HADDONFIELD - The numbers are staggering, if not impressive. Just one glance at the accomplishments affiliated with both the boys and girls cross country programs at Haddonfield Memorial High School certainly reflect this.
Consider that the boys’ program has:
The Girls Cross Country program has also joined in on the action with a winning streak that exceeds 150 consecutive dual meets to go with nine state championships since the team was formed in 1978.
So, let’s give credit where credit is due:
Nick Baker and Maureen Baker, please take a bow. Nick Baker has served as boys cross country coach since 1982 and has devoted a total of 43 years of service to the program. He has collected more than 320 career wins against only 16 losses.
Maureen Baker has been equally devoted to the Bulldawgs’ program. She helped to start the girls’ program at HMHS in 1978, and the program has thrived since its inception with the 9 state crowns.
The husband and wife team took a major step toward solidifying their program when they began a Middle School program at Haddonfield Memorial Middle School in 1997.
Not surprisingly, noted Nick Baker, the school’s current win streak of 200-plus dual meets began that same year of 1997, when they lost their opening meet of the season to Haddon Township before winning their next nine to finish 9-1. Ironically following that defeat to open the 1997 campaign, the Dawgs bounced back to beat Haddon Township in the sectional championships.
"We struggled with consistency in the program for a few years, so the development of the Middle School team was important for us," Baker said. "Now, we always have great kids coming over to the high school – they’ve already been exposed to cross country and are battled tested.”
Currently, Courtney Baker – Nick and Maureen’s daughter – serves as the head middle school cross country coach. Maureen, who served as head coach for more than a decade – is Courtney’s assistant coach. There are approximately 135 kids competing in the middle school program.
Academically, the Haddonfield cross country team may be second to none in sending their athletes to top flight universities.
“We have at least 11 or 12 guys who have currently continued their careers in college,” Nick Baker said. “We’re excited for our athletes that they are able to continue their careers at some pretty great colleges.”
One of the highlights of the Bakers’ career most certainly was one related to academics. In 2010, the senior foursome of Matt Nussbaum, “Boo” Vitez, Colin Baker (Nick and Maureen’s son) and Ben Potts led the Dawgs to an amazing fifth straight Group 2 state championship in boys cross country.
Following the season, the foursome was rewarded handsomely as they all were awarded scholarships to Ivy League universities. Nussbaum ran for Yale, Vitez, was recruited by Princeton, Colin Baker landed at Penn, and Potts was welcomed to Cornell University.
“Not sure if I ever heard of four athletes from the same team ending up at Ivy League schools, but we’re certainly proud of that achievement for the whole Haddonfield community,” Nick Baker said.
So which team of the 16 state championship clubs does Baker consider his best? Without hesitation he gives the nod to his 2001 squad, which captured Haddonfield’s only All-Groups title when they rolled to a Meet of Champions triumph led by standouts Chris Platt, who later starred at Tennessee; Breton Bonnette and Brian Goldberg, who both ran for Penn; and Skip Styles, who went on to New Hampshire. Platt finished second overall in the Meet of Champions race at Holmdel Park to ignite the triumph.
“Amazingly, we didn’t even win the Group 2 state championship that year, but we qualified for the Meet of Champions,” said Nick Baker. “It was a nice bounce back. They were a talented team and they deserved to win the All-Groups championship.”
Even with all of the extraordinary history affiliated with the Haddonfield program, the future appears bright too.
The Bulldawgs notched the program’s 200th consecutive win in late September with a 15-50 triumph over Haddon Township at Pennypacker Park. Haddonfield entered a tri-meet against Collingswood, Haddon Township and Overbrook with 198 straight wins, and swept all three opponents to finish a productive afternoon with 201 consecutive wins.
Nick Baker’s current group of runners, a team dominated by sophomores and juniors such as Andrew Gostovich, Griffin Weiner, Derek Gess, and Greg Eisenhower, has a solid chance at winning Group 2 sectional and state championships this Fall.
It’s enough to keep Nick Baker busy on the sidelines and interested in continuing as head coach, even after 43 years.
“I still really enjoy it and I have a passion for it,” said Baker. “I enjoy coming to practice every day and giving the kids their workouts. It’s amazing to watch new kids come out and develop a passion for distance running.”