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Baker named state Coach of the Year

Prince Edward County Track and Field Head Coach James Baker has received the honor of being named the 2019-20 Virginia State Girls Indoor Track Coach of the Year.

James Baker

Rodney Kane, Prince Edward County High School athletics director, noted this honor, which was delayed in part due to the pandemic, is not just awarded from among Class 2 schools but across every high school in the state — Virginia High School League’s (VHSL) Classes 1-6.

“I’m very honored to receive this recognition,” Baker said. “It was a total surprise. I had no idea. It was one of the furthest things from my mind.”

Baker was selected by the VHSL to receive the honor based upon his positive work with the athletes in the program, Kane said. The VHSL will submit Baker’s name to the National Federation of State High School Associations for further possible honors at the sectional and national levels.

“It’s a well-deserved recognition,” Kane said of the state accolade. “Coach Baker really invests in his athletes, in their lives. He puts his whole self into track and then to getting these kids the recognition and getting them out there so that they can be seen by others.”

Baker regularly helps student-athletes to continue their track and field careers at the college level. College recruiters are able to spot student-athletes’ potential during high school. Baker facilitates this process not only with his coaching but also with his willingness to take student-athletes to well-attended invitationals during breaks and on the weekends.

“And he does this on his own time,” Kane said.

One recent achievement helping raise Baker’s coaching profile was leading the Prince Edward varsity girls indoor track and field team to the 2019-20 VHSL Class 2 State Championship — his first squad to win a team state title.

“All I’ve really been doing is there were other coaches around, and I just tried to figure out, ‘What can I do to achieve at the level they’re doing it?’” Baker said. “And then the other thing is I have to be very appreciative of the kids that I have, because none of this is possible without them.”

Baker teaches physical education at Prince Edward County Elementary School, giving him a unique opportunity to scout out area student-athletes while they are at an early age. He also coaches track and field at Prince Edward County Middle School, where he helps prepare them for the high school level and beyond.

At all ages, Baker’s instruction is hardly limited to one or two events.

“It’s not just the running events, but seeing him out there showing kids how to long jump, triple jump, high jump, shot put — he does it all,” Kane said.

Baker has been the Prince Edward County High School indoor track and field head coach for 43 years, and he has been the outdoor track and field head coach for 39 years.

“It’s all about the kids to him,” Kane said. “I guess the biggest thing is (student-athletes) see how much time and effort Coach Baker puts into track and field, and I think they want to do (well) for him because they see how hard he works at it.”