Chuck Stark, Kitsap Sun - Some of them haven’t had a home-cooked meal in a while, but the student athletes at Olympic College know where they can get one.
The first Thursday of every month, the Baldwins —Katie, who teaches sociology, and Ted, a chemistry professor — open their home to the Rangers. The main dish often features mac and cheese, lasagna, spaghetti or chili, “and sometimes they eat every ounce of food we make,” Ted Baldwin said. “Sometimes we send them home with food. “A lot of our kids aren’t from Kitsap County. They don’t have family here, or know what’s going on in the county. That’s why we started doing the meals.”
They usually host around 20 athletes for dinner, but as many as 40 athletes have crammed into every nook and cranny of their West Bremerton home, not too far from the OC campus, to get a bite to eat. “It’s a 926-foot square house,” said Katie Baldwin, “It’s tiny, and they’re not little bodies. And they can eat, oh, my, gosh.”
The monthly dinners are only part of the story.
If you show up at the OC gym for a basketball or volleyball game, chances are you’ll find the Baldwins and their 4-year-old son, Connal, cheering the Rangers on from the wooden bleachers on the baseline closest to OC’s bench. Some of the athletes are like big brothers or sisters to Connal, once of the most recognizable faces on campus. “He’s our official mascot,” Ted said of his son. “He does day care (at OC) and comes to all of the games with us. He loves it when all of the athletes come over to our house.”
The Baldwins are at baseball and softball games in the spring. They show up because they care. Sure, they like sports, but they’re at the games because of the relationships they’ve built with many of those athletes. Many of those relationships start in the classroom, or in study halls they supervise for OC’s student athletes.
Elisabeth Briggs, a math teacher, is another faculty member who devotes hours of her time tutoring athletes and attending games. Advisor Kirsten Clawson is also involved in helping athletes with their class schedules and other academic issues.
The Baldwins have been making a difference for about 10 years. “They’re the first faculty members, since I’ve been here, to step up and take a role in not just the athletes, but the lives of the athletes,” said Ryan Parker, who has coached baseball at Olympic since 2007. “It’s more than just supporting athletes. It’s being another voice for the athletes, and being another ear for the athletes.”
Madison Kelly, a nursing student and former softball player at Olympic, was a regular at the Baldwins’ home the last two years, stopping by to eat or watch Connal. “They made me feel like I had a family away from my family, especially living in a new area,” said Kelly, who moved to Bremerton from Des Moines. “When I had drama happening in my life, they were always there for me.”
Barry Janusch was the academic advisor for athletes when he was hired at Olympic to coach basketball in the early 1990s. That job went away when he became the athletic director, so he appreciates the “extra time and effort” the Baldwins put in to help OC’s athletes.
“For all the things they do — academic advising, study hall supervision, having the athletes over to their house for dinner once a month — we are very fortunate,” Jansuch said. “The athletes have someone else to go to that’s not necessarily a coach. Katie especially takes so much of that motherly interest kind of thing in helping them out with social things or behavioral things maybe. It gives them a shoulder to lean on once in a while when they want to talk to somebody different.”
Ted Baldwin grew up on Whidbey Island, and attended a private Christian high school. He graduated from George Fox University in Oregon, did his graduate work at the University of Arizona and started teaching at Olympic College in 1996. He’s the faculty union president, has been a club advisor in the past, and is one of the most respected voices on campus. Katie Baldwin, a 1990 Bremerton High grad, earned a two-year degree from Olympic College, and after a break from school when she worked in foster care, a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington. She met Ted at a local church in 1998.
When Katie started teaching at OC, she noticed some of the athletes were struggling in her sociology class. “I talked with Ryan (Parker) about what we could do to help. He said we could do a study hall and we said we’d love to help with that,” Katie Baldwin said. “So we started with the baseball team. We met once a week. That’s when we started having them over once a month to feed them, too.” A couple years later, then-volleyball coach Beth Donnelly asked if her players could participate in the study halls. Now, coaches in just about every sport are making it a priority. Most of the athletes participate in at least one, and sometimes, two, two-hour sessions a week.
“It’s been huge,” Parker said, “because coaches don’t have to be there for study hall now. It allows us more time for recruiting for practice planning and other things we need to be doing inside our programs. Plus, it gets athletes away from us a bit. I think it’s good to have those other resources they can use.” For Katie Baldwin, a mom who is also pursuing a second master’s degree, it’s important to see the athletes succeed in the classroom. “I think our goals line up. They want to play. I want them to graduate,” she said. “I know if they graduate their future is so much better. All of the statistics show if you can complete some college, they’ll do better in life. If they can get a bachelor’s degree, that’s even better.
“It decreases the risk of poverty. You have a better family life. What we’re doing now is setting the stage for the rest of their lives. I guess that’s where the reward comes in.” With her other students, she sees them 50 minutes a day for 11 weeks, then they’re gone. With some of OC’s athletes, she gets them in class daily and sees them four more hours a week in study hall. She goes to their games, and has them over to the house. “I feel like I can make a difference,” she said. “Just teaching, I don’t get that same feeling.”
Janusch cited 2017’s fall quarter grades to illustrate how valuable the Baldwins are. “We had 42 athletes (out of about 150) earn a 3.25 GPA or higher. We had six 4.0s. That’s pretty good,” Janusch said. “A big part of that is the study hall situation. Coaches are emphasizing it, but we could not do that without the Baldwins and their outside help.”
Chuck Stark is the former sports editor of The Sun. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. See the article online here.