By: Jen Russon
As the years roll by, so do the birthdays, making it hard to recall how, exactly, the milestone celebrations went down. Still, when Coral Springs middle schooler Austin Baker looks back, he is likely to have vivid memories of his thirteenth birthday.
The reason Austin’s surprise birthday celebration is likely to stand out is that it happened in his driveway, as the newly anointed teenager observed the rules in social distancing.
Hockey stick in hand, he watched on Sunday, as a succession of cars drove by, honked, and showered him with birthday gifts – delivered in plastic bags by a friend who made sure to spray a lot of Lysol, before dropping them off and running back to a car decorated with birthday banners and balloons.
The teen’s mother, Brandy Baker, captured the heartwarming scene on video and can be heard gasping in the background, clearly moved by her son’s past and present hockey teams, coming together as they did.
“I want to share with everyone, the love that is in my community,” said Brandy, who has lived in the Beachwood Heights neighborhood, with her husband, Brad, and two children for about ten years.
Brandy said Austin is a seventh-grader at Coral Springs Middle School and that his younger sister Emma is in sixth grade at Eagle Ridge.
She added her kids grew up playing in parks around the city, but that it is memories of Austin’s ball-playing at North Community Park, and introduction to hockey at the Florida Panther’s IceDen that got Austin as devoted to hockey as he is.
For two years, he played with the Junior Panthers hockey team in Coral Springs but recently finished out the first season with the West Palm Beach Hawks in Lake Worth.
Brandy said friends from both teams put together the birthday surprise, and that the family – especially Austin, couldn’t have been more touched.
She said that what his friends did more than made up for the disappointment Austin had been feeling over not being able to have a real party during the COVID-19 crisis.
“He was so excited to be a teenager – but is very low key, a very humble kid,” said Brandy, adding that he appreciates his family driving him as far as Lake Worth for practice.
The Baker family agreed all the back and forth was worth it when the Hawks picked up the State Champion title for their division this March – but were adamant in pointing out Austin’s first hometown team, the Junior Panthers – represented the majority of the hoots and hollers as the birthday caravan rolled by.
Brandy said it was playing red hockey with the Panthers that got her son as interested as he now is advancing in the sport.
Explaining that Austin misses gliding across the Sportsplex rink with his Coral Springs friends, she said the Panthers made it crystal clear on Sunday he still means a lot to them.
“I’ve got amazing friends,” he said.