Its not uncommon for a player to ride off the court on the shoulders of adoring fans and teammates after a heroic performance.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
But Olathe North senior Dade Baker came onto the floor Tuesday night against Shawnee Mission West on the shoulders of fellow senior Joe Rumbough.
Of course, it was fitting in a way, because Baker who was born with achondroplasia, a bone-growth disorder and the most common type of dwarfism became a hero to many simply by suiting up.
You could tell he was having a blast out there, so it was really exciting, said Bakers mother, Debbie.
For the last three seasons, Eagles boys basketball practices have started the same way.
Baker, who is the team manager, gets out the rags and squeegees to clean the floor and rolls a rack of balls courtside while the Eagles players get dressed in the adjacent locker room.
Baker who is 4 feet, 7 inches tall likes being the manager, but hed rather be playing. As a dwarf, though, his competitive sports career ended in elementary school.
It stinks, Baker said. I wish I was out there, obviously, but its fun being the manager. I get to hang out with all the guys and be with them. I can still be a part of the team even though I cant play.
With help from Olathe North athletic director Jason Herman and SM Wests blessing, Baker got the chance to live his dream. He donned jersey No. 1 and started for the Eagles.
Watching the guys do (pregame warm-ups) before every game and then actually being a part of it, shooting the layups and stretching with the guys, that was probably the most fun, Baker said.
Baker very nearly cemented folk-hero status on the games first possession when, on a pre-planned play, he popped a 19-foot shot that rimmed out as the crowd, which had been nearly silent in hopeful anticipation moments earlier, gasped.
I thought it was in, said Bakers younger brother, Danny. I think the whole crowd thought that, too. It was nice to get the chance to cheer for him, though, because hes been to all my games. Getting to see him play was great.
Of course, Baker would have preferred to sink the shot. He made a few from that spot in warms-ups.
It just went a little bit left, Baker said. It was still really cool and a fun experience and I got in the book. I got a foul.
It was roughly two weeks ago, when Baker was going through his pre-practice checklist, that Eagles coach Jeff Walton revealed a surprise he had in store for Baker.
I took him back into the storage closet and tossed the jersey to him, Walton said. His eyes got big as saucers. Thats when I told him, Were going to run a set play to you on Senior Night. He looked at me like, Are you serious?
Making Baker an Eagles basketball player for a day required is to be dotted and ts to be crossed.
Walton began working with jersey vendors last spring, searching for a youth-size uniform that would closely match Olathe Norths apparel.
Herman made sure Baker got a physical on file with the Kansas State High School Activities Association, allowing him to be eligible for the game.
Growing up, Baker played sports all the time.
When we were younger, we were pretty close to being the same size, said 6-foot-5 Eagles senior Kyree Henry, who grew up a block from Baker. All of us would play and it wasnt a big deal. But as we got older, it got harder for him to play with us and compete.
Baker, who is in the sports medicine program at Olathe North and will manage the MidAmerica Nazarene mens basketball team next year, had to give up baseball when he aged into kid-pitch leagues, but he continued with basketball, playing on a team with his younger brother, Danny, for a few seasons.
By age 10, Bakers competitive athletic career was over at least before Tuesday night.
He was my manager back in eighth and ninth grade at Oregon Trail, too, Olathe North senior Jack Todd said. He loves managing the team, but you can always tell he wants to be on the court. Hes such a nice kid the nicest kid youll ever talk to so its awesome to be part of this.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to email@example.com.