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GIRLS BASKETBALL | 'My dad's a hero'. When Walker High's Delaney Anderson goes through the ritual of Senior Night, thoughts of her slain father won't be far away

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Walker at DSHS girls basketball Violett Jackson, Delaney Anderson

Walker High's Delaney Anderson (3) defends Denham Springs High's Violett Jackson (14) in the District 4-5A opener for both teams.

WALKER – During Friday’s ceremony to honor Walker High’s senior girls basketball players, Delaney Anderson will do her best to hold it all together, much like she does on a basketball court.

For the past four years, that’s been among her greatest traits, the ability to step into a starter’s role as a freshman, stand in the face of adversity with an unflappable calm and lead her team with a steady hand.

When Anderson is escorted by her mother Becky and younger brother Breland before the start of the 6:00 p.m. game with Central, they will undoubtedly look skyward and reflect on the obvious void in their lives since March 18, 2017 – the day the family’s patriarch - Sgt. Shawn Anderson - was killed in the line of duty.

“My dad’s a hero,” Delaney Anderson said of her father, an 18-year veteran of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Department. “He was going to investigate a man and had my dad not died, there was a 14-year-old girl that may have been raped or something. I was 14 at the time and can’t imagine having to go through something like that.

“(During his career) My dad saved a lady trying to jump off a bridge, delivered a baby on the side of a highway and saved that girl that night. He did a lot in his life. I’m forever thankful that God let me be his daughter. If you knew him, I’m like the spitting image of him.”

Right down from the striking resemblance, complete with a hearty smile, to their love of family, love of sports and compassion for others. There’s little doubt about Delaney Anderson’s makeup, although she gives as assist to her mother for her introduction to basketball.

On the surface, the final regular-season home game for Delaney Anderson will be a lot like those of the past two years. She hasn’t been able to enjoy having both parents in attendance at games where Shawn Anderson filled the role of proud dad to perfection.

Always one to shun the spotlight himself, Shawn Anderson couldn’t wait to share the exploits of both his children and once even found his way to social media, a rarity for those who knew him best, to post video of Delaney winning both the 800 and 1600-meter races at the parish meet her freshman season.

“He never posted on Facebook, but after I won the two events at parish, he put it on his Instagram account,” Delaney said. “He wanted to brag, which he never did. He liked seeing me and Breland succeed. When we did something, he made it known.”

Walker High coach Korey Arnold recalled the circumstances that led him to putting Delaney Anderson into a starting role, admittedly before she was actually ready.

The team’s starting point – a senior – suffered an injury two weeks into the season, and Arnold, who coached a middle school-aged AAU team that Anderson played on, remembered her ability to provide a spark and moved her into the starting lineup.

Walker vs. Albany girls basketball - Delaney Anderson, Haley Meyers

Walker High point guard Delaney Anderson (3) keeps the memory of her father Shawn Anderson alive with a Velcro band that's become a part of her uniform.

The Lady Cats wound up with a 18-16 record, the result of 10 losses by three points or less, but the one thing that season produced was Walker’s point guard of the future.

Anderson has been entrenched ever since.

“She was a little baby at the time,” Arnold said in reference to her age. “She did her job and kept us in games. I could see the makings of a kid that was going to give you everything she had. She was always a burst of energy, a positive voice in the huddle to her teammates.”

Anderson always understood her role and played to her strengths. Her innate ability to lead a team and command the respect of her teammates served her well.

She’s always been regarded for her pass-first mentality and ability to provide a menacing presence on Walker’s full-court, trapping pressure defense.

Scoring was always a bonus, not a prerequisite, and if opponents leave her open, Anderson is capable of making them pay, especially from 3-point range.

Shawn Anderson Delaney Anderson

Delaney Anderson on her father Shawn Anderson: "I’m forever thankful that God let me be his daughter. If you knew him, I’m like the spitting image of him."

“I’m the grandmother, I’m the one with the most experience,” Anderson said with a smile. “They all come to me a lot when they need help. I have a lot of basketball knowledge because I’ve been around the game my whole life. I’ve never had the urge to score. I’ve wanted to be that person that played the hardest and have found more joy in my teammates scoring than myself. I care more about assists.”

Not long upon the completion of her sophomore season came the news that completely flipped Anderson’s world upside down, along with that of her family, when after an innocent night at a friend’s house watching movies turned so tragic.

According to police reports, Shawn Anderson and his partner Eric Strickland were summoned to a Baton Rouge-area barber shop to investigate a reported rape. Gunfire ensued and Shawn Anderson was shot and killed.

Delaney Anderson, who bravely, but poignantly, delivered the eulogy at her father’s funeral. She also received his Medal of Valor – an honor bestowed to courageous men and women.

“My dad was the type of person who didn’t give up on me, even when I wanted to give on my myself with my sports career,” Delaney said in a previous interview.

She tried picking up the pieces of her shattered life. That meant trying to continue playing the game she loved so dearly, although things felt so different.

In an effort to have a piece of her father with her during games, Anderson said her AAU coach made a black band inscribed in blue cursive lettering that read: Lt. Anderson.

Delaney Anderson attached the Velcro band to one of her shoes that summer but has since made it a part of her uniform at Walker High the past two seasons, where it adorns the top left of her uniform.

“I know he’s always there watching me,” she said. “When I’m on the court I kind of feel it (pressing her right hand against her left shoulder). He’s still here with me.”

Anderson rode a roller-coaster of emotions during her junior season, her first since her father’s death, in which Arnold was suspended from coaching for a year by the LHSAA. She was later sidelined before the start of district because of a concussion that forced her to miss a week of school.

She recalled having to leave a game at Live Oak after the first quarter. Unable to handle the gym’s lights and sound system, she cried during the ride home with her mother.

Walker girls Bkb vs. E. Iberville Delaney Anderson

Walker High's Delaney Anderson (3) has always enjoyed being a scrappy player, in most cases diving for loose balls to gain possession for her team.

“It was so bad,” she said. “I cried because I felt like I had disappointed my team because I couldn’t be there.”

With her mother’s wishes, Anderson attended Walker's senior night, where she remained the entire game. When the Lady Cats later traveled to Denham Springs with the District 4-5A title on the line, she was on the bench in uniform and actually got into the game for 10 seconds, replacing an injured teammate and celebrated afterward with her victorious teammates.

“That game was so much fun,” she said. “We had won district against our parish rivals. That was pretty cool. I got to play a couple of minutes against Natchitoches Central (state quarterfinal win), just to bring some energy off the bench.

“Then it was sad that we lost,” she said of a 48-33 setback to Denham Springs in the state semifinals. “We had an amazing season and I was so grateful to be able to play with those girls. The bond that we had, it will always keep us together and most of us were back. We’re a very close team.”

The team’s dynamic changed considerably for Anderson’s final season, one that had Arnold back in charge on the sideline.

Anderson was one of four seniors counted on to blend in with a roster with 10 underclassmen – including three freshmen – into another winning unit.

For Anderson, the responsibility went deeper. That meant mentoring talented freshman Caitlin Travis, a player who began the season as the starting point guard.

“I asked Delaney to take Caitlin under her wing and show her all the non-basketball stuff that she did well like showing up on time, being respectful and working hard,” Arnold said. “That was a tough pill for her to swallow when Caitlin started over her. She never blinked an eye. That says a lot about her character because she wanted to do what was best for the team.”

Somewhere during those competitive practice sessions, where she was paired opposite Travis, Anderson rediscovered something that had been missing since her father’s death.

Anderson simply called it a “slump” during the time since she’s tried to emotionally navigate life without her father. She felt she was still dedicated to the game and cared deeply about her teammates, but Arnold still felt something was missing until the midway point of this season.

“I still had the heart, that I wanted to play. But sometimes I didn’t show it a lot,” she said. “Caitlin is phenomenal and is going to be an amazing player. When she started over me, I thought I’ve got to get over this. Then one day in practice coach Arnold put me on her on defense, later looked at me in the huddle and said I was back to my old self. I felt content and happy.”

Anderson has remained a fixture in the starting lineup for the past 18 games with Walker looking to add some momentum for next week’s Class 5A state playoffs.

Anderson’s statistical contributions – 4.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists – don’t begin to illustrate her true impact on this year’s team.

“She’s a role model for every kid you want in your program,” Arnold said. “She’s a high character kid with a high GPA (3.2-3.5). If I had a daughter, she would be a perfect example of what I would want in a daughter. She plays hard, she’s respectful, does everything she’s capable of and more.”

Anderson realizes the finality of her athletic career (she no longer runs track) is nearing and the next phase of life is drawing close. She plans to attend LSU and major in Elementary Education, following in the footsteps of her mother, a longtime educator now serving as an instructional coach at Levi Milton Elementary.

Law enforcement officials have become prevalent in the life of the Andersons since Shawn’s death, thus further tightening the bond with the family.

Sulphur at Walker girls basketball Delaney Anderson Alyssa Navarre

Walker High's Delaney Anderson (3) is known for her aggressive defense.

That began the evening their father was killed when Strickland, in a move to be with Delaney and Breland in a time of need and provide a brief diversion, played basketball with them for two hours, Delaney said.

“He didn’t have to, but he chose to do that,” she said. “It wasn’t their jobs.”

During the past last three years in which Anderson was selected to Walker High’s homecoming court, there’s been a member of the EBR sheriff’s office in full uniform to walk the daughter of their fallen comrade.

Each of the following officers had ties to Shawn Anderson:

Strickland escorted Anderson in 2017, Lt. Michael Crawford in ’18 and retired Maj. Les Reine, whom Delaney called her dad’s best friend, handled the honors this past fall.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ll have to go through in my life living without my dad,” she said. “I’m glad that I have all these people with me. I didn’t really know most of these people before he died. These people mean everything to me and I’m so grateful to have every single one of them in my life. They each have something special about them that remind me of my dad.”

This time, though, for senior night, which Anderson will share with Trinity Harold, Kaitlyn Hayes and Shaylan Cummings, she plans to keep things in the immediate family and walk with her mother and brother.

She realizes they won’t be the only Andersons smiling.

“He’ll be beaming, he loved stuff like that when he was able to be there,” she said of her father. “When I walk out, I want to see everybody in the stands. I want to see everybody who comes to show me their love and support. I try to make sure and get everyone involved.

“My dad would be proud of me and for how far I’ve come,” she said. “He would have enjoyed seeing me with my teammates. They loved him. He would be so proud of everybody and the journey that we’ve had this year.”

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