Baker, Indians continue winning ways

The winning ways for the St. Stephens wrestling team and coach Billy Baker continue.

Baker, who won his 350th duals match at St. Stephens last week, has been at the school for 11 years. He has coached wrestling for 16 years, including a five-year stint at Lincolnton.

Three hundred seventeen of the 350 victories during Baker's career came at the helm of the Indians' program.

"I guess it means more to me that our wrestling family keeps up with something like that," Baker said of his accomplishment. "Winning is about these boys and not necessarily me. Plus, we have a lot of coaches who come in and volunteer to help. We don't have a traditional paid assistant. This is a team effort."

This season, the Indians are once again competitive. They go into Saturday's Fury Duals at Forsyth County Day with a 15-3 record.

"This group is honestly the smallest group I've had," Baker said. "We only have 33 kids right now. I wasn't sure what to expect. We had a big group of seniors to leave. Talent-wise, I wasn't sure how this group would be. They have gotten better every week."

Two St. Stephens wrestlers – Ray Farnsworth and Alex Pollard – are approaching their own milestone wins. Farnsworth is eight wins shy of 175 for his career, while Pollard is nine short of the 125-win mark.

"Coach Baker has done so much for me," Farnsworth said. "My freshman year, I was at Bandys. So he helped me get here. I have gotten so much better since I was at Bandys. Here, it is steady and every day he is here."

Pollard feels that one of Baker's best traits is his leadership.

"If you didn't feel like you would make it, he was always there to push you," Pollard said. "He told us to keep wrestling and that it was going to get us somewhere and make us better. He is a good motivator."

Baker coached the St. Stephens program from 1999 until 2004, but had to leave for a 10-month tour of duty in Iraq with the Army.

"No. 1, it was hard being away from family," Baker said. "I had two small kids, who were 3 years old and 18 months old. That was tough. Next to family, wrestling is my second family. It was hard."

Even with the distance, Baker kept close with his former team and wrestlers.

"The fortunate thing nowadays is, with technology, I could get on the Internet and check and see how they were doing," Baker said. "Some of the guys would e-mail me and let me know how they were doing. It was hard being away from it. I missed coaching while I was gone."

When Baker returned, the program went right back to the same winning ways it endured in his first five seasons as coach. They immediately turned around from an 18-win season in 2004-05 to a career-high 37 wins for Baker in 2005-06.

"I've been fortunate enough to have kids that buy into what we are trying to do," Baker said. "I feel like one thing we have been able to do is get the most out of kids. We haven't always had superstar individuals, but we've had quality kids that join together as a team. That year was phenomenal."

As far as future plans, Baker wants to continue coaching as long as he can.

"It is a hard sport to coach because it is physically demanding," Baker said. "I have to get out there and demonstrate technique. I'm not 25 anymore. It is getting harder from the physical standpoint."

He might even keep the wrestling tradition in the family.

"I have my fourth kid coming on the way," Baker said. "So it is hard to dedicate this much time to it, but my boy wants to wrestle. So I'm afraid to get out of it if he wants to be wrestling because I want to be there for him."