to go to either LSU, OU or Texas A&M. In college I would like to play soccer and run track. I think they go hand-in-hand. I would like to go pro in soccer. I would like to become a lawyer or physical therapist.” Chelsey is also looking at more than one program. “I want to go to either LSU or North Carolina on both academic and sports scholarships. I want to play basketball, or track and field, or maybe all three. I plan to study sports medicine and become a sports medicine doctor.”
At the young age of 14 both girls have experienced Shreveport’s own brand of subtle racial bias.
They have been given the worst playing positions on soccer teams and then blamed for losses. A softball coach told Johnson that Jocelyn had to be benched because the white parents “gave her a hard time” about allowing the only African American on the team to play. Then she told him that she had to learn to bat left-handed, which she did. “I hit three in-field home runs, batting from the left-hand side of the plate and then she sat me on the bench,” said Jocelyn.
In the summer of 2011 the entire Johnson family traveled to Wichita, Kansas to watch Chelsey participate in the Junior Olympics Track and Field. Her SPAR team made it there running the 4×1. Without warning, at the very moment her race was about to start, “my coach had another player to come tell me that I wasn’t going to be running. It felt really heartbreaking. I felt that I trained and I worked to get my team to the place that they were.”
Chelsey’s Little League coach did not believe she could pitch. His daughter was also a pitcher. “I went out and pitched a few times and he told me to take three hops towards the plate when I pitch. I believe that was to hurt me, to hold me back,” said Chelsey.
Johnson Walker says the racism is not limited to the Shreveport area, “We’ve seen this abroad. The girls ran a cross-country meet in Pineville, Louisiana. We paid online, so they had no idea the girls were African American. When we got there a Caucasian lady said ‘I don’t think these girls can run.’ I said ‘We’ve already paid.’ She played around and played around until their age group had already run, which forced the girls to run with an older group. They still both placed in the top ten and took home trophies.”
Johnson and his wife agree that the girls have seen enough and overcome enough obstacles to be prepared to excel wherever they go. “What others meant for evil, God meant for good,” he says. He has held off on media attention, following the model of Venus and Serena until now, giving the Shreveport Sun their first official interview.
Johnson is calling on Black fathers to get involved with their children. “There needs to be more Black men involved with their kids. At all these sporting events I see Caucasian fathers find a way to be at the games to see their kid perform or see if they are being treated fairly. We can go to the Corvette Club or play dominoes, let’s go support our children. A common factor in the lives of most successful female athletes is the involvement of a father. Venus and Serena, Jackie Joyner and FloJo, even tennis champ Althea Gibson had fathers who were there to help them succeed.”
This article originally published in the October 29, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.