On a special night in December, the girls basketball team at Clovis High School gave high fives to a girl in a wheelchair who has limited control of her body.
The gesture left the girl — Clovis High freshman Savitri Baker — with a warm feeling.
“It was awesome just being part of something,” Baker said, recalling the night when the Cougars played Bullard High School in the Clovis High gym. “It gave me the feeling of happiness inside.”
Baker served as honorary team captain at the game — something arranged by head coach Greg Clark. “I wanted to give her an opportunity to feel she’s part of our team,” Clark said.
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Baker has bonded with the girls basketball team — a bond between a girl who will never walk independently and teenagers who run up and down the court.
Baker deals with a number of health challenges — cerebral palsy, spastic quadriplegia, developmental delays and epilepsy. They resulted from a premature birth. Baker is a twin, but her twin brother died soon after birth.
“They tried to convince me to start planning Savitri’s funeral,”said her mother, Beverly Baker-Ajene. “But I wouldn’t. She’s my miracle baby. My Christmas baby.”
Her birthday in Dec. 25.
Baker and her mother moved to the Valley from the Bay Area in February 2016. They lived in the mountains at first and Baker was homeschooled. Then they moved to Clovis, and Baker started at Clovis High last September.
Baker enjoys being around people, and attending Clovis High has proved a good experience, her mother said.
“Savitri complains about the work,” Baker-Ajene added with a chuckle. “But she’s very smart. I think she’s having a good time.”
Savitri Baker agreed. “It’s pretty nice being here. I have a great teacher and a great aide, and I do all my homework and all my math,” she said. “Having a family here at school makes me feel I’m part of something.”
Josh Smith, Baker’s special education teacher, and Nicole Chapple, her special education aide, blinked away tears as Baker spoke. “You add a lot to this family,” Smith told her.
Chapple works one-on-one with Baker. “Savitri is a great kid with a great heart,” Chapple said.
Theirs is a special relationship, and it’s how Baker was introduced to the girls basketball team. A 2010 Clovis High graduate, Chapple is an assistant coach for the team.
In high school, she played basketball for the Cougars, and she’s shown Baker photos from her playing days.
The teenager is impressed.
“I think, ‘wow.’ She’s quite the player. I think she’s incredible,” Baker said.
Players on the girls basketball team have similar regard for Baker. “She’s always smiling,” senior Taylor Cherry said. “She’s an inspiration.”
Cherry said that when she’s discouraged she considers how Baker faces her challenges.
“She encourages me to do my best,” Cherry said.
At the game where Baker served as honorary captain, she sat courtside with the players and coaches. She also went into the locker room at halftime with the team.
“I’ve never felt so much energy,” Baker said. “And they felt energy from me. I was just there to support the team.”
It was Baker’s first basketball game at Clovis High, but she’s no stranger to the game. She and her 23-year-old brother, Robert, have watched televised NBA games.
The Golden State Warriors are her favorite team, and Stephen Curry is her favorite player. “He has awesome moves,” Baker said.
She also has a sister, 26-year-old Victoria, who was visiting from Boston and attended the Clovis-Bullard game. Baker was thrilled that her sister was there.
Being with Victoria is “dearest to my heart,” she said.
Baker’s mother and sister watched from the bleachers in the gym that night.
“She was all involved,” Beverly Baker-Ajene said of her younger daughter. “It was joyful for me to see. It warmed my heart.”
The night ended well for the Cougars. They won 53-39, and their honorary captain was weary but satisfied.
“I was tired because it was late, but I got to have some hot chocolate after I got home,” Baker said. “I had a lot of exciting things going on in my life.”