It was nearly two years ago that Justin Walker, formerly Justin Weisner, had his life’s defining moment.
The now 20-year-old, who has Down syndrome, scored a touchdown in his senior year for the Newton-Conover football team against West Caldwell.
Today, Walker is trying to conquer another hurdle in life — his first job. He’s spent the entire summer working as a bat boy for the Hickory Crawdads.
“Justin just loves sports,” said Tara Walker, Justin’s mother. “We had heard through ResCare, the people who supply his job coach, about becoming a bat boy. They had clients with the Crawdads before who had special needs. They asked Justin if he was interested. Anything related to sports, he wants to do.”
The meeting between Justin, Tara and Crawdads’ assistant general manager Charlie Downs was set up to see if Justin would make a good candidate for the team’s bat boy.
“Justin told Charlie ‘sir, I really want this job,’” Tara said. “Justin was dressed up really nice and looked sharp. Charlie said ‘I’ll do my best. We will call you and let you know.’”
Shortly thereafter, Justin was contacted and his “dream job” was given to him.
“I like the Crawdads,” Justin said. “I come to all the games. I like getting the balls. I like the hind catcher and the pitcher.”
Tara said she’s letting Justin not only be the bat boy, but also trying to get him to enjoy many life different experiences.
“I don’t like to put limits on him,” Tara said. “If he says he wants to do something, I allow him to do it. He said he wanted to play football. I never thought he could. I would keep telling him he is a good water boy and, he was good at that. He knew better than that and wanted to play football. I didn’t think it was possible, but it became possible.”
Since his first day on the job, Downs said that Justin is doing a great job for the Crawdads.
“He is very dependable,” Downs said. “I can count on him to work when he is scheduled to. When we need him to come in or fill in for someone, he does. Just like anything new, it took him a while to get used to it. Once he got in the routine, he accepted the role, understood it, did the best he could. He’s done a great job for us.”
While Justin continues his work with the Crawdads, he looks forward to another season of football at Newton-Conover.
“I am an assistant coach for the Red Devils,” Justin said. “It’s fun. I like it a lot. It’s a lot of fun.”
Red Devils’ football coach Nick Bazzle and his team like having Justin around practices and games.
“Justin wears a whistle and a cap that says ‘coach Walker,’” Bazzle said. “If you call him Justin, he will correct you real quick. I’ll let him call the team up at the end of practice and blow the whistle to call the team up sometimes. He enjoys that kind of thing. It’s all about having fun and helping a kid feel special and that he’s wanted.”
As for his prediction on how his alma mater will fair, Justin said Newton-Conover predicts will have a good season.
“They have big boys,” Justin said. “We are going to play hard this year.”
In the end, Tara said she doesn’t want her son to feel any different than the “average Joe.”
“In his mind, he is just like everyone else,” Tara said. “He wants the same things as everyone else, from a family to a job to finding love. I want him to have as normal a life as possible.”