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The Journal Gazette

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Camp staffer Tim Koehlinger works with participants of the Jason Baker Pro Football Mini Camp during a flag football scrimmage Saturday at Wayne High School.

Monday, May 22, 2017 1:00 am

Lessons of Baker camp: Stay dry, go with flow

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

In a decade of running youth football camps at Wayne, his alma mater, Jason Baker learned to adjust to circumstances on the fly.

The 10th annual Pro Football Mini Camp put on by the retired NFL punter moved indoors Saturday when heavy rains hit the area. Turns out, the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders attending the event learned a little bit of how to go with the flow.

“It's funny; it's not ideal, but we were all discussing how great of a lesson this is,” Baker said. “One of the unique things about football is you have to go to a Plan B and make it work and make the most of it.”

Naturally, organizers expected to be on the field at Wayne Stadium when putting kids through drills. Instead, a basketball court played host to the football work on the first day of the two-day camp that concluded Sunday.

“It's no different than anything else in life,” said Edmond O'Neal, Baker's chief organizer. “You figure out what you can do and move forward with that. We have a captive audience with the kids, and it was not responsible to have them outside in the lightning and rain. The staff at Wayne was gracious enough to let us use the inside of the facility.

“You can get the work done both mentally and physically without being outside.”

While some of the region's top high school coaches provide instruction, Baker also emphasizes the camp teaching off-the-field values. In that regard, a new aspect this year was a trip Saturday morning to the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo.

“Selfishly speaking, I consider myself sort of an amateur philanthropist, and what I've learned through this thing at the zoo is they're essentially a monument to philanthropy of the city of Fort Wayne,” Baker said. “The whole reason it exists is because a whole bunch of people have stepped up for 50 years, and it is literally one of the best zoos in the United States, and I don't just say that because I'm from here.”

Baker's camp costs nothing for participants. In exchange, kids chip in on a project of what Baker calls “servant leadership,” and this year it was supporting the care of the animals.

“Our whole goal is to change the way these kids live and view their relationship with the community,” Baker said. “The zoo may not be the first thing you think about, but when you consider education, conservation and the philanthropic side of the zoo, we're serving generations of people behind us by explaining to kids why that's so valuable.”

It was no ordinary visit, as zoo officials took campers behind the scenes to the medical ward.

“What I love is when we have a servant-leadership experience that actually impacts me,” Baker said. “I'm sitting there looking at this place thinking, 'How does someone sustain this for 50-plus years?' It is not just there; it's thriving. A lot of people, especially kids, probably think it's just an entertainment thing, but there's so much happening there.”

Rain or shine, life ­marches on.

“We had the whole practice plan designed around the space we had outside,” Baker said. “This group of ­coaches saw the weather and had a plan put in place, so when the kids got back from the zoo, they were ready to rock. They're getting exposed to a group of coaches who just taught them a lesson on how to make an adjustment and maximize the situation they're in.”