“I used to get really worried, ‘What are we going to talk about next year?’ ” Baker said Tuesday at Wayne High School while announcing the details of the clinic. “All I have to do is turn on the news. Inevitably, it sorts itself out.”
Baker’s clinic, which kicks off the 2017 version of his Pro Football Mini Camp, will feature a theme of “racial empathy,” and will be headlined by legendary Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer.
There will be X’s and O’s on March 18, too, courtesy of the Indiana University coaching staff, but the centerpiece will be a panel discussion touching on the issue of racial empathy. How can football, and sports in general, be used to empathize with people from diverse backgrounds?
“It just seems like a really relevant topic right now,” Baker said. “A lot of stuff is going on and people are raising their hands and saying, ‘I’d like to contribute to that,’ ” Baker said. “We’re not going to hide from stuff that’s real and relevant. It’s a great opportunity to do it, and we have a great group to participate in the panel discussion, a really interesting group of people.”
Baker, a Wayne High School alum who spent 11 years as an NFL punter, said he will announce the people participating in the panel at a later date. The clinic is open to area coaches at all levels, and is free. It begins at 4:30 p.m. March 18 at Wayne, and registration is available online at profootballminicamp.com.
The mini camp for middle school players is May 20-21 at Wayne.
Baker is excited about Beamer coming as the keynote speaker. Beamer has 280 career wins as a college coach, most famously while directing Virginia Tech to 23 consecutive bowl games, including a spot in the national championship game in 1999.
“I’ve always been a fan of Frank,” Baker said. “A lot of people know him as the godfather of special teams in collegiate football. One of his talks is ‘The Quickest Way to Win Football Games’ and he talks about special teams. All of his players are gritty, tough, smart football players.”
Baker and his wife Carol Lindsey have become friends with Beamer’s daughter, and the Beamers have a lake house near Baker’s in-laws, so that helped him land the coach to speak.
“When his coaching career stopped, I thought, ‘Ding!’ ” Baker said. “Active head coaches are hard to come by because of their schedules. I reached out and shared with him. He's busy with speaking events but he was adamant about the profile of our event and being able to participate in it.”
The mini camp is entering its 12th year and the coaches clinic will be in its ninth year.
Baker values both, and says the chance to reach the kids by reaching coaches adds an essential layer to the project. Baker lives in Charlotte, N.C., but returns to oversee the camp every year.
“If we’re going to try to change the culture these kids are in, can we do it in a weekend, or can we influence the people who actually have the other 51 weekends of the year, give or take?” Baker said. “We focus on that, empowering (coaches), giving them tools and resources that are not available to them. We have it here, minimize the barriers, no cost.”
Baker said if he were to stop and name the 10 most influential people in his life, he guesses six or seven of them would be coaches.
Baker says finding ongoing sponsors for the clinic and mini camp has become easier over the years. In addition to teaching football, camp participants work on a local service project at the beginning of the weekend as their “cost” for being part of the camp.
“People who are familiar with what we’re doing, whether I’m involved with it or not, they would still be around,” Baker said. “They fell in love with the mission and the product of what we’re doing. Our goal is to try to change the culture of our young men, primarily young men but some women. When they go on to real life, what are the tools they take with them? The byproducts of those stories make me excited (to keep the camp going).”