Columbus State Athletics dedicates new training, sports medicine facility in memory of local orthopedist Champ Baker Jr.
October 30, 2023
Through charitable support from The Hughston Clinic, Columbus State University Athletics on Oct. 26 officially dedicated the new Hughston Clinic Sports Performance Center and the Champ L. Baker Jr. Athletic Training Room in memory of the renowned orthopedic surgeon. Baker served the clinic in medical and administrative capacities for more than 40 years, as well as the Athletics Department’s team physician during the same period, until his passing in 2022.
The facility is a significant upgrade for Columbus State’s student-athletes, coaches, and athletic training staff. Now with dedicated workout facilities for exclusive use by student-athletes, it features six versatile racks, two dumbbell rack stations, six hex bars, four versatile machines, various medicine balls and trx bands — all provided by Hammer Strength. The department’s sports medicine athletic training room is co-located with the facility.
“No quality athletic program department can survive without an outstanding weight facility,” said Interim Athletics Director Jay Sparks. “What [The Hughston Clinic] has given us in this weight room is our ability to prepare our student-athletes to be the best athletes they can be.”
Sparks went on to note that the student-athletes previously relied on any means necessary to conduct team workouts, but the new facility instills a sense of pride, honor and ownership among our student-athletes.
“You will hear our student-athletes over and over use words like ‘spectacular’ to describe this new space,” he said. “But you will also hear them say, ‘this is mine’ and ‘this is ours.’ They feel a sense of ownership because it’s the first time we can say we have a real weight room of our own. And, that is the difference maker that we have today for training our current student-athletes and recruiting our future Cougars.”
One of those current student-athletes, Win Johns, an outfielder on the CSU Baseball team, talked of the benefits the new weight facility will have on him, his teammates, and the university’s athletics program.
“The first time I saw [the Hughston Sports Performance Center (pictured)], I was so impressed, especially that it’s ours — and we take pride in that,” the senior from Savannah studying a Master of Business Administration said. “This is going to be so important to player development, rehabilitation and recruiting. Speaking for all of us student-athletes, we’re very thankful.”
“Our student-athletes are some of our best students — on the field, on the court, on the course, but also in the classroom,” noted President Stuart Rayfield. “One of the ways we’re able to recruit such incredibly talented student-athletes is because of assets like this new weight room and training room. We’re immensely grateful to The Hughston Clinic for giving our student-athletes and our sports teams this new competitive advantage.”
She also noted this gift epitomizes the generosity for which Baker was known to friends, colleagues and the community.
“If there’s one word that describes Champ Baker, it’s ‘giver.’ He was a giver — to his profession, to his family, to his church, to his friends, and to Columbus State,” Rayfield said. “He made all of us want to be a part of his giving spirit that has made this community what it is.”
“Champ Baker was a trainer,” Baker family friend and CSU Foundation trustee Otis Scarborough added. “He loved to train other people, interns, fellows at the clinic. He trained us all up to be givers. He loved to take what he knew and pass it on — to give what he knew, all that he had, to others. He never felt like what he has was his — he felt like everything he had he should share with others.”
“We [at The Hughston Clinic] asked ourselves how we could honor Champ’s memory in a way where these student-athletes aren’t just surviving, but flourishing,” said Dr. Mark Baker, CEO of The Hughston Clinic. “When we talked about this opportunity, it was a very simple conversation with our physicians about choosing to make a capital investment in [Columbus State’s student-athletes].”
“My dad loved Columbus State, and Columbus State loved him back,” he said, citing remarks made by longtime men’s basketball coach and athletics director Herbert Greene in 2013 when Baker was inducted into the CSU Athletics Hall of Fame. “Dad was blessed to work with a great team when he was here — including the athletic training staff. They really do the hard work here — they put in the long, hard hours on the field, in the training room and traveling back and forth. I’m happy they will get the athletic training room they and our student-athletes deserve.”
ABOUT DR. CHAMP BAKER JR.
Baker was a nationally and internationally renowned orthopedic surgeon up to the time of his passing in March 2022 at the age of 75. A Louisiana native, he earned undergraduate and medical degrees at Louisiana State University, and briefly played center on its basketball team during his freshman year. After medical school, he entered the U.S. Army and completed his orthopedic residency at Letterman Army Medical Center in San Francisco and Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children in St. Louis.
He came to Columbus for a sports medicine fellowship under Dr. Jack Hughston, which he completed in 1979. Upon retiring from the Army as a lieutenant colonel in 1982, he joined The Hughston Clinic and remained on staff there until his retirement. He served as the clinic’s president from 1994 until 2000 in addition to later chairing The Hughston Foundation and serving as program director of the Hughston Sports Medicine Fellowship.
Baker served as Columbus State’s team physician for nearly 40 years, was a member and past chair of the Columbus State University Foundation, and served on the board of the university’s Bo Bartlett Center. A constant supporter in the stands, Baker was a driving force in CSU’s Athletics Department, contributing in a variety of ways with student-athletes always top in his mind. From physical therapy to surgeries to charitable donations to guiding athletic trainers, Baker influenced thousands of lives during his time with the Cougars. In recognition of his enduring support, he was inducted into the Columbus State Athletic Hall of Fame in 2013, and also received the prestigious Sonny Clements Athletic Director’s Award in 2017.
A member of the 2011 Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame class, Baker was a volunteer physician for the U.S. Olympic Committee. He started and funded scholarships for students in nursing and athletic training careers.
At the time of his passing, Baker had been married to his wife Sue Anne for 51 years. Together, they had three adult children and eight grandchildren.
Michael Tullier, APR, Executive Director of Strategic Communication + Marketing, 706.507.8729, email@example.com
Ally Cadenhead, Sports Information Director, Columbus State Athletics, 717.521.9347, firstname.lastname@example.org