Buddy system accelerates Wildcat camaraderie

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Jasper’s Maria Baer, right, credits the Wildcats’ new buddy system for helping to develop the team’s chemistry. Upperclassmen are paired with underclassmen in the hope of starting friendships.

Herald Sports Writer

Maria Baer was pitched an idea. Then thought to herself, “This may not turn out so well.”

But it turns out the new team-building exercise that caused such a reaction from the senior standout has worked so well only because of people like her.

In the hopes of building camaraderie and washing away trepidation as varsity newcomers try to adapt to athletics and high school life, the Jasper girls soccer team implemented a buddy system for the first time this season.

Jasper coach Anthony Price paired upperclassmen with underclassmen who play the same position, with the hope that having at least one shared trait could jumpstart a friendship.

“At first you’re kind of freaked out,” Baer said. “We had a bunch of freshmen, so you’re like, ‘What if I get paired with one of these girls and we don’t get along?’ But then it helps bond our team faster, because we started learning about people that we probably wouldn’t have gone up to otherwise and asked about so that was really cool. I think it brought us closer, faster.”

The idea stemmed from a preseason camp at Indiana State University, with the thinking that the older kids could give advice and help their younger teammates feel like part of the crowd.

“If you’re a freshman, high school is a scary freaking time,” Price said. “There’s so many different things going on. It helps when you have somebody who has that experience to let you know what’s really important, what you should worry about, what you shouldn’t worry about, those sorts of things.”

Price said he and the coaches “want people who are welcoming and who will reach out, beyond just soccer,” in explaining what was expected of the upperclassmen. He could have been describing Baer.

“She’s just got this amazing welcoming personality. It’s hard not to like Maria, because she’s friendly, she’s outgoing and she’s a pretty kindhearted person,” he said.

Baer, a forward who ranks third all-time on Jasper’s scoring list with 41 career goals, spends just as much time advising students as she does terrorizing defenses.

In addition to serving as the president of the student council and vice president of National Honor Society, Baer is a peer mentor at school as well as a leader at Wyldlife, the middle-school sister program of Young Life. She’s also on a student committee that periodically meets with JHS athletic director Andy Noblitt to discuss ways of improving the athletic program.

Like many of her teammates, her role in the buddy system goes beyond simply owning a title. While guidelines don’t dictate the older players keep tabs on the younger Wildcats in school, it isn’t uncommon for seniors to ask freshmen if they need help in school or for players to share nonsoccer conversations. For example, Baer learned her buddy, freshman forward Brittany Haskins, aspires to be a meteorologist, despite Haskins having an aversion to storms. The irony caused Baer to laugh, but also gives some insight into why the buddy system has been so popular.

Strange faces become friends. Everyone belongs.

“I think just seeing them in the hallway and just talking to them, like, ‘Oh, hey, how’s it going?’ Just saying hi to them really helps them become comfortable around the whole high school atmosphere, just knowing that there’s older people out there looking out for you and there for you,” Baer said.

“When you hear about seniors, you may think of them being mean to you and wanting to haze you, but she’s nothing like that,” Haskins added. “I’ve really enjoyed having her as my buddy because she’s so nice and I feel like I can talk to her about anything.”

That Haskins said she can confide in Baer, someone who Haskins had never talked to before this season, really shouldn’t be a surprise. In elaborating on her role in Wyldlife and other groups, Baer talked of feeling compelled to help in any capacity she could. After naming about a half-dozen groups with which she’s associated, Baer stopped. She tried to think of more examples. Finally, she said, “I think that’s about it.”

She almost gave the feeling she feels like she could be doing even more.
“I’ve just known I’ve always wanted to get involved with stuff and I really enjoy helping people out if there’s an opportunity,” Baer said. “It always feels good to help people out and the more I’m involved, too, I feel like the more I’m helping the community out. It’s a rewarding feeling.”

Contact John Patishnock at jpatishnock@dcherald.com.

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