To: The Baldwin Family
My prayers and special thoughts are with you all at this time. I feel in many ways I am part of your extended family in that over the years, especially while David was at Montverde Academy, we got to know each other through David and in sharing his time at school and his successes and accomplishments together.
It is hard to believe that David is no longer with us but he is now with God. A consoation is that one day we all will be together again in a better place with God.
David will always have a special place in my heart and I will never forget the times we spent together at the Academy.
I was fortunate to be his coach through his five year journey into becoming a Florida State Champion in the Pole Vault in 1989. David had to overcome being "legally blind" and master a sport that having full eyesight is difficult enough. It demonstrated David's strong will and refusal to allow obstacles to stand in his way in achieving his goals. This was a special time in my life but for David I know how special it was for him. It was one of his highlights and one he most definitely earned through days and years of hard work and perserverence.
"To Daivd I say I will miss not knowing you are with us but you will always be a special person to me. The memories from your time at Montverde Academy will never leave me. You have a beautiful daughter and one that you can be proud will be here with us to shine in your place and allow us to live on with you through her. Your family are very loving and special people and someday we will all be togther again. What I will most miss about you is your humble and kind spirit and unselfish nature. You were a pleasure to be around. Pray for all of us."
I will leave here an account of a important time in David's earlier life and one that can serve as a motivation of hope to others and one that epitimizes David for what he was and always will be remembered as by those who knew him.
IN MEMORY AND IN HONOR AND TRIBUTE TO DAVID MICHAEL BALDWIN:
My Memories of David Baldwin
For nearly five years, I knew David Baldwin while he was a student at Montverde Academy. I was an educational administrator at the Academy and was his track and field coach there as well. At the time, Montverde Academy which was founded in 1912 was primarily a private boarding school. The school had a long and rich history of serving students from all over the United States as well other countries world-wide.
David’s mother, Harriet Baldwin, enrolled David at Montverde Academy in order to give him the educational and social advantage of being part of a school that had a solid academic program and who encourage their students to become more self-reliant and committed to pursuing and achieving worthy goals in their lives. It was not easy on Mrs. Baldwin financially to enroll David as a boarding student but she wanted her son to have the best she could provide for him during those developmental years before he graduated from high school.
Furthermore, David was born with an eye condition know as Congenital Astigmatism. This condition consists of having an extreme case of near-sightedness. In many ways, David was considered to be legally blind but yet he still had enough eyesight to be able to carry out his normal everyday school routines. Yet, in many ways, it was an obstacle that had limited him and gave others reason to place limitations on him. Overall, this did not seem to help David’s confidence, his willingness to further explore his talents, nor with his self-esteem.
I noticed from the start that David was a well mannered young man who kept a neat appearance. But more significantly, I noticed that overall he was a very quite person and in many ways was shy and self-restrained. His behavior was subdued and when approached he was very congenial and friendly but still restrained. It was like he lacked the self-confidence to extend himself further. He went to class, did his school work, and was well behaved. His teachers and dorm parents really liked David and appreciated his willingness to cooperate and carry out his assignments and responsibilities. Yet, he would spend most of his time, including his free time, in his dormitory and not out and around campus.
It was then that I began to think that it would be a good thing for David to have something to do after school that would truly interest and motivate him and give him the opportunity to improve his self-confidence and esteem. One late winter afternoon that year, while in his dormitory, I approached David who was then in the 8th grade and told him that he looked like he had a strong set of shoulders, good upper body strength, and as a result would he like to learn how to pole vault and become part of the Academy’s track and field team. By the look on his face, David was taken back by my offer. Because of his eye condition, David’s opportunities to be part of competitive athletics were almost non-existent. Now all of a sudden I was asking him to be part of an athletic team and to pole vault. After explaining to him the rigors of pole vaulting, I think he was even further taken back but still being congenital did not say no. I just felt it was something that David could do and that he could become self-absorbed with and in turn take him out of his shell. After further encouragement and a good pep talk, I was able to get him to agree to come out to the track after school the next day and allow me to begin to instruct him into the art of pole vaulting.
At first, he struggle but I could see he liked the idea. It was something that he could have control over and strive to be good in. In no time, you could sense it was becoming a goal that he wanted to prove to himself he could do in spite of the fact that his visual handicap and lack of really being in shape might dictate otherwise. After he was able to plant his pole vault into the vaulting box and go up on the pole for the first time, I felt that he would be able to perform the event and this would really propel him into an opportunity to overcoming self-doubt and provide him a sense of achievement. I felt it was just what David needed for him to take hold of himself, branch out, and find out more of who he was as a person.
Over the next four years, I coached no one on the track team that was any more dedicated and determined than David. It was that perseverance that was so special. He had many setbacks and frustrations along the way. Even though he was able to get up on the pole and compete, he had a hard time with consistency and increasing his height over periods of time. But it never made him utter one word about quitting the event nor stop him from doing the right things to improve. If he was frustrated and left the practice field with a guff and a frown on his face, it was never directed at anyone else or taken out on others. Instead, it was directed toward him in that he truly believed he could better and wanted to improve. He would accept nothing less.
Finally, 1989, his senior year arrived and his sense of confidence and determination to attain the ultimate, a state championship in the pole vault, was fully on his agenda. Again, he would have no less of himself and his hunger to excel would only be satisfied in being awarded a State of Florida Gold Metal in the Pole Vault.
If there was ever a notion at this point that he could coax somewhat, it never was given a chance to show itself. For a senior teammate of David’s, Aaron, a young man with extra special natural athletic abilities, would come to threatened David’s supremacy in the pole vault even on his own team. Aaron took up pole vaulting for the first time in the preseason of their senor year and was a natural at it. He was jumping as high as David by the early season Montverde Academy Annual “Eagle” Track and Field Invitational that year even though David jumped his personal best at that meet. This could have discouraged David who had put three and a half years into pole vaulting only to have this novice almost outshine him now. It only made David dig into that new self-confidence he had been developing in himself, his nurtured work ethic, and then to take on this challenge with vigor.
That year, as in other years, we took our track athletes to prestigious track and field meets around the state. One that we entered was special to David and that was the Space Coast Merritt Island Relay Invitational Meet which had some of the best and largest schools around the state of Florida competing in it. David was from Merritt Island, Florida and it would have been Merritt Island High School he would have attended if he did not attended the Academy. He was now coming home unknown but how much he wanted to leave knowing they saw a new David who could accomplish good and positive things.
We were blessed with three good pole vaulters that year with David, Aaron, and another teammate Diane who himself developed in the pole vault with over the years with David. These three young men were part of our pole vault relay team at Merritt Island which would finish based on the overall average of their jumps as a group. The event lasted a long time because there were so many vaulters. So the daylight turned into darkness. The field lights were turned on and all three of our vaulters remained in the competition. It was then that David confided to Diane that he was having trouble under the lights seeing the vaulting box. He feared he might miss the vaulting box with his pole and eventually be eliminated from the competition. Diane, who had developed over the years a high regard for David, went to the head pole vault judge and asked if he could place a white towel around side and back edges of the vaulting box. He hoped that the white towel would direct David to the box so he could plant his pole and continue to compete. The judge somewhat puzzled agreed and David had hope. Not only did he have hope but he won first place in the meet and our pole vault relay team took first place as well. There were no happier nor self-fulfilled trio of young athletes than these three that night as they carried their individual trophies from the field. David admitted later that in his last jumps into the night, the final ones that gave him and helped the team win the event, he could not see the vaulting box from his approach 106’ away; he only saw the white towel. The white towel came to signify David’s special courage, unselfishness, and resolve to dig deeper into him and pull out of the jaws of defeat a victory.
Only two from our State District Meet could qualify for the State Track and Field Meet. It was David and Aaron, jumping their personal best, who qualified to go to the State Meet. Diane who jumped his own personal best in the District Meet did not make it after years of pole vaulting. But his respect for David and Aaron turned his disappointment into a sincere form of special encouragement that he shared with them without one bit of rancor nor jealous shown; for he truly had none. They were truly a team within a team and David was the role model and signified that special relationship they had together.
At the State Track and Field Meet, each one had to be truly on their own. Both David and Aaron wished each other well while each knew that he had a chance to be the state champion pole vaulter. Each then went into the state competition drawing from their past lessons, experiences, and efforts.
As a coach, I experienced a special sense that only a coach could really have and experience. At the end of the long and hard State competition that day, in the end their remained only two pole vaulters; David and Aaron. Both from the same school in an event that is most difficult to conquer and takes a special kind of athlete and person to master well. One who was considered legally blind by many and the other who had never picked up a pole vault before that season. How often does that happen in state competition in the pole vault? All of this happened to us that day and it was special and unique. It was a feeling of satisfaction but most importantly a sense of appreciation for all that went into getting their and for the special individuals that made it all happen.
It came down to the last jumps between Aaron and David. They both cleared 13’ and now the bar rested on 13’6”. Both Aaron and David had cleared that height in Districts and it was their personal best height. Perhaps it was all the knocks and bruises that David went through and perhaps it took a little more than just being an exceptional athlete on that day. In the end, Aaron for the first time failed to make 13’6” and David cleared it and became the State Pole Vaulting Champion. It was a long nurtured and painstaking road of development taken that outlasted pure athletic talent that day. Aaron as disappointed as he was knew he had a great ride and that his accomplishments in one year of pole vaulting culminating in being the State Runner-up in the pole vault was a story in itself. One that will not be forgotten alone with an appreciation for his athletic talent and personal courage he demonstrated by taking on the event fearlessly. Aaron congratulated David and both had real mutual respect for each other.
As the eight top finishers stood on the awards stand to receive their State Metals, there at the top were David and Aaron, the State Champion and State Runner-Up respectively, Again, I could only reflect at the time what a very special moment this was for all of us, the innumerable hours of effort that went into getting to that moment, and how special that team of Diane, Aaron, and David were to us. That image of the awards stand that evening with the gold metal around David’s neck and the silver metal around Aaron’s neck will live with me the rest of my life. There stood David on the very top, perhaps he should not really have been there because of the many obstacles he had to confront and overcome, but there he was and it was no mirage, and he deserved every minute of it and the recognition it brought.
Soon afterwards, an article appeared in the Orlando Sentinel entitled Story Now Can Be Told: Baldwin Legally Blind. It traced David’s climb to become the 1989 State Pole Vaulting Champion and the handicaps and obstacles, especially with his eyesight, that he had to overcome and the type of person that he was. We received many telephone calls from the public congratulating David and the Academy and in each was a special tribute to David for what he personally overcame to be the state champion.
Then we got a special letter from WFTV Television Station Channel 9 of Orlando informing us that David had been chosen their 1989 High School Athlete of the Year for his special personal courage and fortitude in becoming a State Champion. One of the prominent sportscasters, in the area came to our campus and interviewed both David and I. That interview appeared on the evening Sports News Telecast and again telephone calls came into the Academy paying tribute to David and how his story was special and had touched and moved them.
In the final analysis, it was David’s humility and unpresumptuous nature that will stand on top of his many accomplishments. It is one thing to achieve great things but it is another thing on how one handles it. David did his hard work without fanfare and quietly always pushing himself one step more when it appeared that he had did not have the ability to climb any more. Even after his accomplishments, he remained relatively quiet about what he had done for the real joy of accomplishment I believe came within him – he really did not have to prove himself to anyone else in the end. Yet, the praise and recognition came to him without him going out of his way to get it. That is the sign of a true athlete and a role model for modesty and humility. He knew he had done something worthy but he just wanted it part of him and for it to spur others to believe in themselves and reach for their dreams. Words of advice he could give to others aspiring but self-praise and self-engrossment was not his style and never was. David went on to fulfill his academic goals and graduate from Montverde Academy. His self-esteem was stronger and his sense of confidence was higher.
His mother and family’s sacrifices had given David the chance to have these special moments and the memories to go with him into his life and beyond. Not everyone has the opportunity to have such memories as David’s but neither does everyone have the maturity David demonstrated by looking at the bigger picture ahead, not just the obstacles and frustrations of the moment, and then having the resolve to push forward towards their visions and dreams as did David.
For me, I am a better person for having talked to David that one day in his 8th grade life and for knowing him. I am better because I was fortunate enough to share with him these special moments in his life which in so many ways were inspirational to me. He gave me a real role model to share with others in assisting and encouraging them to strive for their vision. I believe David’s story has since helped many others in reaching toward their potential and in achieving their special dreams too.
David Baldwin left these positive marks on Montverde Academy and the world. They are good and happy ones. While a student, he never would turn his back on anyone nor judge them on the spot. He would be polite and positive which included his competitors while in pole vault competition. For this he had the respect of all and I knew of no one that was jealous of him. His very nature and inner being lead them to look up to him and have their genuine respect. Even at the time of his greatest success at the Academy, he keep all in focus and never lost sight of the fact that he was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, He never lost sight of the sacrifices his family made for him and the obstacles that he had to overcome through many hours of painstaking effort and the realization that false pride and vanity were elusions and short lived. For him, it was just as important to keep this in his sights as being the state champion. For it is what made it possible for David to be a champion and what would keep him a champion in his life time and beyond.
Perhaps this is the most important message he leaves to us in that we should never loose faith in ourselves, but at the same time not allow our personal successes to destroy our humility and to distort who we really are. This could be David Baldwin’s greatest and lasting legacy to us all.
We thank God for giving us David and sharing our lives with him.
Paul F. Ingrassia, Jr.
WE ARE ALL PROUD OF YOU DAVID AND LOVE YOU.
Paul F. Ingrassia, Jr.