ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A pair of bronze-dipped running shoes and two medals, all belonging to former running sensation John Baker, have been stolen from the elementary school that bears his name.
“These things have extreme sentimental value to the school, the community and certainly to John Baker’s family,” Albuquerque Public Schools spokeswoman Monica Armenta said.
Baker broke six state track records as a miler at the University of New Mexico, and was acclaimed as the finest miler the state has ever produced. He was offered several college coaching positions but instead accepted a job as a physical education teacher at Aspen Elementary School, which would be renamed John Baker Elementary School in 1971.
Baker was preparing to compete in the 1972 Olympics when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He was expected to live for another six months, but instead lived for 18 months, dying on Thanksgiving Day in 1970. He spent his final months devoted to the students he taught.
“He was very single-minded toward the children at the school, and especially the children who weren’t the beautiful ones and the jocks,” said his brother, Robert Baker. “He gravitated toward those who were kind of verging on being losers. … He had seen a lot of winning and losing, and knew that kids who get beat down all the time or ignored or whatever are in danger of dropping out.”
John Baker’s life story was told in “A Shining Season,” a book by William Buchanan that was published in 1978. The story has also been made into a film, starring Timothy Bottoms as Baker.
Robert Baker, who spoke on the phone from Dallas, said he was “distressed” about the theft of the items and hoped that whoever took them will bring them back. He said if it were up to him, he would not press charges or ask any questions if the items were returned.
He said the items probably do not have much monetary value.
“The metal in the medals is not a precious metal. It can’t be anything of monetary value. It would certainly mean a lot more to us than it can mean to whoever has it now,” he said.
A librarian at John Baker Elementary first noticed on Monday that the shoes and medals were missing from their case in the school library. The sliding metal lock that had secured the trophy case was also missing. Officials speculated the items may have been stolen for the value of their metal.
Anyone with information about the missing items should call Crime Stoppers at 843-STOP or APS police at 243-7712.