Bernie Walter, the all-time winningest public-school baseball coach in Maryland history, died Friday night following a battle with cancer. The longtime Linthicum resident was 78.
Walter compiled a 609-185 career record during 37 seasons at Arundel High. He led the Wildcats to a Maryland-record 10 state championships. He also was athletic director for 27 years at the Gambrills school, establishing several groundbreaking physical education programs.
Walter is the only high school coach in Maryland history to capture state titles in four decades. He also directed the Wildcats to 14 regional and 16 county championships.
Walter always maintained a special fondness for his first state championship club at Arundel. That team, led by ace pitchers Neal Herrick and Frank Parreira, beat Potomac, 3-1, in the final.
“Bernie had the uncanny ability to be a very demanding coach as well as being a mentor. That’s a unique combination,” Parreira said. “Bernie taught you how to play the game from a strategic standpoint. You knew as a player when you went on the field your team was not going to get out-coached.”
Walter was inducted into the Anne Arundel County Sports Hall of Fame in 2001 and is one of only 16 high school coaches enshrined in the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the inaugural National High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2007.
In 2017, Walter was the first and still only Maryland high school coach selected for the National Federation Hall of Fame. Tut O’Hara, Walter’s assistant at Arundel from 1986 through 2009, said his mentor always stressed that coaching was teaching.
“What made Bernie such a great coach was his ability to make players better,” O’Hara said. “I think the way we practiced under pressure was critical to our success. Arundel baseball practices were always harder than games. Bernie believed there was a certain way to play the game and he made sure every member of the team bought into that.”
Walter was voted the most athletic member of the graduating class at Brooklyn Park in 1959, having captained and starred for both the basketball and baseball teams. He was a three-year letterman in baseball at Maryland, serving as captain of the 1963 squad as a senior under coach Elton “Jack” Jackson.
After coaching the Maryland freshman baseball team as a graduate student in 1964, Walter entered the teaching ranks at Archbishop Curley High in East Baltimore. He served as an assistant to legendary head coach Al Frank for seven years before accepting a physical education department position at Arundel High.
Walter served as an assistant coach to Jerry Mears in football, to Buddy Hepfer in wrestling and to Ron Evans in track and field. His first head coaching position was in lacrosse, a sport he knew nothing about.
Arundel athletic director Steve Carroll named Walter the baseball coach in 1974 and the rest is history. He led the Wildcats to winning seasons from 1975 until stepping down in 2009.
Walter had a pair of important disciples in longtime assistants O’Hara and Nick Jauschnegg, who helped instill all the standards of the “Arundel Way” in the players.
The “Arundel Way” was cataloged in a booklet that became known to players as the “Bible” and contained everything from inspirational quotes to hitting, fielding and pitching instructions, to the proper way to put on a uniform. It was distributed to players at the start of every season.
Walter and his staff developed dozens of Arundel High players that went on to play college and professional baseball. Among them was Brandon Agamennone, the Capital Gazette Player of the Year as a senior in 1994.
Agamennone became a standout starter at Maryland and still ranks 10th in program history for career wins. The right-hander was selected by the Montreal Expos in the 20th round of the 1998 Major League Baseball Draft and spent eight seasons in the minor leagues.
“Coach Walter was a coach, mentor, adviser — a man who changed my life,” Agamennone said. “I feel very fortunate to have learned baseball from Bernie Walter. He was so knowledgeable and had such an innate understanding of the game.”
Agamennone said he never encountered a better coach at the collegiate or professional level. The Crofton native, who is a part-time scout for the Boston Red Sox and founded a company called Baseball Prodigy, remained in close contact with Walter until his death.
“Other than my dad, nobody made a greater impact on me than coach Walter,” he said. “I’m proud and honored to have called him a coach and a friend.”
Walter, who spent 38 years with the Anne Arundel County school system, retired in 2008. He promptly accepted another full-time job as director of baseball operations at the University of Maryland under head coach Erik Bakich.
Walter spent four years in that wide-ranging role, which involved arranging transportation and meals for road trips, leading the Home Run Club that served as the fundraising arm for Maryland baseball and showing recruits around campus among many other duties.
“I really enjoyed going back to my alma mater and helping rebuild the baseball program that I played for,” Walter told the The Capital in 2018. “Erik did a tremendous job of establishing a foundation that produced future success for Maryland and I was proud to be part of that process.”
Walter continued to work with USA Baseball, an organization with which he had a long-standing relationship. One of Walter’s greatest accomplishments was leading the United States junior national team to the 1988 world championship.
Walter founded the Maryland Monarchs amateur baseball program in 2002 and stayed heavily involved up until being diagnosed with leukemia two years ago. Former Arundel High players such as Herrick, Parreira, Steve Doherty and Brooks Miller were all involved with the Monarchs.
Parreira’s father died when he was a junior in high school, and he turned to Walter for guidance. Walter was instrumental in getting Parreira recruited to play baseball at Johns Hopkins, where he became an All-American.
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“Bernie filled a void at that time of my life. He provided some of the direction I was looking for,” said Parreira, who is a member of the Johns Hopkins Athletic Hall of Fame.
Parreira was away from Maryland for two decades while serving as a dentist in the United States Navy. He settled in Arnold upon retirement and rekindled the relationship with Walter while coaching together with the Monarchs.
“It’s amazing how many people Bernie touched just by doing what he loved,” Parreira said. “There was nothing more enjoyable than getting together with Bernie to talk baseball. Bernie Walter was a winner, plain and simple.”
Walter was an original member of the Anne Arundel County Sports Hall of Fame Board of Directors and became the organization’s second president, a role he held for 15 years. He also served as president of the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame.
Walter was a loyal, passionate fan of Maryland athletics, a longtime season ticket holder for football and basketball.