In Play with Tom Markowski

Avery Baylis accepts life's challenges, sets an example for everyone

Basketball   | Tom Markowski

Avery Baylis accepts life's challenges, sets an example for everyone

Ionia – A day doesn’t go by when Josh Magley isn’t amazed and humbled by all of the things Avery Baylis can do whether it’s on a basketball court, a football field, a soccer pitch or just in everyday life.

“He’s unique, ah, special,” Magley said. “Just during our days in practice Avery can dribble through his legs and I find I have trouble doing that. And I can’t figure out how he can do it and keep an eye on the defender.

“Avery can do things I can do and he can do it with one arm. Just think about everyday stuff, it’s incredible.”

Baylis and Magley are both 18-years-old, and seniors at Ionia High School. Ionia is located northwest of Lansing off of M-66 with a population of approximately 12,000. In a small town everyone knows everyone else, and Baylis and Magley have known each other since the sixth grade. They were teammates on the varsity football and basketball teams but Baylis’ best sport is soccer. He has received a scholarship to compete in soccer at Spring Arbor College.

There’s little a person with two hands can do that Baylis can’t. He does point out that climbing the monkey bars is in that category.

What some people might assume is a handicap is normal for Baylis.

“Since I was born like that it was like being born with two hands,” he said. “You adapt with two hands. I had to adapt to one.

“My parents (Aaron and Sara Baylis) have always had my back. They don’t feel sorry for me at all. I still have chores to do around the house.”

Athletics have helped Baylis fit in with those his age. It’s a forum where he can compete at the same level and be just one of the guys. Athletics also serves as a groundbreaker socially, especially early in his life. It’s natural for someone to stare. Baylis understands that. Questions were asked and he answered them, sometimes with humor.

“They didn’t make fun of me,” he said. “They asked. It kind of bothered me some. I got it every day. Sometimes I’d make up stories. (I’d say) a shark attack, just to make them know I was OK with it.”

As he grew older and entered high school the curiosity diminished. Acceptance took its place.

“Growing up in Ionia, everybody knows you,” he said.

Living in a small town has its perks.

Baylis credits his father for encouraging him to play sports. When he was nine his father would shoot baskets with him and teach him how to shoot. It’s a challenge for someone with two hands to teach one with one but they managed nicely.

Baylis was hooked. Despite not having a left hand he became to realize he wasn’t so different after all.

“Nothing has held me back,” he said.

He began to try different sports like baseball, tennis, football and finally, soccer. Like any child growing up, Baylis gravitated to the sports he was good at and for him soccer came naturally.

Oddly enough, his father didn’t introduce this sport to him. One day Baylis was outside the school and began kicking the ball.

“I kicked it hard,” he said.

Baylis is a good athlete and isn’t afraid of contact. He’s 6-2 and weighs 185 pounds, and is quite agile. He played basketball three seasons at Ionia, this past season on varsity. He didn’t start but he played. Baylis played varsity soccer all four years and was a kicker on the varsity football team the last three.

One of his highlights came as a sophomore when the football team made the state playoffs.

There were other moments that stood out, not only to him but to his teammates as well.

“He actually had a tackle on the kickoff,” Magley said. “He just kind of dove at (the kick returner). I don’t know how the kid felt. I wouldn’t have felt good being tackled by a guy with one arm. And it saved us from a long kick return.”

Baylis did start one game this season for the basketball team. It came on senior night on Feb. 26 against Eaton Rapids. It’s a game Magley, varsity coach Travis Hyde or anyone else from Ionia who were there will not soon forget.

“He came out and had nine strong points,” Magley said. “He makes a tremendous layup, comes down and takes a charge. Everyone went nuts. Everyone was so excited for Avery on senor night.

“When Avery takes a charge and becomes a leader like that on the floor it gives us courage. It gets us amped up. And, oh yea, we won that game (56-51).”

Therein lies Baylis’ persona. Yes, he played basketball and was a kicker on the football team. And, yes, Baylis will play soccer in college but it is his determination and his attitude that everything is all right, that he’s just like the person next to him that makes him such a gifted person.

“I love being a part of a team,” he said. “I love celebrating. I love winning. I’m really competitive.”

That spirit rubs off on his teammates. When Baylis dives for a loose ball, or scores the winning goal in a soccer match, his teammates draw from that.

“He’s a positive influence,” Hyde said. “Physically, he’s gifted. He’s an inspiration. Just look at what he’s overcome. When he comes in a game he’ll usually guard the best player. Physically, look what he brings.

“It’s awesome. He’s put in so much time for athletics.”

Even though Ionia’s basketball season is over, Baylis isn’t done. He competes on the Midwest United FC club soccer team this spring. It’s an indoor soccer league based out of Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. A center-midfielder on is high school team, Baylis plays center-forward on his travel team.

Magley doesn’t play soccer but he’s watched Baylis many times and is amazed at how well he plays.

“He’s left-footed,” Magley said. “I’m just imaging how good he could be with a left hand. How difficult that is to have a dominant left foot and a dominant right hand.

“Avery is just kind of like any other teenager. He doesn’t get special treatment. He traches me that if I’m unhappy with something or a situation I’m in, I just think about Avery.

“He sets an example. If he can work hard to get something out of it, then what are we doing? Why are we there?”

Hyde said, above all else, it’s Baylis’ perseverance that makes him such an outstanding person.

“It’s his ability to adapt to situations,” Hyde said. “He got thrown a curveball and he hit a home run.”