By Von Mitchell
Special to the DCI
Eli Baier stands 6'4" tall and has the wingspan of a condor. He is the second oldest child in a family where love reigns and eight may not be enough. He is a 4.0 student and a three-time All Western Slope League First Team selection in basketball at Delta High School.
He is a three-time team MVP and an undisputed leader among his peers. But none of these facts alone can tell you the full story of Eli Baier. To get that, you would have to know what family means to him. You'd have to know how he shrugged off twin shoulder separations and maintained his focus to become a champion on and off the floor, and you'd have to know how he daily follows after his God. Then, and only then, could you start to get the book on Eli.
Eli's parents, Ernie and Teresa Baier, are strong family people with a passion for God. They have instilled many solid values in the hearts of their eight children, and Eli is no exception. "I would say the top three lessons that I've learned from my parents are balance, dedication, and faith," says Eli. "I've learned balance from my dad because he works hard every day and still has time for the family or to work on cars or whatever when he comes home. I've learned dedication from my mom because she works hard all the time raising eight kids. And I've learned faith from both of them. They have shown me by example how to live a life of faith, and they've pushed me to go further in my own faith."
Over the last three seasons basketball fans have witnessed multiple "Baier" sightings on more than one occasion. Eli's oldest brother, Ernie, and the next stair-stepper down, Ethan Jack, both played varsity basketball alongside Eli. Though Eli often received the lion's share of praise and publicity, one could never detect any resentment or jealousy among the brothers.
"Playing ball just brought us closer," says Ethan Jack. "He's such a great example. I'm just sad it's over and that I won't have the chance to play with him again. I hope he gets to play in college."
Eli has similar feelings about his brother Baiers. "I would have to say my favorite moment in high school was to play sports with both of my brothers," he adds. He routinely went hoarse cheering for Ethan Jack during JV games. He also spurred Ernie on to bigger and better things during their time together. Now, he thrills at Ethan Jack's prospects for a fantastic senior year and beams with pride over Ernie's pursuit of a career in medicine.
The Baier brothers are an uncommonly diverse, yet close-knit band. But why wouldn't they be? From the top down, the Baiers are a truly special family.
When Eli Baier came to Delta High School as a freshman, he was determined to be more than just your average Baier.
"Well, basically I set three main goals when I came into high school. One, I wanted to be good as an athlete and good in the classroom as well. I wanted to bust the mold of just being a 'jock.' Two, I wanted to meet lots of new people and be able to help them. I wanted people to be able to trust me. And three, I wanted to live for God and stay strong in my faith."
"Eli is the type of person who goes out of his way to help," says Flor Chavez, who's known Eli since the seventh grade. "He's the biggest jock there is, but he's also the biggest sweetheart. He wants others to succeed."
It's obvious that Eli has succeeded in his own right with regards to the goals that he set. But it hasn't always been easy. Temptation takes many forms and is always lurking. Eli stays strong by practicing several key disciplines to help him stay focused on his goals.
"I pray every night before I go to bed," states Eli, "and I try to hang around good people. I read the Bible and I try to avoid situations where I could be tempted."
Sometimes the trial is cloaked in misfortune. In Eli's sophomore year, he separated his left shoulder during a football game. In his junior year, he separated his right shoulder in a basketball game, this time requiring surgery in the off-season to repair the tear. By his senior year, having recuperated successfully, Eli stood poised to have one of the single most dominant basketball seasons ever by a Delta Panther.
And he was off to a good start, too. Then around mid-January, right in the thick of the league season, it happened. Eli went up strong in the midst of contact for a rebound and came down with his left arm dangling. Another separation — this one different from all the others in severity and pain. The rest of his season was in jeopardy, but it was far from over.
After sitting out a couple of games with the injury, Eli returned to the lineup in a limited capacity. The Panthers never hit their stride, but Eli Baier at 70 percent was still enough of a force to garner All-Conference recognition for the third straight year.
"Most people perceive student-athletes as people who can do whatever they want," says Eli. "But my mindset was always to do my best to use my abilities to my full potential. I wanted to glorify God by not being a dirty player, not talking trash, and by staying focused on the game. I wanted to set a good example for my teammates or anyone else watching."
Spend any amount of time around Eli and one thing becomes vividly clear — all of his behavior springs from a deep-seated faith in God. His commitment to Christ shows up in the way he treats others on a consistent basis. While other teams are chest-thumping their way through pregame introductions, Eli ventures from teammate to teammate, embracing each one like they were a part of his family. When someone at school is moping through the hallway en route to class, Eli shines his infectious, dimple-laden smile right at them as if to say, "It's going to be okay! You can do it!"
My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:2-3 NIV).
When sophomore point-guard Chris Black hit a key jumper late in the game against a league opponent, Eli kissed him on the top of the head like a little brother as they sprinted to the sideline for a timeout.
"At first I didn't really think about it," admits Chris, "but later on I thought about how much love this one team had. Eli was a big part of that. He was probably the best teammate I ever had."
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34-35 NIV).
Anyone who witnessed Eli's grace in dealing with his shoulder injuries saw further evidence of his faith. "I was sad about being hurt," says Eli with complete candor. "I wondered, 'Why is this happening to me?' I worked so hard and now this obstacle is in my way.
"But I flipped open my Bible and found strength in God. I found peace. I began to view the injury as an obstacle to overcome and be closer to Christ. I know God had a reason for allowing it to happen."
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28 NIV).
What a Book!
The book on Eli is more than just some scouting report and it's better than some bestselling novels. It's the life of an extraordinary young man unfolding page by page. It's only a few chapters old, but already it's shaping up to be a beauty. It's full of love and commitment, hard work and encouragement, family and faith. Sure, it's got villains, but with singleness of purpose this hero remains undaunted. The good guy is winning! Though the end remains to be seen and the plot is only thickening, for now, this is the book on Eli. And what a book it is.
Eli needs your vote!
Eli Baier has been named one of the top 25 Student Athlete Milk Mustache of the Year (SAMMY) winners.
The SAMMY Awards recognize 25 outstanding high school senior student athletes who represent excellence in academics, athletics, community service and leadership and also refuel with lowfat chocolate milk after tough workouts. USA TODAY and a panel of Milk Mustache celebrity athletes, including Apolo Ohno, Chauncey Billups, Dara Torres, Andy Roddick and Lindsey Vonn, chose the 25 scholarship winners.
They each received a $7,500 college scholarship, a trip to Orlando, Fla., and a chance to star in a Milk Mustache commercial.
Now it's your turn! Based on your votes, a SAMMY MVP will be named from the top 25 finalists, and a $5,000 donation will be made to the organization of his choice, Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. Visit www.sammymvp.com to cast your vote for Eli.blog comments powered by Disqus