Powell County: Jarod Baker playing high school hoops after becoming a father

mstory@herald-leader.comSeptember 28, 2003 

  • Powell County: Ten things to know about Powell County: * Birth: The 101st of Kentucky's 120 counties, formed on Jan. 7, 1852. * Named for: Kentucky Gov. Lazarus Whitehead Powell (1851-55). * County seat: Stanton * Population: 13,205 (U.S. Census estimate, June 1, 2002). * Demographics: 13,041 whites; 92 blacks; 88 Hispanics; 60 of two races or more; seven native Americans; five Asians. * Largest employer: Powell County Board of Education (estimated 530 employees). * 2000 Presidential election: Bush 2,258; Gore 2,008. * Historical nugget: Confederate guerrillas destroyed the county court house and the county jail in separate raids in 1863 and '64. * Notable destination(s): The Natural Bridge State Park and the Red River Gorge. * Be sure to check out: Miguel's Pizza Restaurant and Climb Shop. You can hear German or Italian being spoken because rock climbers from around the world -- attracted to the Natural Bridge area via the Internet -- congregate in Miguel's.

Note: This column was originally published in the Herald-Leader on Sept. 28, 2003

STANTON -- Jarod Baker could have quit.

On that rainy April day, riding the school bus back from the canceled track meet. When Sarah Miller looked him in the eye and told him the test results were positive."I'm pregnant," she said.

Teen-aged boys informed they are soon to be dads often hit the eject button. There for the ecstasy, gone for the responsibility. Jarod asked Sarah Miller to be his wife.

Yet, Jarod Baker could have quit. His mom, his step-dad, his natural father down in North Carolina, they all fretted that he would.

Jarod's parents had their hearts set on his using a college education as a key to open the door leading out of blue-collar life.

Hard to do that if you've dropped out of high school.

Yet, his family knew Jarod's sense of responsibility. If you have a wife and a little girl, it's your job to put food on their table, to make sure they don't want for anything.

So how do you sit around a school and have people tell you when you can talk and what you can wear when you are head of a family?

Jarod and Sarah -- babies with a baby -- somehow drew from a deep well of wisdom.

They weren't helping their child if they gave up on themselves.

Before they knew they would be teen-aged parents, he wanted to be an engineer; she an attorney.

They still do.

When the Class of 2004 graduates from Powell County High, Jarod and Sarah will both be in the commencement line.

Yet, still, Jarod Baker could have quit.

Chapter one in basketball's book of virtues is that players are made during the summer.

Proud defenders of the 14th Region title, Powell County's Pirates were not going to give that coveted mantle up by being outworked during summer vacation.

But only one player's alarm clock went off at 4:30 a.m. every morning -- not for hoops drills but so he could go spend broiling days doing a back-breaking task known as laying concrete.

Only one player took his rare free hours and used it to wash trucks for a local company and mow lawns around town, anything for some extra money.

Only one player would sometimes show up (late because of work) for summer games with dried concrete in his dark hair.

Only one player would report for a late-night individual workout with Coach Greg Coldiron -- and then go home and sit up with his infant daughter so his wife could have a chance to sleep.

Jarod never even considered NOT playing basketball because you only get one senior year of high school hoops "and, when you love basketball," you don't want to miss it.

You might have spotted a pattern -- Jarod Baker will not quit.

Heaven knows, he has been tested.

April of 2002 brought the news that changed all. High school sophomores, Sarah and Jarod had made a baby.

Such news rocks worlds, of course.

Sarah's mom called Jarod's mom: What are we going to do?

Jarod's mom -- Trena Miller -- recalls thinking only a second.

"Well, we're not going to do anything. We're going to help them with the options, let them decide and we're going to support them whatever they do."

Sarah wondered what would happen to them. "I wasn't really scared. It was already done; there was no going back."

Though he thinks people expect to hear that he struggled, Jarod says the path that needed to be taken was always clear.

To him.

"I always wanted to marry her," he says of Sarah. "Our plans were after high school to get married and go to college together.

"I was scared. That's a big thing to do when you are 17. But I knew I loved Sarah and that I would never regret my decision."

On June 24, they stood in a Baptist church in Winchester and became man and wife.

On Sept. 22, they learned their child would be a girl.

Marina Baker was born Jan. 11, 2003.

In between her parents' marriage and her birth -- just to test her dad a little more -- the Powell County basketball team's projected starting center blew out his right knee.

After the surgery that repaired his torn ACL, Jarod was told he would be sidelined all season.

While his wife waited to have the child, Jarod "rehabbed like a demon," says Coldiron, Powell County's coach.

He got back on the court in January. Became the rare high school basketball player with a wife and child in the stands. Just smiled when his teammates took to calling him "Big Daddy Baker."

When the Pirates fulfilled their fans' expectations by making the school's first Boys State Tournament appearance in 29 years, Jarod pitched in four scoreless minutes in Rupp Arena.

Meanwhile, Jarod and Sarah learned how to make their radically new life work.

During school, the baby stays with Sarah's mom on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; on Thursday and Friday, Jarod's mother keeps Marina.

But after school, the responsibility for the baby falls on her parents.

When Jarod and Sarah wanted to work off the cost of tickets to the junior prom by helping prepare the decorations, they brought Marina with them.

Both strong students (Sarah's GPA is much closer to 4.0 than 3.0; Jarod's is almost exactly in the middle), they alternate watching the baby while the other does homework.

Money, of course, is tight. Since they've been married, they've moved three different times.

Plus, there are the adjustments any first-time parents -- regardless of age -- face.

"You can't prepare for patience, that's for sure," Jarod says. "But you get used to staying up and listening to the crying."

Says Sarah, with a mother's protectiveness: "But our baby doesn't cry that much."

Still, a parent learns some tricks. The key to changing diapers? "Pretty much, you hold your breath," Jarod says.

By the numbers, the modern American marriage is little better than a 50-50 proposition under the best of circumstances.

The odds of making a teen-age marriage last are only, well, impossible. Making a teen-age marriage with a baby work is only impossible squared.

And, yet, Awndrea Newman, a Powell County teacher, watches Jarod and Sarah when they are together in school and sees "in their eyes, so much love and respect for each other. I really think they can beat whatever the odds are against them."

On those rare days when it all seems too much, Coldiron sits his senior center down for a life pep talk.

If getting your girlfriend pregnant in high school wasn't the ideal life step, the coach tells him, "son, everything you've done since is positive. You're doing a really good thing here."

Meanwhile, Trena Miller -- Jarod's mom -- sometimes lets her mind ponder the what ifs. What if her son had not reacted to Sarah's news the way he did?

There could have been trips to court to battle over blood tests, Miller notes. There might have been a fight over child support. "They might have come to us to ask for however much money it costs today to have an abortion," she says.

Instead, Jarod "didn't choose half-ownership of a baby," his mom says. "He chose to be a father."

So, amid homework and basketball, plans for senior prom and picking a college, there is a baby girl.

Learning to crawl and to stand and to talk.

In Marina's case, that precious first word was ... "Da-da."

Children, it is often said, may listen to what their parents say; but they learn from what they see their parents do.

If that is true, eight months has already given little Marina Baker ample time to pick up something pretty important from her dad.

Whatever comes, he will make stand.

And Jarod Baker will not quit.

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