By Michael Kinney
Phillip Baker wants to be a role model. It has little to do with the fact he can catch a pass with defenders around him, finish a fastbreak in traffic or hit a winner down the line.
Those are all great skills to admire about the 6-foot-3-inch, 230-pound Mustang High senior. But for Baker, what he wants people to see is that he is a Native American kid succeeding at the highest levels in Oklahoma. He believes that is the type of example he can be for youth who don’t believe they can excel because of their heritage.
“That’s got to be one of my biggest dreams in life, to be able to be someone’s role model to look up to,” Baker said. “If it’s a Native American young person, then that’s all the better.”
Baker is a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Creek and Yuchi tribes. He was born in North Dakota, where he lived on a reservation. During that time he saw many of his people succumb to lowered expectations that have been applied to Native Americans.
In 2015, only 67 percent of American Indian students graduated from high school, compared the national average of 80 percent, according to usnews.com.
That could have been in Baker’s future before he, his mother and two siblings moved to Oklahoma when he was fourth grade after his parents separated. That helped change his outlook on what he could accomplish.
“So now coming down here in a huge school, I was like a little fish in a big pond,” Baker said. “I started out here in fourth grade and so to me it was just like starting out just like all these other kids, where that type of thing didn’t matter. Anyone can compete, anyone can be the top athlete, it didn’t matter about race. To me it’s just something that gives me a little extra.”
The fact he’s the only Native American at Mustang High who plays any sport is something he hopes to see change by the examples he sets. But he knows it won’t be easy at any school to see the numbers increase.
“I feel like it’s just the situation that Native Americans are in. They go into a school, especially as big as the one we are in now, in class 6A, probably the top five population in the state of Oklahoma, they’re just not expected to succeed in their situations,” Baker said. “And a lot of schools that Indians go to, where they’re the dominant race in the population of the school, it’s just I feel like not run very well. There’s people coaching who have racial favoritism, I would say, and it’s just hard.”
Despite that, Baker heads into his senior year looking to have a special season. One that will get him noticed on the gridiron while helping Mustang go deep into the playoffs.
“I just expect improvement, I mean, that’s all any athlete can ask of anything they doing, whether it be in the classroom or on the field, just improvement,” Baker said. “Everyone can get better, no matter if you’re amateur, high schooler like me or a professional. Always improvement.”
MHS coach Jeremy Dombeck believes Baker is set to open some eyes to just how talented he is.
“It’s going to be a breakout year for him, he’s kind of unknown,” Dombeck said. “We had a really good talented tight end last year in Ashton Jones, who’s up at NEO. But Phil played a lot for us. We consider him a returning starter, but he’ll be more involved, actually, other than blocking. He runs good routes, got (sic) great hands, so I expect him to have a big year for us.”
Baker credits much of his improvement from year to year in football to the work he puts in during other sports.
Besides football, Baker also competes in basketball and tennis for the Broncos. It’s a rare combination for any athlete.
“We encourage our kids to do multiple sports. I think it helps for injury prevention, so you’re not doing the same thing year-round, it helps develop other skills, hand-eye coordination, footwork, running on different surfaces, all those things,” Dombeck said. “He’s one of our better tennis players at our school here. And it shows, he’s just an all-around great athlete and it helps Mustang athletics in multiple ways. Here’s a recruitable kid, that’s for sure. So I think it’ll be a breakout year for him, football-wise. I think he’ll get a lot of attention.”
According to Baker, basketball has helped him learn to post up defenders and make himself a bigger target for his quarterback. From tennis, it’s his footwork that has improved the most.
Baker wants to play at the next level, just like his older brother and sister. While he would play any sport offered, be believes he has the best chance to play football or basketball in college.
“I just continue playing ball in college, whether it be basketball or football, those are the two I’m leaning towards,” Baker said. “I hope I can keep playing it, while I get my degree and further my education.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com. Story first appeared in The Mustang News