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High character

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Shelbyville's Matt Baker competes in the 1,600-meter run.
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Shelbyville's Matt Baker stands with Waldron's Jacob James after a cross country meet in the fall.
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Shelbyville's Matt Baker, right, hands the baton off to a teammate during the 3,200-meter relay.

By KRIS MILLS - kmills@shelbynews.com

This is a two-part series from The Shelbyville News. The second TSN Sportsmanship Award winner will be in Wednesday’s sports section.

I remember the first time I met Matt Baker at Blue River Park for a cross country meet in the fall of 2017. Then a sophomore, it was obvious this young, skinny kid had some talent as a runner.

But Baker’s communication skills were even better, especially for his age. He is an easy interview and does well in explaining his thoughts. Simply put, Baker is a bright kid who can run. But more importantly, he is well-liked by his teammates. He has a humble personality but is not afraid to compete. As a running coach, what else could you ask for in a junior?

But what stands out the most about Baker to me is his sportsmanship. No matter the school, a friend is a friend. And Baker supports his friends.

Waldron junior Jacob James has also had his fair share of success during cross country and track and field each of the last three seasons of high school. With Waldron and Shelbyville competing against one another when the postseason rolls around in both sports, James and Baker have developed a unique bond.

Cross country and track can be a bit odd. Athletes from opposing schools commonly become friends and actually push each other in meets. Sometimes, for a stretch of time anyway, they may even work together. That can’t be said for all sports — certainly not football, for example.

My point is this: These guys get it. They are out there running miles and miles against one another. They might as well develop some personal bonds along the way. Baker does this better than most.

I can point to two different instances where I saw Baker root for James — one was at the regional track meet at Warren Central this past track and field season and the other was at the Shelbyville Semistate during cross country season in 2018. Both times, James advanced to the IHSAA State Finals.

Let me repeat, a kid from a 4A school was happy and excited that a kid — and a competitor — from a Class A school advanced to state. I saw the look on Baker’s face after James' 3,200 race at Warren Central in May. Rather than show jealousy, he was genuinely happy for his buddy. 

In a day and age where kids constantly roast each other on social media for fun, that was, without a doubt, the best moment of my year regarding high school sports.

For his high character, Baker has been awarded the 2019 TSN Sportsmanship Award.

As a sophomore, Baker helped Shelbyville’s 3,200-meter relay team qualify for state. The team finished 27th overall. In the fall (now a junior) during cross country season at the Shelbyville Semistate, Baker placed 83rd in 17:10. This past spring he competed in the 1,600 at the Warren Central Regional, finishing ninth overall in 4:42.

At the end of the season, SHS head track coach Nick Blakey named Baker a team captain for next year.

But I doubt any of his friends, teammates or coaches will remember him for his athletic success. Above anything, Baker, when he graduates in 2020, should be remembered as a stand-up guy.

Kris Mills is the Sports editor of The Shelbyville News. Follow Kris on Twitter @KrisMills37.