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Faye Baker is Black History
Faye Baker
Faye Baker coaches the Bradwell Institute Lady Tigers against Statesboro - photo by Gerald Thomas III

HINESVILLE -- Walking into Bradwell Institute’s basketball gym, you can just feel the level of respect and command that the Lady Tigers’ head coach Faye Baker has on her team, the opponent, and fans.

And that’s because she’s earned the title of being legendary in Hinesville and at Bradwell.

She’s been in the position of her current players and where they want to head.

Coming out of the Bradwell in the class of 1981, Baker was a dual athlete and earned a scholarship to play both basketball and softball at Georgia Southern College (now University) following her All-State high school hoops career.

Faye Baker
Faye Baker while playing basketball at Bradwell Institute

She’s also an inductee in the Liberty County Hall of Fame.

Faye Baker
Faye Baker while playing basketball at Georgia Southern College

“I’m from here and grew up here,” Baker said of her hometown Hinesville. “I came up through the LCRD where I gained my love of sports.”

Faye Baker
Faye Baker while competing in track and field for the Liberty County Rec Department at 14 years old

The youngest of seven children, she walked the trail of her siblings of investing her time in athletics.

Her brothers Henry Baker Jr. and Derrell Baker played professional baseball for the Chicago White Sox for the Montreal Expos.

“I came from a very athletic family,” Baker said. “I have five brothers and one sister and I’m the youngest of the bunch. Everybody was into athletics and sports so naturally I followed suit. All of us played sports throughout our youth and into high school. It was pretty much inbreeded in me. Hinesville was much smaller than it is now when we were growing up. All the kids in the community played sports in that time”

Once she graduated from Georgia Southern with a Communications degree, Baker became a UPS driver.

But she decided to resign from UPS and go back to school to get her teaching certification to get into the field of education.

“I pretty much did that because the pay was very good at the time,” Baker said of her first job out of college. “While I was there, I learned that pay didn’t mean everything because I didn’t enjoy what I was doing. So, I decided that I wanted to do something else.”

By 1992, Baker became a paraprofessional and in 1993 she was teaching at Button Gwinnett.

“Even though my degree was in communications with an emphasis in broadcasting, I talked with some of the educators in the community and had some family members that were educators,” Baker said. “Never really thought I wanted to get into education when I was a kid growing up, but I decided to go and get my teacher certification and left UPS and became a parapro at Button Gwinnett while I went back to get the hours I needed for certification. Then in 1993, I became a sixth-grade teacher.”

The late Bradwell head basketball coach Johnnie Riles asked Baker to assist him with duties.

In 1995, she became the head coach of her alma mater’s basketball team.

“Johnnie and my family were close, and we grew up together, so he asked me to come and be his assistant and JV coach,” Baker said of landing the Bradwell gig. “That’s really how I ended up getting into coaching. And then in 1995 I became the head coach at Bradwell, and I’ve been doing that ever since.”

Baker’s first cousin was Donell Woods, who Liberty County High School named their football stadium after.

Donell Woods
Donell Woods

“He was the head basketball coach at Bradwell when I was coming through high school,” Baker said of her close relative. “Then he succumbed to lung cancer at the age of 40 during my junior year.”

Woods was an educator, head basketball coach, football coach, athletic director, physical education, and drivers’ education teacher in Liberty County.

Behind the leadership of former Statesboro and Bradwell coach Willie Graham, Baker was instrumental in putting together the Donell Woods Memorial Tournament for junior varsity basketball teams.

The tournament has been running for nearly 30 years.

Baker knows that the bigger picture isn’t basketball as such a small percentage of preps continue their athletic careers once they receive their high school diploma.

“The one thing that I strive to teach them is life skills – it’s not just about basketball,” Baker said. “A lot of these kids will not play organize basketball anymore once they leave high school. You have a select few that will go on to play on the next level. So, what we’re trying to do is instill in them is to just be good people and go out and be productive citizens. Like I tell them all the time, if they never pick a ball up again, we want them to be productive citizens in the world. What is really rewarding for me is when I see the kids going on and they’re doing great things in the community and giving back. When they come back and say, ‘hey coach, you cared, and you showed me love and I just want to thank you.’ I even had some that we may have had some issues that will come back say ‘hey coach I understand what you were trying to do now, and I appreciate you for showing me the tough love.’ When the light bulb comes on for them, that’s the reward that I get from all these years of coaching. It’s not about x’s and o’s really. It’s about helping and establishing them.”

Over the duration of Baker’s 27-year coaching career, she emphasizes that it’s about adjusting in both the classroom and the hardwood.

“I would say that over the course of the years, I’ve learned to adjust my coaching style,” Baker said in reflection. “It’s sort of like in the classroom where you have to have differentiated instruction. I can’t treat them all the same way. Fair treatment is not always equal treatment, so I learned to adapt, adjust, and listen to them. Before when I first started coaching it would be like ‘hey this is what we’re going to do, and this is how we’re going to do it.’ Now, there may be sometimes that I might ask them what they think. I listen to what they have to say to see the things that they may want to do with that time on the court. I want to give them a voice instead of trying to be the overbearing dictator. Of course, there’s some things that we’re not going to tolerate but we try to make sure they have an opinion on how they want things to run. I’ve adapted and changed my style to pretty much to work with the kids of today. They’re different than they were when I first started coaching so I just try to adjust to the times.”

The Lady Tigers have yet to raise the silver trophy but under Baker’s leadership, they have become consistent contenders to compete at the Macon Coliseum every March and have region championships and deep state playoff runs to their name.

“Some teams that really stood out to me was the 2018 team where we won the region title,” Baker said. “The 2002 team was ranked No. 1 in the state and 22-0 before we lost a game. We won the region title that year and ended up losing in the elite eight in overtime. That was probably one of the most devastating losses out of my career because those young ladies did everything that we asked them to do. They were just a great group and I just hate it for them that they could not accomplish that goal that they had set for themselves. That was a very good year. What was a surprising good year was the very next one. We lost some key players from the 2002 team that graduated. But 2003 actually went to the final four. That was a very special year as well. That was the farthest we’ve ever went into the state playoffs. I’m proud of what this team is doing this year. They seemed to have bought in to what we’ve been teaching them and they’re coming together at the right time playing hard. We’re just taking it one game at a time to see how far we can ride this ship out. We’re excited about them and the level of play they’re playing right now.”

Faye Baker
Faye Baker and the Bradwell Lady Tigers celebrate after winning the Region 2-6A championship in 2018

Despite having a deep respect for black figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, Baker gives allegiance to relatives and teachers that indelibly shaped her to become who she is today.

“Of course, we can talk about the world-renowned people that paved the way for us and our freedom and rights,” Baker said of her inspirations. “I can think more on a local level of people that I knew or know personally. State Representative Al Williams have been on that road for a long time now. Definitely somebody that I admire. But I can bring it even closer to home than that. I have great admiration for people like my dad who is 93 years old right now and my mom who passed away two years ago. I admired them so much because my parents were in their generation didn’t have a whole lot of education, but they were smart people. My dad could go in the backyard and build a storage house from the ground up. I wouldn’t know where to start to do stuff like that with all of my education. They had that common knowledge. I listened to them and so many lessons that they taught me that resonates in me today as I get older. I now understand what the elderly were trying to say. I can think of people like my first-grade teacher and Ms. Gloria Boyd who was my seventh-grade math teacher. It’s just so many local people that I would say that touched my life a whole lot more than any of the world-renowned people.”  

The Lady Tigers are currently 20-4 and ranked 12th as they enter the Region 2-6A championship against No. 2 Brunswick.

The game will begin at 6 p.m. at Brunswick High School.

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