The 2023 Champions Gala is March 15, at Studio One, in Highland Park. There are so many great reasons for you to be there and support the Foundation, but the special presentation of this year’s Legacy Award is something you truly don’t want to miss.
If you were one of the hundreds of kids who were learning to play baseball or basketball under Coach Baker, he knew your name. And he remembered it when you grew up, got married, and brought your kids to play on the teams he was coaching. Long before psychologists studied the effects of that, Marv Baker knew exactly how important it was to each and every student and young athlete he taught. It was a sign of respect. An indication of how much he cared for you as a person. You called him Mr. Baker. Or Coach Baker. “It was a real milestone in your life when you were an adult, and could call him Marv,” said his son, Doug. And as the ultimate sign of respect for their coach, everyone who played in his baseball and basketball leagues—and their parents—called it BakerBall.
Everyone was welcome to play BakerBall. That was one of the joys, and part of the experience that made being around Marv so memorable. His approach to teaching youth sports was inclusive and impartial. The best local athletes and kids with special needs were on the same team, and they all learned much more than how to play the game. Of course, they were drilled on the fundamentals—the game isn’t fun for anyone without knowing the rules and having some skills. But coach taught that it wasn’t about the scoreboard or the won-loss record. When they learned how to back up the throw, they were becoming team players. And when they learned how to not be afraid of failure they took that lesson into adulthood, taught it to their kids, and became successful business leaders.
BakerBall kids grew into high school athletes, and they returned year after year to work with Marv coaching the next generation of young players. Some of them now manage the programs they started in, teaching what they were taught: love the game; be humble in victory; learn how to lose gracefully. Coach Baker was ahead of his time in making sure that parents and fans behaved properly at games as well. He insisted on only positive cheering, and would stop a game if necessary to toss a belligerent parent out of the park. “He was kind of a big guy, having been an offensive lineman in college,” said Doug, “so there was typically not much pushback!”
Marv Baker grew up in DeKalb, and early on knew that youth sports education was his passion.
He was a 3-letter varsity athlete—baseball, basketball, and football—and attended Northern Illinois University on a football scholarship. He began his teaching career in Highwood, at Oak Terrace Elementary School, while raising a family. That’s when he started the BakerBall youth leagues and began to instill his philosophy of the game in the area’s young players. “Parents respected my dad,” says his daughter Patti, “and knew instinctively that their kids were in good hands. They also chose his programs because of their inclusivity.”
Marv instilled a love of sports in his children as well as his grandchildren. While his oldest daughter, Susie, played softball, she did not play BakerBall. “At that time, I would have been the first girl in the program, and he didn’t want to put me in that awkward position of being included because I was the coach’s daughter,” she said. A few years later, when Patti was old enough, she did play in the program, since girls were now included. “He showed no mercy,” Patti remembers, “when I hit a hard line drive, he caught it just like any other!” Later, Susie’s two children, Nick and Sami, and Patti’s two children, Sophia and Anthony, all played BakerBall under their #1 Papa. Henry, Doug’s son, is just 3 years old, but BakerBall is waiting.
Susie, Patti, and Doug all replayed a similar memory: not fully appreciating the impact their dad had on the community—both the kids and their parents—until they were a little older. “My dad always rode his bike everywhere,” said Patti, and one day in high school another kid opened a window and yelled out ‘Hi Mr. Baker!’. That’s when I figured out that everyone knew him.” When Susie went to U of I, and told people where she was from, “They would ask if Mr. Baker was my dad. That was pretty amazing.”
Marv was, above all, a family man. A loving husband to two wives, Beverly for 5-1/2 years and Sue for 51 years. “He would always tell me how lucky he was to have found two loves of his life,” said Susie. As a father, and a grandfather, he never missed a school concert or an open house, or, of course, a game. Whether it was soccer, baseball, softball, volleyball, or football, he was there in what must have been his favorite role, #1 Papa.
Coach retired from his job as a Physical Education teacher in 2005, after a 40-year career. He coached his last BakerBall players in the summer of 2009. When he and Sue moved to Sedgebrook, in Lincolnshire, in 2017, it was no surprise that there were people there—parents and grandparents of his former players—who knew him. Of course they did!
Marv succumbed to the ravages of ALS on April 1, 2022. “The irony of it being April Fool’s Day was not lost on those who knew his big sense of humor,” said Doug. On Wednesday, March 15, at the Parks Foundation of Highland Park’s 5th Annual Champions Gala, the community that is so much better for having known him and loved him, will say ‘Thanks, Coach’ one more time as the family is presented with Foundation’s Legacy Award. A fitting tribute to a man whose legacy lives on every day, all over the country, in everyone he included in his incredible life.
Purchase your tickets for the 2023 Champions Gala today, and join us on March 15 to enjoy this glamorous evening! You’ll enjoy signature cocktails from the open bar, delicious hors d’oeuvres, an exciting game of chance to win up to $100,000, and of course hear our featured guest: Chicago Blackhawk’s legend Chris Chelios. The live auction will feature fabulous trips, dining experiences, one-of-a-kind items, and memorabilia. Sponsorships are still available.