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Wisconsin boy’s memory has Packers fans Bearing Down

Today’s column from the Kankakee Daily Journal and The (Ottawa, Ill.) Times

Wisconsin boy’s memory has Packers fans Bearing Down

The WISCH LIST

April 3, 2010

The city of Burlington, Wis., sits about 70 miles closer to Soldier Field than it does Lambeau Field. But make no mistake about it, the Racine County town is firmly planted in Packers Country.

Or, at least, until recently it was.

“We do know that a lot of people in Burlington now own Bears shirts because of my son,” said Marie Baker, who lives with her family in the close-knit town of about 10,000, located 35 miles southwest of Milwaukee. “They may have hated wearing them, as some did complain. But they loved Slade.

“And Slade loved the Bears.”

On Monday, Jan. 4, 7-year-old Slade Baker was sledding with his 8-year-old brother, Damian, and a friend about a half-block from home when Slade’s sled carried him onto the ice covering the Fox River.

As Slade was walking back to the shore, the ice gave way and he was swept away by the river’s current below. Immediate efforts to save Slade failed and the next morning rescue workers located his body beneath the ice about 250 yards downstream, near downtown Burlington.

On Jan. 6., Slade’s obituary ran in the Kenosha News saying how, “He enjoyed football, baseball and basketball. He was a die-hard Bears fan. He was a ‘hands on,’ outgoing boy. He was a hard worker, a joker and an instigator, who lived every moment to the fullest.”

And thanks to Chicago Bears linebacker Nick Roach, Slade’s memory is still very much alive this weekend during the Final Four.

Even if Roach’s national championship pick (Marquette) is not.

“Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do,” Roach, a Milwaukee native, said about picking his hometown Golden Warriors to win it all. “You have to remember where you came from.”

That’s just what Roach did on Feb. 12 when he delayed a trip home to Milwaukee so he could swing by Burlington to attend a Slade Baker Fundraiser event.

“I heard from a friend about how big a Bears fan he was,” Roach said about Slade, who was buried in a Bears jersey and became a fan of the Monsters of the Midway because his best friend was. “And after the fundraiser I wanted to do a little more.”

Last month, Roach helped organize an online NCAA Tournament Pick ’Em contest in which more than 100 people made donations for the chance to bump basketball heads with the fourth-year Bear. The champion of the competition – which has raised an extra $1,200 for the Slade Baker Scholarship Fund – will win a pair of tickets to a 2010 Bears home game, while everyone who finishes ahead of Roach gets an opportunity to win a signed football or Bears shirt.

And as of right now, a lot of people have that opportunity – Roach currently sits at 95th place in his own pool.

“I just wanted to give everyone a chance to win,” the fourth-year Bear said with a chuckle. “If we had been picking football games, though, it wouldn’t have been fair.”

Sports prognostications aside, Slade’s father, Matt, said, “Nick has really made an impact up here. Everything he’s done has meant a lot.”

Marie Baker added that the family even got Slade’s grandfather – a lifelong Packers fan – to wear a Bears pin beside his Packers tie in recent weeks.

“And we know Slade was loving it,” she said. “His brother Damian is a Packers fan, so in our house during football time, it was a lot of fun. The two boys would talk smack about each other’s team. But now all these Packers fans here in Burlington have a different view on Nick Roach and the Bears.

“What Nick did was life-changing in Burlington.”

Anyone interested in making a donation to the Slade Baker Scholarship Fund can send an envelope to North Shore Bank, 116 South Pine Street, Burlington, WI 53105 along with a note it’s for Slade’s Fund.

Final Forlorn

Detroit has 8-year-old Ford Field (and the 2009 Final Four). Indianapolis has 2-year-old Lucas Oil Stadium (and the 2010 Final Four). And Chicago?

Well, it has 7-year-old Soldier Field (and bupkiss).

While on the topic of the Bears and NCAA basketball, I was thinking how nice it would be if this weekend the Final Four was being held beneath a retractable roof at Soldier Field.

Alas, it’s not … and never will be.

If the city of Chicago had any foresight, it would have decided a decade ago to construct a multi-purpose facility along Lake Shore Drive, rather awkwardly cramming a modern stadium inside the skeleton of old Soldier Field.

With Detroit and Indy also able to host Super Bowls, Mayor Daley & Co. really dropped the ball on that one.

In more sports than one.