Sedgebrook resident's 'Baker Ball' a home run with youth
Long before bullying became a point of national concern, Marvin Baker was making sure that young athletes felt included in sports, no matter their ability or gender.
A resident of Sedgebrook senior living community in Lincolnshire, Marvin taught physical education at Oak Terrace Elementary School in Highwood and Lincoln Elementary in Highland Park for more than 40 years. He also began a youth baseball program that, at its height, included nearly 500 young players across several Northern suburbs.
"Never once in all those years did I allow children to choose their own teammates. I wanted them all to step out on the floor or field and say, 'I'm not afraid to fail; just watch me'," said Marvin.
He was also determined not to let the best athletes monopolize starting positions. In the name of impartiality, he employed an arbitrary system that had nothing to do with physical prowess.
Dubbed "Baker Ball," the baseball program Marvin established through the Highland Park/Highwood Park District ran under his leadership from 1970 until 2010. At a time when coach pitch leagues and parent involvement in sports programs were nonexistent, Marvin realized the fallibility of 7- to 9-year-olds pitching to their peers.
"Most kids were striking out or walking," he said, "and I wanted them to have more activity and confidence in the game."
With this in mind, Marvin launched a program in which he and high school and college students would do the pitching so that kids could do more hitting. Batting order depended on the alphabet, and rules were established that would also allow them to do more throwing.
Five years into the increasingly popular program (registration lines formed at 5 a.m.!), girls started playing coed games with the boys. And when students with special needs began mainstreaming into the school system, Baker Ball was open to them, too.
"When girls and kids with special needs started joining, that was a highlight for me," Marvin said. "It was like watching your own kids," added the father and grandfather of children who all played in his league. "And the parents were so grateful."
A former student and football player at Northern Illinois University, Marvin also founded an equally successful youth basketball program. Like his baseball league, it was focused on fairness and inclusion.
While he is too humble to discuss it, Marvin has had significant influence on youngsters over the years. Perhaps the greatest testament to that is the number of former athletes whose own children joined Baker Ball and also returned to help him coach. Today, the program is managed largely by those who played in the league themselves.
At Sedgebrook, where Marvin and his wife Susan have lived for the past year and a half, Marvin has met people who are parents and grandparents of his former players.
"That was a nice surprise," said the sports lover, who takes full advantage of Sedgebrook's many fitness opportunities and is eager to get more involved in all that the community has to offer.
"Sedgebrook was a great fit for us," he said.
For information, visit www.WelcomeToSedgebrook.com or call (847) 901-3319.
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