Gr8 Acts of Kindness winner is a game-changer

Published: May. 31, 2023 at 10:39 PM CDT|Updated: May. 31, 2023 at 11:05 PM CDT
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WALNUT RIDGE, Ark. (KAIT) - Ed Baker has not only taught the game of basketball to hundreds of children in Region 8. He’s instilled faith and life lessons along the way.

Talking about him is easy.

Surprising Baker with the Gr8 Acts of Kindness is not so easy.

He doesn’t like the spotlight.

But we set out to do just that on a Wednesday evening.

A simple church night became a well-thought-out surprise party in Walnut Ridge.

“He loves the sport,” Mandy Ludwig said. Ludwig helps Baker with the basketball program at the Main Street Church of Christ in Walnut Ridge. “He wanted to do something where everyone could be involved.”

Many a stand-out player from Walnut Ridge, Strawberry, Imboden, Hoxie, parts of Greene County, and even as far away as Corning got their start right here inside this gym.

“What people don’t realize is that so many young people just need someone to talk to someone they can trust that gets they can tell anything to,” Ed Baker said.

And that philosophy is a game changer.

“He was like the father I never had growing up,” Thomas Smith said. Now a grown man working as a deckhand on the Mississippi River, Smith explains that his early childhood was not easy. Being a part of the basketball program was important for him.

“I used to be a kid that didn’t have very much and I’d come to church here, and Ed helped me out a lot,” Smith explained. “I mean if it weren’t for Ed, I don’t know where I’d be today.”

Ed and several of the other elders approached the church about building a gym and a program.

They had no idea how big it would become.

“He’s played a big part in the ballplayer and even the person I am today,” Carley Morgan said.

Morgan is a KAIT Scholarship Salute award winner... a stand-out student and a new graduate of Sloan Hendrix High School.

“We were the NCAA runner-ups and the Lawrence County tournament champions,” Morgan explained.

High-flying game-winning athletes like Walnut Ridge’s Luke and Matt Wall all got their start right here.

“The lessons that I learned through the youth program helped me out even to this day, things like teamwork, being a part of a team, the importance of that, and working well with my peers,” Ryker Davis said. “I use that skill even today. Figure I will use that for the rest of my life.”

Even now, Baker surprises kids coming through the program as he not only sets everything up but also registers the students, then referees the game.

“Cool to see him refereeing! I was so amazed,” Luke McFerrin said.

“That’s why you are the next winner in the Gr8 Acts of Kindness.”

“Count with me,” I said. “One hundred, two hundred, three hundred, four hundred. Five, six, seven, eight. Four hundred eight dollars.”

“This hits me right here from my hometown,” David Daniel said. Daniel with First Community Bank pointed to his heart. “We appreciate you.”

“What do you hope every child walks away with from this program,” I asked Baker.

“Know something about Jesus Christ when they leave here,” Baker responded. “That’s the important thing.”