“I heard 3-4 gunshots and then the sound of a much bigger gunshot,” Baker said. “At that point, I’m not going to say chaos started, but it was crazy weather for the next 10-15 minutes, which felt like hours. We were trying to get the players to safety and the students in building. Everyone had to be calmed down. Everyone was screaming, worried about their families, things of that nature. It was really close to panic mode.
Baker is proud of how his staff and the band and cheerleading staff handled the situation and guided their respective teams to safety.
“To say we’ve taken control is a big thing,” he said. “You see these situations happening in other places, and in the back of your mind you say it’s not going to happen here. But that’s not always true. When this happens, how you react is very important. When you are in this situation, you have to be mentally prepared. It’s hard to evacuate in the middle of a football game. It’s hard to practice that, but it’s the time we live in and it’s a shame to say that.
On a lighter note, the Wildcats find humor in the footage that emerged of Baker running during the evacuation.
“They had a good laugh about it,” he said. “It broke the ice and I didn’t want to jump over it because these are things that happen. Gun violence in our city, in our country. It happens. I tried to tell them that… He you have to be strong, and it’s about living in the moment.
The Thomson game will not be resolved for three weeks. Both teams will use their byes to complete the match. The Wildcats will focus on 2 p.m. Saturday, when they host Butler (2-2, 0-1 Region 4) for the homecoming.
“We’re hungry to get back to work,” Baker said. “Back to what you would call normal. Wake up every morning, go to school, to work, to practice and then on game day, on the pitch, doing what we love to do. What we were put on this earth to do, some would say. Play the game we love. It is our state of mind. We have been through this traumatic event and we will try to get rid of it.
There are a lot of positives to see from watching the Wildcats’ progress over the past two seasons. After a 16-25 pedestrian record from 2016 to 2019, the Wildcats finished 2020 with a 4-3 regional record and had qualified for the playoffs, but were stranded when the GHSA determined that Laney exercised a undue influence on a player transferred to the program. The Wildcats were forced to give up all three regional wins in which this player appeared, costing them their playoff spot.
Last season, Baker’s first, the Wildcats beat a top-five team in each of their first two games with wins over Washington-Wilkes and Lincoln County. They finished 6-5 for their first winning season since 2015 and their first playoff appearance since 2016.
Baker said the Wildcats’ identity and success is built on the physics of the lines. He said their toughness was tested early on with their out-of-region schedule, where they went 3-0, and they were ready to take on the new Region 4. It features five playoff teams from last season: Laney , Putnam County, Thomson, Washington County and Westside.
“It’s a tough area,” Baker said. “It has a lot of tradition and a lot of teams that have won a lot. We have a few ranked teams (No. 6 Thomson and No. 7 Putnam County). It’s a complete and competitive region. … I can’t look beyond the next game, or set goals that are beyond our control.Our team goal is to make a run in the playoffs and hope for a chance to play for a state championship.
For more on Baker, listen Ep. 49 from Class 2A Blog.