For many teenagers, participating in high school athletics comes so naturally that it can be taken for granted. An injury, tragedy or a disability can take away one’s dreams of performing at the varsity level in an instant.

Such is not the case for 16-year-old Jack Walker, who is a junior at North Haven Community School.

Walker suffers from a condition called albinism, which is defined as a person who has little or no pigment in their eyes, skin and hair. Problems with vision are always present with those who suffer from albinism, with the degree of vision impairment varying from case to case.

Walker is legally blind. He will never be able to drive a car, operate heavy machinery or be able to fully take in such beautiful sights as the Eiffel Tower, the Sistine Chapel or Fenway Park.

But don’t tell him he cannot play basketball, as he has been proving otherwise on the court at North Haven for the past three years.

Walker, a 5-foot-9-inch guard, is one of seven varsity basketball players this season for the Hawks. While he admittedly is a “benchwarmer,” being on a team with only two available subs essentially guarantees playing time for all North Haven team members.

And Walker is no exception.

Walker has averaged 10 minutes a game on the floor this season for the Hawks, while last season he averaged roughly six minutes per contest. He added that he and coach Ryan Lantagne try and limit his time on the floor due to the fact that he gets not only disoriented after too long on the floor, but tends to get frustrated when he makes mistakes.

“We usually have me go in to play in two-minute intervals,” Walker said. “Unless we have someone in foul trouble or if the team really needs me.”

Walker has only played basketball over the past three years, as he transferred to North Haven from Monhegan Island during his freshman year. Monhegan School does not have a large enough enrollment to offer legitimate athletic programs and he did not play basketball prior to moving to Monhegan, when he was a student at Bristol Consolidated School.

North Haven did not have a varsity basketball program when Walker was a freshman, as the Hawks were still in a two-year probation from the Maine Principals’ Association after their numbers were too low to field a team prior to the 2006-07 season. The team then operated as a jayvee program, where Walker first got his start.

“We didn’t have enough students to actually have tryouts, so if you wanted to be on the team, you were on the team,” said Walker. “When you think high school sports you think tons of tryouts, tons of kids, but this school [is] different. They pretty much asked you if you could be on the team, and I said, ‘Why not?’ Sports, exercise, it’s probably going to be good for me.”

Playing a jayvee schedule was different, given the fact that the Hawks only played a handful of games throughout the entire season. But once their varsity status was reinstated prior to last season, and the Hawks were now playing multiple games in a given week, Walker had to re-evaluate.

Walker defined what he could see on the court as “organized blurs” and added, “It’s hard for me to see the basketball and be able to concentrate on the other people running around me.”

Admittedly, defense is where Walker does his best work on the hardwood.

“With offensive play, I’m pretty hindered,” he said. “I mean, if the ball’s coming at me, you’ve got a 50-50 chance that I’m either going to catch it or it’s going to hit me in the face and roll away. But defense is different because I’m focused on people. That’s where my aggression and where my focus towards the sport really start to come out. That’s where I play my best.”

But that doesn’t mean he cannot score points.

In a home game last season against neighboring Islesboro, and the outcome of the game already decided, Walker played a significant portion of the fourth quarter against the playoff-bound Eagles. Walker was open on the right wing and canned a 3-pointer, which brought nearly the entire gymnasium to their feet.

Walker also recalled that moment.

“When I hit those shots I’m always like, ‘Wow, I just did that?’ ” he said. “And when the whole crowd starts jumping up and cheering, it really boosts my confidence and I start playing even better. It’s a really good feeling.”

He also recalls his first varsity point, which he scored at the foul line last year in a game at A.R. Gould. “I was so excited it was ridiculous,” he said.

Walker netted seven points last season, and has six points so far this year. All of his varsity field goals have been 3-pointers.

Obviously, it’s not just athletics that is affected for Walker. While clearly not completely blind, Walker reads and writes with a 24-inch font, where the average font is 12 by comparison. He added that his condition does not lend itself to his otherwise independent nature, as he normally needs to depend on others to tell him where he is going and where things are.

Whether it is his teammates on the court, classmates in school or the community in general, Walker receives plenty of encouragement in all aspects of his life.

“They are more supportive than I give them credit for,” said Walker. “I have problems with my self-esteem, so I don’t find all these compliments that people give me. They’re always there, and the people around me are all very, very supportive people. They’ll see me until the end and they support me in everything I do, not only basketball.”

The majority of the others teams that face the Hawks are unaware of Walker’s condition, with the exception, of course, with their opposition from the neighboring Penobscot Bay islands.

“I don’t think any of the teams except for Islesboro and Vinalhaven know much about it,” he said. “I know most of the Islesboro kids personally because we’ve played against them for three years and we’ve become friends with them, and Vinalhaven because I know most of the people there. But they don’t treat me any differently only because I just tell them not to.”

Many high school varsity players around the state have visions of holding a gold ball in their hands after winning the state championship. However, Walker puts everything in perspective, saying he is merely grateful for the opportunity he has at North Haven to walk onto the court every night with his teammates and compete.

“For me it’s about hanging out with my friends,” he said. “Basketball is fun, it’s a sport, but it’s never really been about the winning for me. We look at ourselves in the mirror, and we know we’re not the best team out there. But we know we’re not the worst. It’s just about having fun, being with people that I like and enjoying playing a sport that I really just wouldn’t [have the opportunity to] play if I weren’t here.”

Walker also has aspirations of becoming a rock musician, as he plays electric guitar and has done so since moving to North Haven. He hopes to attend a college that specializes in music after graduation next year with the Class of 2011.

Village NetMedia Associate Sports Director Mark Haskell can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail at mhaskell@villagesoup.com.