(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)
SENIOR SENDOFF: Baker’s senior season the result of years of work…
Perhaps the most Wade Baker moment happened two years ago. The Chewelah football team was flagged for unnecessary roughness and when then Head Coach Levi Hogan asked who the flag was on, he got a response from the ref that caused the sideline to erupt in protest.
“That’s Wade Baker. WADE? Unnecessary roughness? That guy is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, you have got to be kidding me,” Hogan protested to the ref.
The next play or two later was a punt. The Cougar sideline simply saw a blue blur streak past them and make contact with the opposing team’s punt returner. The resulting impact had a sound akin to the first nuclear test in Nevada, as the perfect form tackle make the football pads crack in such a way, people probably heard it while fueling up at Pacific Pride and JMT just outside of Chewelah.
The person doing the tackling? None other than Wade Baker.
Baker is coming off a weekend that has showcased his hard work and grit through the years as Cougar athlete.
Graduating this year, Baker remembers his freshman year coming into the high school track program with not the most impressive marks.
“I think I threw the shot put about 26 feet,” Baker said. “I’ve been working a lot on improving from that freshman year. It’s a little different from someone like Lily Kirry who was an amazing athlete and just consistently performs at this high level. For throwing, you’re just consistently working at a certain level and then that eventually leads to your busting through to the next level.”
According to Baker’s mom and Chewelah volleyball and track coach Shirley Baker, the Chewelah athlete is one of those younger kids for his grade (something people out there can relate to!). As a senior, he’s only 17 right now, and playing sports like football, track and wrestling usually gives the advantage to older athletes. But Baker’s frame certainly turns heads (that happens when you take third at state, then stand on the podium and are almost taller than the kid in first place), and he has just gotten progressively better and more dominant as an athlete for the Cougars. His senior season may have been his biggest breakout year. In football, he was the rock on both the offensive and defensive lines as Chewelah made the state quarterfinals.
“Football season was a big confidence boost,” Baker said. “In my junior year, we won just one game. But this time around Coach Fisk came back and Coach Gump did a great job and we just had a lot of bonding this year as a team.”
When Chewelah was playing on the west side against Napavine in the quarterfinals, one Independent reporter’s phone was going off from western Washington media members rather disappointed that the Chewelah newspaper hadn’t informed them of one of the best defensive lines they’d seen. Baker said that football lit the fire in a lot of kids to continue to improve and it carried over into other sports.
Then wrestling season rolled around, and Baker placed third in the Tacoma Dome, in the always tough heavyweight division. Then track season came around. With his parents Shirley and Whit Baker also serving as the Track and Field coaches for Chewelah, Baker could spend time outside of practice discussing technique and strategy.
“It’s amazing to have them as a resource with all their knowledge,” Baker said. “Mom made it to the Olympic Trials as an athlete and dad was a decathlete so he knows so much about every event.”
Beyond Chewelah track practice, Baker has been training through the summer and aligned with coaches of the Ironwood Throwers Camp.
“He has absorbed every piece of advice and technique they have imparted,” Shirley Baker said. “It also helps that I have a lot of technical experience in these events, so I know what I am looking at when he needs a correction or is doing something well.”
Shirley said while they talk about throwing a lot, they probably only practice outside of team practice during the season about three or four times. Due to him reaching a level of strength and coordination at his age which allows him to perform at a higher level, his effort and time paid off in the track season.
“Throwing something like the discus is a lot of technique,” Baker said. “It’s just one of those things, where say in the shot put you throw 50 feet one time and you may not throw it again. So you have to work on consistency and being so consistent that you eventually get better. You have to stay mentally focused.”
Baker didn’t stay in one spot very often. He continued to get better and better marks his senior season while taking first in many meets and winning district championships in the shot put and discus. At State, he placed third in the shot put with a personal best of 47-8, whereas in the discus he threw a mark of 133-11.
“He switched from the glide to the spin at the end of his sophomore season and had to learn a complete new method,” his dad Whit Baker said. “Some techniques carried over from the discus. He also just kept growing. There are things like the size of the rings not being equal which are a challenge. Being in the weight room year round is a big bonus, and that has helped a lot with his throws. He has worked hard and diligently all season.”
Shirley added that field events see surges in marks after an athlete will plateau for a bit and then continue to get better. His stepping stone shot put throw of 47-1 in districts on a rainy Central Valley shot put pit showed that he was ready to break into 48 or 49 feet and he very well almost did it at State.
College coaches took notice to Baker’s career in football and track. While he was getting looked by by Montana State University, they only offered him the opportunity to walk on. But Wade found an opportunity with Waldorf College in Iowa and now the Chewelah Cougar will get the chance to play both sports. He received a scholarship to compete in both sports for the NAIA school. So the future looks bright in terms of his athletic career. Off the field, it looks even better. Baker is finishing his application for his Eagle Scout rank within the Boy Scouts. Talk to people around Chewelah and they’ll tell you Baker is one of the nicest people in town and he is quite literally the altar boy at St. Mary’s (significantly taller than Fr. Steve).
“It’s a lot of work trying to balance homework before and after school, Scouts on Monday, feeding horses and continuing to practice and train,” Baker said. “You have to keep persevering and you can’t get behind and you can’t be tired.”
Baker recently finished his Eagle Scout project of putting in new benches at the St. Mary’s cemetery up Flowery Trail Road. The new benches will be dedicated to community members who have passed on. The idea had come up when the Bakers heard of older community members not being able to go to the cemetery because there was no place to sit.
The project took several months to plan and finally took shape in May for Mother’s Day weekend.
“Scouts have been an amazing experience,” Baker, who has been in scouts since first grade, said. He earned his Arrow of Light as a Cub Scout and is a member of the Order of the Arrow. “Since we moved to Chewelah in seventh grade, I’ve been in it with my brother Gareth, Wyatt Smith and Zak Grubb. In and out of scouts, these guys are your friends and it’s something I would highly recommend for kids to do.”
Chances are the state track meet won’t be the last year hear about Baker, and while he will be shipping off to Iowa this summer, he will have some interested Chewelah community members keeping tabs on the kid that’s been impressive both on and off the field.