Photos by Derek Bell
The sport of wrestling is built for the tactical mind. Size up your opponent, prepare for battle and strike when the moment is right. The goal is to stay one step ahead of your foe in order to put them on the mat while you stay on top. There are no ropes, there are no folding chairs and there is no script. This is the real deal and once the whistle blows, one man stands between you and victory.
While many associate the term wrestling with Vince McMahon’s WWE, those who are aware of the true sport most likely think of it as a high school, college and Olympic sport as far as the age groups are concerned. So, to stumble on the story of Spencer Baker would be an eye opener for even a casual fan of the sport.
At first glance, you get the typical 6-year-old boy; a curly-haired little goofball with kind of energy you wish you could bottle and sell to the masses. He focuses when he wants to but has the standard attention span of other kids his age. So, getting your point across quickly is important. No one understands that more than his parents, Ben and Samantha Baker, so looking for an outlet for all that energy was of the utmost importance.
As fate would have it, Spencer’s older cousin, Isiah, was a wrestler, and his grandparents took him along with them to watch a meet when he was almost 3 years old. It captivated Spencer so much he knew right away that he wanted to give it a shot.
“When they brought him home, it was amazing to hear them talk about how much Spencer enjoyed it,” recalls Samantha. “To this day, they will tell you they’ve never seen Spencer sit still for more than five seconds, except at a wrestling tournament. They suggested we give it a try and while he was nervous at first, after a few practices he absolutely loved it.”
The process isn’t as cut and dry as most youth sports, however, so finding a club sanctioned by USA Wrestling (USAW) was the first step. USAW is the governing body for wrestling in the United States and is also the representative to the United States Olympic Committee. This was easy enough since the Bakers reside in Silver Creek, Ga., and the Dragons Wrestling Club that is affiliated with the Pepperell community was a well-established club that Spencer could join.
They paid their dues, purchased the team gear and sent Spencer in for his first practice, where waiting for the 5-year old was an 8-year-old opponent.
“I was nervous because he was older than me,” says Spencer. “But I won.”
Winning became the norm for young Mr. Baker. After a few months of practice, it was tournament season and Spencer didn’t waste any time making a name for himself. At his first tournament, held at Kell High School in Marietta, Ga., he took home first place in the 6U, 40 pounds division, starting a streak of top-four finishes that is still going strong after two complete seasons.
From there, wrestling became breakfast, lunch and dinner for the Bakers – shuffling their schedules to make time for the next tournament while attending three team practices a week, with a fourth private lesson to top it off on Sundays. Spencer couldn’t get enough of it, so they made sure he received all the instruction available to him.
“Growing up, I never wrestled and really didn’t know much about the sport, to be honest,” says Spencer’s father, Ben Baker. “I looked in on a tryout in high school and thought those guys were too tough and crazy for me, but I grew up and went to school with guys coaching Spencer and have a lot of respect for them. We were proud of Spencer in the beginning, but we had no idea if it would stick or how good he would be. It was only after a couple of tournaments that those coaches were telling us that we could have something special on our hands in Spencer, and Samantha and I took that to heart. As long as he wants to do this and is having fun with it, he will get all the support we can offer.”
That support is not limited to just cheering from the stands. Samantha wanted to be matside for Spencer’s matches, so she applied for a coaching license and went to school to earn her bronze certification, which are required for state qualifiers, state championships, and national championship tournaments.
“One of the first things that stood out to us at his first tournament was how loud the environment was,” says Samantha. “There are multiple matches taking place at the same time and everyone is yelling over each other, so being mat-side to support and help Spencer focus was extremely important to me.”
The Bakers have a competitive nature, but that doesn’t exceed the importance of Spencer’s enjoyment of the sport. Just like his mom and dad, Spencer likes to win, but if his hand isn’t raised after a match, the only action taken is an extension of his hand to congratulate his opponent for a hard-fought victory.
“Sportsmanship means everything,” says Ben. “We would be lying if we said we didn’t take pride in Spencer’s win and loss record, but the way he handles himself after losing is much more important to Samantha and me. He doesn’t hang his head; he doesn’t cry. Win or lose, he always smiles and shakes the hand of his opponent. That, to me, is a testament to the expectations of the sport of wrestling and to his coaches who hold him to a very high standard.”
By choice, Spencer began wresting in two weight divisions at every tournament, so his own competitive nature is the driving force behind his success on the mat, posting an
overall record of 157-29 over his short career, with highlights including, but not limited to, second- and fourth-place finishes at state championships; first- , second- , third- , and fourth-place finishes at the national championships; and Most Outstanding Wrestler awards at both the state championships and South Paulding tournaments. He currently ranks third among all 6-year-olds in the State of Georgia and is 50th in the same category nationally. The future is bright for the talented Mr. Baker.
For now, Spencer is just enjoying his summer break and taking a short hiatus from the mat to recharge for next season. Burn out percentages are higher amongst wrestlers who start as young as Spencer, so Ben and Samantha are trying to avoid this with breaks from practice and participation in other sports such as soccer and baseball.
“From what we know about our son, he thrives when he is on the go,” says Ben. “He loves other sports, but wrestling is just a different animal for him. So, we have to do our part to balance things out and be supportive without pushing too hard and ruining something he loves to do.”
Fortunately for mom and dad, that doesn’t seem very likely for a kid that likes winning as much as Spencer.
“I like wrestling because it’s fun and I get to put people in head to arm (a signature headlock that he uses to get a pin),” says Spencer. “But my favorite part is the referee raising my hand when I win.”
And that’s something that happens often.