Disabato: Eisenhower football player Kenny Baker truly an inspiration
August 8, 2011 6:56PM
Vincent Holmes (left) a football coach at Eisenhower High School, works with Kenny Baker during a break from practice at the school in Blue Island. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 23, 2012 3:23AM
Kenny Baker could have chosen a different outlook on life.
He could have played the sympathy card, banking on the compassion of others. He could have cut corners, on the field and in the classroom, guessing that no coach or classmate, teacher or teammate would dare call him on it.
That’s not, however, the way Baker has chosen to live his life.
“From Day 1 when he was a freshman, he said to me, ‘Don’t treat me any different than anybody else,’ ” Eisenhower coach Travis Moore said. “Kenny doesn’t look at his situation as a disability. He never wants to be treated special, so I don’t treat him special.”
Kenny Baker is an inspiration — not only to fellow football players and athletes but to anyone who isn’t willing to put in the time and effort to reach their God-given potential in life.
The young man, a junior at Eisenhower, was born with one arm.
Football is difficult enough to play with two arms. Baker executes it at a level better than many with one.
I stopped by Eisenhower during a 7-on-7 scrimmage on a steamy July afternoon. I watched Baker, a defensive back, intercept three passes. Cleanly, and with relative ease.
“He’s going to be a two-year starter and by the time he’s a senior, he’ll probably be a captain,” said Moore, an Eisenhower graduate. “He’s a fearless tackler. He has speed, skill and he’s tough.”
That much was evident during the scrimmage and later, at a practice. His abilities and determination inspire his teammates.
“He comes to practice and never complains,” Eisenhower quarterback Justin Geiter said. “If he did complain we would understand. But he does everything that the rest of the team does. We don’t look at him like he has one arm. He has so much heart, and he’s a great player. He’s like (Baltimore Ravens defensive back) Ed Reed — he can lay the wood on you. We call him (Randy) “Moss,” because he can catch the ball so easy with one hand. He’s definitely an inspiration to everyone on this team.”
Baker puts on his shoulder pads and jersey and adjusts his helmet without assistance. Try doing that with just one arm.
If the Cardinals weren’t so loaded in the backfield, he would receive more of an opportunity to run and catch the ball, according to Moore.
But Baker’s skills are needed on defense. A safety, the 5-foot-9, 160-pounder is one of the hardest hitters in the program.
It’s not by accident.
“Players from other teams look at me when I come on the field like I shouldn’t be out there,” said Baker, a graduate of Keller Middle School in Robbins. “I take that personally. When I hit them, that usually stops. Growing up, I hated when people would ask me, ‘What happened,’ I would ask myself, ‘Why was I born without an arm?’ But I’ve gotten over that a long time ago. I challenge myself to do what everyone else does and to do it better. I’m able to do everything anybody else can, except I can’t stiff arm someone. If I had two arms, that would be my favorite move.
“But I consider myself blessed to be able to do what I do.”
At a recent summer camp, Moore required each of his players to flip a massive tractor tire. It’s a difficult task with two arms, much less one.
“Kenny got a little frustrated at first,” Moore recalled. “He said, ‘I can’t do that, coach.’ That was really unlike him to say something like that. But that tire weighs more than him and it was like 100 degrees outside. I gave him a little help to get going. He ended up flipping that tire 15 times. That shows you the kind of determination he has.”
Baker, whose favorite subject in school is science, attributes much of his spirit to his uncle, Roosevelt Henderson. It was his uncle who signed him up at age 11 to play with the Blue Island Untouchables youth football organization.
“The first day of practice I just fell in love with the game,” said Baker, a big Bears and Penn State fan. “I live with my uncle and he’s been there every day for me and he comes to all of my games. He makes sure I keep working hard to achieve my dreams.”
One of those dreams is helping Eisenhower qualify for the playoffs this season. The Cardinals, who finished 3-6 a year ago, haven’t tasted playoff football since 2008.
Baker is confident that’s about to change.
“I can’t wait for the first game,” said Baker, whose Cards open up at Rich East. “We’re going to surprise a lot of people this year.”