A single conversation changed Darius Walker’s path in a matter of days.
As a senior at Mount Airy High School, Walker was ready to send his first payment to Elon University to pursue his undergraduate degree. Fast-forward a few months and Walker is preparing to attend Campbell University and will do so as a member of the Camels’ cheerleading program.
“I actually discovered Campbell by accident,” he said. “When I did my initial college search, Campbell was not on my mind. I’d never even heard of it. A friend told me her sister went there for law, so I checked it out. I saw it had a good cheer program and a great healthcare program.”
Darius decided to apply to the school and was alerted of his admission just days later. Campbell allowed Walker to pursue his intended major as well as continue cheering, which is something he wanted to do ever since he started.
Before Walker started cheering, he felt indifferent about the sport.
“I really got into it because both my siblings cheered,” Walker said. “At first, cheerleading didn’t interest me at all much. I just joined and Devin [Moore] was the coach at Entity Elite, and I fell in love with it from there.”
Moore, Mount Airy’s current varsity cheerleading coach, saw Walker grow from a disinterested middle schoolers to what she called ‘probably the most dedicated cheerleader I’ve ever come across.’ The two are actually cousins, but Moore said it was Walker’s involvement in cheerleading that brought the two even closer.
“His first year cheering was actually my first year coaching at that level and we’ve been attached at the hip ever since,” Moore said. “Not just because we’re related; we’ve been bonded by the sport. When he first got into cheerleading, I kind of joked with him that that he better not go out there and embarrass me and his brother. Now look at him – about to cheer in college.
“I hope he is as proud of himself as I am.”
Walker took to cheerleading like it was in his blood. He was naturally gifted in certain areas, but he didn’t let that stop him from working his hardest to master all aspects of the sport.
“He just jumped in and was so well rounded in it that it almost made me forget that it was just his first time cheering all together,” Moore said. “But if he wanted to accomplish something, he put in the work. There would be times I would drive by his house and he would be outside practicing his jumps.”
Walker got thrown into the deep end for his first cheerleading competition. Moore took the club to the Cheer Ltd. Nationals at CANAM, which was held in Myrtle Beach, S.C. It was the largest stage that many of the team’s cheerleaders had ever competed on, much less made their cheering debut on.
“We were so caught up in the cheer world that we didn’t realize he was nervous,” Moore said. The club ended up taking second at the National Competition.
Walker began cheering for Mount Airy Middle School basketball in seventh grade. When he moved up to the high school, he joined the JV cheer squad where he was coached by none other than Moore. Moore later became the head varsity coach.
He went on to cheer four years for the Granite Bears. Darius was name captain of the JV team as a sophomore, then co-captain of the varsity team his junior year and full-on captain his senior year. In his time at Mount Airy, Walker cheered for football and basketball at both the JV and varsity levels.
“I’m really sad to see my seniors go this year,” Moore said. “We’re definitely going to miss Darius, and Campbell is getting a really good one with him.”
Walker described his junior and senior seasons as “kind of surreal” stating he was really burnt out by the time basketball ended in February 2020. Football and basketball were both delayed to start the 2020-21 school year, and by the time those seasons arrived Walker made the decision to cheer his final year.
“Senior year we did harder stunts and really mixed it up a lot,” Walker said. “I had a great time with my teammates and glad I stayed with it. Plus, I was the first African-American male cheerleader to come through Mount Airy.”
His senior season also presented new challenges, with COVID-19 being the biggest by far. It gave the captains a new obstacle to overcome.
“When all this started and we didn’t know if we were going to be able to cheer at all, I got together with the other captains Morgan [Clifton] and Kayden [Jenkins] and said that we had to keep pushing through no matter what,” Walker said. “Even though we weren’t sure what they were going to tell us about our season, we knew we had to keep a positive attitude. Then whenever Jason Dorsett told us were going to be able to cheer for basketball, it kind of lit a spark that we all needed to keep pushing through the year.”
The basketball and football seasons were a struggle, Walker said. Having to cheer in a mask, not being allowed to run on the court between quarters and having a limited crowd complicated the cheerleaders’ normal routines. However, Walker said he was so happy they even got to have a season given they almost didn’t.
“At the end of the day, no other school in the county had cheerleaders for basketball,” he said. “We made it out alive.”
In addition to his time on the cheerleading squad, Walker was also a two-year member of the outdoor track and field team and a four-year member of the swim team. He qualified for the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A/2A Swimming & Diving Regional Championships twice during his career.
He also served as MAHS Student Body President and North Carolina HOSA-Future Health Professionals State Executive Council Secretary and Piedmont-Triad Representative.
“I want to thank my mom who has been my rock through all this and kept me grounded,” Walker said. “I definitely want to thank Devin and Gini Hodges for sure. Gini was really the one that taught me the basics of co-ed cheerleading and what it takes to cheer in college as a former college cheerleader herself. Devin, we’re related and all, but she has basically been my second mom through the years.”
Walker is the second Mount Airy cheerleader in two years to continue his athletic career in college, with Emma Dowell (class of 2020) doing so at Newberry College. Moore said she is thrilled to see both Walker and Dowell continue their cheerleading careers, and hopes to have some more signings down the line.
“The school has been really supportive of me and the program,” Moore said. “I just want it to continue to grow and I want everyone to be as enthusiastic about it as those two. I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s next.”