A dozen years after helping Kennebunk High reach the lacrosse state championship game for the first time, Kyle Baker still wields a quick stick.

Baker, who turns 30 on Saturday, will play in the upcoming World Lacrosse Championship in Israel as a member of Belgium’s national team. One of three team members without a Belgian passport, Baker joined the team two years ago after following a branch of his family tree through his maternal grandmother, Mariette Dhaveloose.

Kyle Baker

“You’re allowed four roster spots that don’t hold a passport to the country, but have lineage,” said Baker, an assistant coach at the University of New England whose full-time job is as a contractor for his father’s plumbing business. “My mother’s mother was born in Belgium and her family’s all from Belgium.”

The world championships are a quadrennial affair, similar to soccer’s World Cup but not nearly as well known. The first tournament was held in 1967 and the most recent in 2014, in Denver. The United States has won nine world titles and has finished second to Canada three times. The only other country to even reach the championship game is Australia, most recently in 1994.

“More and more countries around the world are picking it up,” said Charlie Burch, the head coach at UNE who also coached Baker at Kennebunk High. “So in the lacrosse world, it’s a big event.”

It was in Denver four years ago when Baker, working as a marketing director for a lacrosse equipment manufacturer, first made contact with the Belgian head coach and a few of the players.

“Up to that point, I hadn’t known Belgium had a national team,” he said. “I had tried to find them online but couldn’t find anything.”

Within a year, Baker had accepted an invitation to join the team and had gone through the eligibility process for the 2016 European championships in Budapest, Hungary.

“It was incredible,” said Baker, who was the tournament’s third-leading scorer after only a few practices with his team. “I had never been overseas.”

Baker will be one of two former Kennebunk High players at the world championships. Matt Carey, a 2002 graduate, plays for Scotland.

Baker, a 2006 graduate, spent a post-grad year at Holderness School in New Hampshire, where he played lacrosse, hockey and football. He accepted a partial scholarship to play lacrosse at Merrimack, but after three semesters transferred to the University of Southern Maine, where he played one season of hockey and three seasons of lacrosse.

After earning his degree at USM in business administration with a focus on marketing, Baker continued playing lacrosse in a semi-pro league based in Quebec that had a team in Vermont. He spent five summers commuting from Maine to Burlington, and sometimes played in Montreal or Ottawa.

“Every weekend I was gone for all those summers,” he said. “I attribute a lot of my success lately to playing the indoor game and going up there. I made some of the best friends I have thanks to that experience.”

Baker ran his own lacrosse club in Maine for a year and became a high school assistant coach, first at Cheverus and then at Falmouth, before joining the UNE staff in 2016. He said his ultimate goal is to become a full-time college coach, but he understands he needs to pay his dues and bide his time.

He’ll also have to pick up a significant portion of his travel expenses. Lacrosse is fairly new in Belgium, and players are expected to help with fundraising and pay out-of-pocket to cover any shortfalls.

Kyle Baker is eligible to play internationally for Belgium because his maternal grandmother was born in Belgium. Photo courtesy of Kyle Baker

The world championships are July 11-21. Organizers expect 46 nations from six continents to take part. All games will be held in Netanya, Israel, and more than a dozen will be televised on ESPN2 or ESPNU, with the rest streaming on ESPN’s online platform.

Baker departs next week.

“He keeps himself in really good shape,” said Burch, his old coach and current boss. “He plays in a couple of men’s leagues, plays quite a bit of the time.”

The sport’s growing popularity means the 2022 world championships – in Coquitlam, British Columbia – will be reduced to a field of 30 that requires regional qualification.

“This will be the biggest world games in the history of international lacrosse,” Baker said. “It’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime deal.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or:

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