By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published May 8, 2018
ROSWELL—Although Blessed Trinity High School junior Vincent Baker shows a quiet demeanor, he smiles broadly when speaking of his mother and his wrestling career.
A two-time Class AAAA state wrestling champion, Baker won his most recent title less than two weeks after the January death of his mother, Louise, from colon cancer.
Baker’s mother was his biggest cheerleader and the person who introduced him to wrestling.
“She had six brothers,” explained Baker.
Raised on a farm near Deming, Washington, Louise was the third of 14 children. She grew up watching her brothers compete on the mat.
“She was the one who obviously got me started,” he added.
Having competed in wrestling since the third grade, Baker was beating everybody by the time he entered high school.
“It’s a very mental sport,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to take a hit and dish it back out again.”
The most successful wrestlers are the ones who want the win, said Baker.
For Louise’s family, growing up in a small town near the Canadian border, their Catholic faith and wrestling were central in their lives. Baker said his mom probably knew more about the sport than most mothers of wrestlers.
Louise attended the Jesuit-run Gonzaga University and became an elementary school teacher.
“Then she decided to be a teacher for the Department of Defense,” said Baker.
While teaching the children of service members serving in Germany, Louise met her future husband, Vince Baker. He was serving in the Army.
They married in 1991. Vincent has three older sisters, and one younger sister. The family lived in Ohio, North Carolina and Delaware before settling in Canton.
In any setbacks as an athlete, Baker’s mother had the right words of encouragement.
“She would remind me that progress is not always straight up,” said Baker.
Louise read the daily Bible readings and was devoted to Mary. Her favorite saint was Bernadette, which was her middle name. She prayed the rosary daily.
“We would always pray on the way to practice,” recalled Baker.
Her example of prayer is something he tries to practice.
“I do say the rosary a lot,” he said.
His maternal grandmother was likely the example for his own mother’s devotion to faith and family.
“She and her mother were very similar,” said Baker. “They would both sacrifice for their children.”
Baker said his grandmother and mother died within a year of each other.
Although Louise set aside her teaching career to raise her children, she took a job as the lead maintenance worker at the family’s parish, Our Lady of La Salette Church in Canton, helping keep the church clean and beautiful.
Louise’s colon cancer was first diagnosed two years ago, and while she responded initially to treatment, the cancer eventually spread to other organs.
Her pain was severe toward the end of her life.
“She couldn’t lie down,” he said. “She died Jan. 31 … the week of sectionals.”
Despite his family’s grief, the young athlete remained focused on competing and winning.
“I know she wouldn’t want me to give up my dreams,” said Baker.
Varsity wrestling coach Richard Barden remembered drawing a line through Vincent’s name on the practice schedule on the day of Louise’s death. He wondered how to rearrange practice drills and partners, and was later taken aback when he saw the wrestler dressed and ready for practice.
“I am sure that many coaches would have been in shock, but I remembered that it was his mom who got him into this sport,” said Coach Barden in an email. “I remember seeing in his eyes that day a more driven young man who had a newfound purpose to complete the season with one goal in mind.”
Sectionals were tough for him, but Vincent ended up earning a top seed for the state tournament in Macon. He ultimately won the championship, with his sisters, father and other family members rooting him on.
Vince said his wife considered motherhood her most cherished vocation.
“His mother came from a wrestling family, and I firmly believe that Vincent’s high success in wrestling came in part due to the love he had for his mom and the inspiration that she was to him in so many ways,” said the young man’s father in an email. “He respected and loved his mom greatly, and through wrestling went above and beyond to please his mom and make her proud, while at the same time, (he) was able to establish a close connection to her and his uncles who were accomplished wrestlers.”
The elder Baker said the second championship win was a way for his son to honor his mother and bring joy to the family when they needed it most.
“He also set a great example for all of us in how to manage grief in a positive way and move forward and live the way his mother always modeled for him. We miss her greatly, but quite frankly she is with us in spirit every day,” said Vince.
The family keeps a photo of Louise on the kitchen table.
It is a consolation for her only son to know his mom led a model life.
“Now it’s time for us,” to practice those examples, he said.
He is also recalling special things about his mother as the first Mother’s Day since her death approaches.
“She was strict when she needed to be,” he said. “She liked to garden. She also liked to read. She was a great cook. We liked to go on hikes.”
As he wraps up his junior year at Blessed Trinity High School in Roswell, Baker noted he’s had great backing from the coaches, wrestling community and friends.
“They’ve been very supportive,” he said.
He hopes to attend college on a wrestling scholarship and study mechanical engineering.
Although he is young, Baker offers words of encouragement for all whose mothers are no longer physically present with them.
“I’d say, remember all the things they taught you. All the things they did were because they loved you … no matter what,” he said.