Raising Champions

by Sep 20, 2023People, Southport Oak Island, Sports

For the Jenkins family of Oak Island, team spirit starts at home.

Growing up in the town of Washington, North Carolina, high school sweethearts Clay and Tana Jenkins had a lot in common. They both loved their small hometown, they both loved the beach and, most notably, the two competitive athletes loved playing sports. The Oak Island couple now shares their passions with their son and daughter, Walker and Molly, both stellar athletes themselves, and as a family, this foursome makes one heck of a team.

Clay spent his high school years in Washington playing soccer, football and baseball and continued with baseball through his time at N.C. State University. Tana ran track and cross country and played volleyball in high school and afterward headed to William Peace University in Raleigh and played volleyball. She later transferred to UNC Chapel Hill for nursing school, a move that fanned the flames of the couple’s competitive spirits.

Jenkins Siblings Oak Island NC

“Clay graduating from N.C. State and me from UNC definitely created a fun sports rivalry between us,” Tana says. “We loved to tease each other whenever our schools played.”

Upon graduating in 1998, Clay took a forest management job with International Paper in Riegelwood and relocated to Oak Island. The following year Tana graduated (although she later went back to school to become a nurse anesthetist) and moved to be with Clay after the couple married.

For them, Oak Island was the perfect place to build a life together and start a family.

“We both grew up close to the water and in a rural area, so Oak Island wasn’t a huge change for us, and we were perfectly fine being a little isolated,” Tana says. “We love living on the island with the beach right here and the waterway, and having that small, hometown community makes it a great place to raise kids.”

The Jenkins welcomed Walker in 2005, followed by Molly in 2008. Both children began playing sports at an early age, and Clay and Tana took turns coaching and volunteering with whichever youth sports programs their kids chose.

Jenkins Baseball Oak Island NC

“Walker started playing sports at age three with soccer and T-ball, then went on to basketball, football, track, baseball and swimming, and Molly played softball, soccer, basketball, volleyball, dance and cheerleading,” Tana says. “With Clay and I both being athletic and active, we naturally wanted our kids to like sports as well, but I think they would have either way because it came naturally to both of them.”

Tana says she has always felt strongly about encouraging our kids to try something different and exposing them to different sports.

“We never pushed them to do anything, just told them to try it and see if they liked it, and if not, we’d move on to something else,” she says.

Having two athletic children involved in constant sporting activities led to busy lives, full calendars and little family downtime. As tough as it was to juggle both kids’ schedules while working full-time jobs, Tana says she would not have had it any other way.

“We were always busy from one thing to the next, but we loved watching our kids compete because it was so much fun,” Tana says. “I look back on those days now, the hotel stays, riding in cars, spending that time interacting and being together as a family, and remember how fun it was.”

Jenkins Sports Oak Island NC

Even with the hectic schedules, Tana and Clay insisted on making schoolwork a priority in the Jenkins household. Other values they made sure to instill in both children were the importance of being respectful to others and always being a good teammate, both on and off the field.

“Teaching those life lessons in sports as parents is important, so I wanted to teach my kids that they can be successful, but to always try to be good team players as well,” Tana says.

For Walker, baseball began taking precedence during his middle school years, and by high school, it was clear he was no ordinary player.

His notoriety started after a showcase the summer after freshman year, where Clay says college scouts and agents from across the country began taking notice and making offers.

“I went to that event with Walker not expecting anyone to even talk to us, but at the end of the weekend I probably had 60 phone numbers I was supposed to return calls to,” Clay says. “Walker had gone down to Atlanta and really looked good, but that’s how he’d always looked to me. It was the first time where I thought maybe he’s got something.”

The Perfect Game organization ranked Walker as one of the best players in the country, and in the summer of 2021, he was chosen to represent the United States on the national team. After four stellar seasons at South Brunswick High School, Walker graduated in the spring of 2023. On July 9, 2023, as the 5th pick in the Major League Baseball Draft, Walker was drafted by the Minnesota Twins. Although these past few years have been a bevy of excitement, Walker’s family knows the added attention hasn’t diminished his humble spirit in any way.

Oak Island NC Jenkins Family

“I grew up traveling to Walker’s tournaments but never realized how skilled he was at baseball until he started getting fan mail, which was so weird,” Molly says. “To me he’s just Walker, my brother, but at school friends started bringing me baseballs for him to sign, and people who’ve grown up with Walker began asking him for a picture or signature. None of that’s seemed to faze him.”

Clay says that Walker is very outgoing, but he does not brag and he does not seek attention. “That is one of the things the MLB teams and scouts talk about as much as his ability to play,” Clay says. “He’s an exceptionally good player, but he’s also a great teammate and friend.”

Walker is not the only one garnering attention for his athletic abilities, as 15-year-old rising sophomore Molly prepares for her second season on South Brunswick High’s varsity volleyball team. She also plays soccer for the school and competes on a travel volleyball team, and her brother is one of her biggest fans.

“Molly is tough as nails and can deal with anything,” Walker says. “She’s writing her own path, and she’s turned into a really good volleyball player and an even better person.”

When Molly is not busy with schoolwork or competing for her teams, she is often practicing her skills at home with one of her parents. She says she never realized until recently how supportive Clay and Tana have always been in both her and her brother’s athletic pursuits.

“I just thought it was normal growing up that both my parents were always outside playing with us, hitting baseballs, kicking soccer balls and playing volleyball in the yard,” Molly says. “They’ve always encouraged Walker and me to succeed in what we do, whether it’s school or athletics. A lot of parents might not always be willing to take time out of their day to help their kids practice, especially if it’s not something they enjoy, but our parents are always there to help us practice if we want, and that’s really helped me become better in the sports that I play.”

Now, as Molly dominates in high school athletics and Walker sets out to begin his professional baseball career, Tana and Clay look forward to watching both children live out their dreams. From cheering from the stands and coaching from the sidelines to the countless miles of traveling, hours of practicing and all the life lessons in between, the Jenkins team continues to support each other in every possible way.

“My parents love my sister and me and are willing to do whatever it takes to make us happy, and I think that’s the motto they live by,” Walker says. “They’re going to do what they can to help us succeed and live the lives we want to live. They’re just great parents.”

Photography by Matt McGraw