BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
Spruce Creek High School graduate Perry Baker is one of 12 USA Eagles rugby players selected to play in the Gold Coast (Australia) Sevens tournament this weekend. It will be his first appearance on the World Series circuit.
Baker played football, basketball, and track at Spruce Creek High, four years of college football at Fairmont University in West Virginia and played two years with the Pittsburgh Power in the Arena Football League.
“From Day 1 in 2005 fresh out of high school, Perry was a natural at Rugby,” Brian Richardson, his former coach with Daytona Beach Rugby, told the Daytona Times. “His explosiveness with ball in hand and the space on a full size rugby field compared to a football field makes Perry almost unfair to the opposition.”
“He helped Daytona Beach Rugby place three times in the top 10 nationally,” Richardson added.
Praise for coach, Jesus
Perry said he was introduced to rugby by Richardson.
“Once I finished high school, Brian said he felt I would be good at rugby because he said I had good defense in basketball,” Perry relayed to the Times this week from Australia.
“At the time, I didn’t know how that had an impact on my rugby game, but I later found out that basketball was invented by a rugby coach. When Coach Friday called my name as one of the 12 players to represent our country, ‘Thank you, Jesus’ was the first thing I said because this was all his timing. I can’t make up the words to describe how I feel. I’m just truly blessed and can’t wait to put on my boots and jersey come Saturday,” he added.
“Drive for success”
Following his stint with Daytona Beach Rugby, Perry continued the sport at Tiger Academy in Columbus, Ohio.
“Perry came about two years ago. He was very gifted,” said Paul Holmes, his coach at Tiger Rugby Academy.
Perry has toured the world playing with the academy in Denver; New York; Shanghai, China; Melrose, Scotland; Houston; Cancun, Mexico; and Seattle.
“From the moment he arrived at the academy, he was instantly enveloped. He learned the game, learned the skill and got his body right. His drive for success is like no other. He desired that goal so much,’’ Holmes noted.
During the weekend of July 17, Perry attended a special selection camp at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in San Diego to compete for a spot on Team USA.
“Perry was a strong fit and impressed the selection committee,” Richardson continued. “He was offered one of 15 contracts with USA Rugby to live and train full time at the OTC later that week.”
“We take aspiring players to play the highest level of rugby that can be played,” Holmes added.
“We’ve had over 25 U.S. Eagles play for Tiger Rugby and that is the last five to 10 years.”
Televised this weekend
The Gold Coast Sevens is the first stop of the HSBC Sevens World Series. The series will determine four qualifying nations for 2016 Olympics seven-man rugby competition. The Eagles pared down their team for the series from 61 athletes who trained throughout the summer at the OTC.
The Gold Coast Sevens will be broadcast by Universal Sports beginning at 8 p.m. Friday night.
“Perry now is on the verge of becoming an Olympian and becoming another Daytona Beach native to represent Team USA in 2016 in Brazil playing Rugby,” Richardson added.
How to help Perry
“Training full time and playing in an amateur sport round makes it difficult to support oneself.
Daytona Beach Rugby would like to help Perry live the Olympic dream to compete for his country and represent the Daytona Beach Rugby, Florida Rugby and the Daytona Beach Area.”
Richardson has set up a GoFundme account to assist with Perry’s expenses at gofundme.com/ Perry-Baker-Rugby-Fund
“We would like to help Perry out for the next two years to make ends meet and allow him to focus on training every day, and not worry how to pay the bills,” he concluded.