The following was released on Tuesday, April 16, 2019:
FORT WAYNE, IN – Former NFL punter Jason Baker’s philanthropic efforts have provided football and character development guidance to thousands of young people in the Fort Wayne area for the past 15 years. Effective this year, one part of that work – the 10-year-old Pro Football Mini Camp for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, will be discontinued. A coach’s clinic affiliated with the mini camp, which each year featured advice from a nationally recognized speaker and coaches from top college football programs, will also be discontinued. That doesn’t mean Baker is going away. Baker said he and local partner Edmond O’Neal will instead focus on creating systemic, sustainable change in Allen County football programs with a new initiative that will be formally announced soon. “We have an unbelievable number of consistent, reliable supporters and we’ve been doing this for a really long time,” said Baker, a Wayne High School graduate. “In the beginning, we set out to create a sustainable public resource. That focus hasn’t changed. We have been successful in educating ourselves and the community about the issues surrounding our game and its impact on the community, as well as providing opportunities for our youth to engage in real servant leadership. “But it’s time to shift the focus away from hosting events that create awareness and instead be catalysts for systemic and sustainable change. Kids don’t need another camp. The coaches don’t need another clinic. There are plenty of options for camps and coaching clinics these days. We can provide leadership in the new initiative and we believe that’s more valuable.” Baker and O’Neal said they have begun the process of building a team to help lead the initiative and that the conversation began more than a year ago. They remain focused on player safety and development, professional development for coaches, and healthy interaction between coaches and parents. “We’ll have the experts in the room to define what the right version of all of this is,” Baker said. “Where people are excited for their child to play football. The truth is, the game of football is contracting. The roots of the game are dying. The long-term products of this game are too valuable to the individuals who are involved and the communities they live in. Change is needed.
“So, we’ll continue to gather the key influencers and work toward an ideal. What should football look like if it’s done right? What should the experience be for the players, the parents, the coaches? What’s the difference between that and what we currently have? We’re going to facilitate that dialogue and push for the necessary change.” Added O’Neal: “We’re not going in with a preconceived notion of how it should be structured. That will come from the leadership within the various football communities.” The mini camp, a spring staple at Wayne High School, was unique because it required young people to complete a servant leadership project for admission to the camp. In that regard and in other ways, the camp was more about elevating character than excelling at football. The coach’s clinic, meanwhile, featured coaching instruction from some of the Midwest’s top college coaches, including representatives of Purdue, Indiana and Notre Dame. Baker said he is happy with the accomplishments of both the camp and clinic. “But we want change that outlasts any of our involvement,” he said. “Philanthropy for the sake of philanthropy doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. No one has ever won a game without scoring points. We’ve made a lot of first downs over the last decade and we’re proud of that. But it’s time to score some points. The message here is not that we’re stopping. It is that we are shifting to make the impact we’ve been working toward all of these years.”