Beyond the Bench Award: Naperville Central's Barry Baldwin
Barry Baldwin's father gave him sage advice as a child.
"He told me whatever I do, make it so they can't afford to lose you," he said.
Try to imagine Naperville Central without Baldwin, the school's longtime head boys golf coach and assistant girls soccer coach who's woven into the fabric of the building. For more than two decades the English teacher has found ways to give back to the school and the community, but the 2019-20 school year may have been the topper.
In addition to the work he's done for 22 years as Naperville Central's J. Kyle Braid Foundation adviser, for the last four years Baldwin's spearheaded an effort to gather and donate gift cards to the Ronald McDonald House.
For that and everything else he does to help others, Baldwin has been chosen to receive the Daily Herald's Prep Sports Excellence Beyond the Bench Award.
"There are certain people in buildings that everyone knows," said Redhawks girls soccer coach Ed Watson. "Barry is that guy at Naperville Central. As soon as he made the decision to go into education, he made the decision to help others."
Last fall Baldwin and Naperville North boys golf coach Ryan Hantak organized the District 203 Mikey Gustafson/Connor Hunt Match Play Cup to honor a student from each school who died from cancer. They raised $10,000 for the Swifty Foundation, which focuses on tissue donation and pediatric brain research.
Of all the charitable work he's involved with, though, the gift card drive especially strikes close to Baldwin's heart.
His former student at Naperville Central, multisport athlete Justin Wegner, passed away from cancer last July. It was Wegner's idea to start the gift card drive that helps families staying at the Ronald McDonald House meet whatever needs the might have -- food, clothes ... anything gift cards can cover.
Inspired by Wegner, Baldwin has helped raise $36,000 in gift cards including $10,000 last school year during the two-month fundraiser in December and January. Delivering the donations just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the timing couldn't have been better.
"Whether the cards have 50 cents or five dollars on them, every little bit helps those families staying at the Ronald McDonald House," Baldwin said. "I give all the credit to Justin. He got me involved. He wanted to thank Ronald McDonald House for putting his family up and helping them out while he underwent treatment."
A graduate of Naperville North and the University of Iowa, Baldwin started as a campus supervisor at Naperville Central before becoming a teacher. Retired Redhawks athletic director Marty Bee convinced him to become involved with JKB, a nationwide student leadership group.
From there, Baldwin became the go-to guy for anything that came up at the Naperville Central. He continues to be the public address announcer for girls basketball games and he's an event supervisor in the winter.
"He'll do whatever he can to help people," Bee said. "He wants to better Naperville Central and the community. When he sees an opening, he just gets after it."
When school resumes -- hopefully in person -- Baldwin will be ready to weave himself back into the building he loves.
"If there's a gap to fill, I'm going to jump in and fill it," Baldwin said. "It's just what I do."