But life has a way of handing out unexpected obstacles, so when she did start college, the challenges she faced were different from most of her peers. Work, motherhood and school defined her college experience. Athletics were not in the picture – at least not until she heard about the Wilson College Women with Children program (WWC) and transferred.
“When I came here, I found a whole community of women I could relate to,” said Baker, relaxing between classes in the two-room suite in Prentis Hall that she shares with her 5-year-old son, Haydn.
Another mother in the program encouraged her to join the basketball team. At first she was skeptical. “I felt out of shape and wasn’t sure how I was going to play basketball and get babysitting and take Haydn on away trips and handle school at the same time,” Baker said. “I was afraid it would negatively affect my son, but it’s the opposite now. He’s like a social butterfly because he’s met so many people. He’s the team’s biggest fan.”
Although Baker is not the first WWC student to play a sport, she is unusual in that she did not join the team until her senior year. As a transfer student majoring in psychology and the mother of a young child, she wanted to get her bearings before taking on yet another responsibility. But when she did join, she was fired up and ready to go.
“Sam brought passion to the game,” said basketball coach Angie Grove, who assigned her to play defense. “She was a very aggressive player who worked hard and never gave up. She was also a good leader and communicator who provided a spark we sometimes needed, and kept the girls doing their best. By the end of the season, she was either starting or coming off the bench.”
More often than not, Haydn also occupied the bench, though his grandparents, who live in Frederick, Md., were usually at games to provide supervision - one of the requirements for WWC athletes.
“We have some rules and policies in place to allow (WWC participants) to be part of our programs,” said Wilson Athletic Director Lori Frey. “For example, they can bring their children to practice if they have their coach’s permission, and that’s operating under the assumption that they are old enough to be on the sideline. If it were a very young child, that would be different. The children may also travel on the buses with their moms to away competitions but our rule is somebody has to be at the competition to serve as a babysitter.”
Frey acknowledges that WWC athletes like Baker have to be dedicated to make it all work. “Basketball has a lengthy season that runs from mid-October to the end of February,” she said. “There are five to six two-hour practices a week, and some 25 games throughout the season with bus trips that can last several hours or even overnight. The time commitment is huge.”
There were times she wanted to quit, Baker admits. “(But) I had people who were counting on me and rooting for me,” she said.
Her only regret is that she didn’t get involved with athletics at Wilson earlier. “Being involved . . . gets you out of the ‘we’re different from you’ box,” said Baker. “I was able to fulfill a dream that I thought wasn’t going to happen.”