Haddonfield Educational Trust
A Tribute to Coach Nick Baker
Reflections on Coach Nick Baker, by Dr. Joseph Serico
On Saturday, October 14, Nick Baker, HMHS coach, teacher, supervisor and interim principal passed away at the age of 70.
If you attended the Haddonfield Public Schools between 1975 and 2023, there is a good chance you came across Mr. Baker as either your PE teacher, driver ed instructor, or your coach.
A native of Dublin, Ireland, Nick emigrated with his family to New York at age five. He graduated from Mt. Vernon (N.Y.) High School, where he was a member of the state champion cross-country team and the Eastern States championship track team. He earned his BA in physical education from Springfield College.
Nick built a remarkable legacy as a coach over 48 seasons. The evidence is in the record. Under Nick, the Haddons won 35 sectional titles in cross-country, including a state record 19 sectional championships in a row, and 20 State Group Championships, including the last five straight. Under his leadership, the Haddons have qualified for the Meet of Champions a state public school record 34 times. In 2001, his team won the Meet of Champions title and finished No. 1 in the state and No. 5 in the country. Including outdoor and indoor track, Nick's teams have won 37 state championships. His cross country team has won over 245 straight meets over 27 years. He has been inducted into multiple Halls of Fame both statewide and regional.
While the record of success is remarkable, it has always been about the relationships that people have prized with Nick. When Nick had to be moved to hospice care last week, his family started a CaringBridge page. The well wishes found on the site tell the real story of Nick Baker. Friends, colleagues, fellow coaches, parents and student athletes from as far back as 1978 to current team members shared their appreciation and love for Nick.
John Greenberg '14 wrote, "Running for you changed my life and opened doors that I never knew existed. The values that you instilled in me as a teenager still guide me to this day. Thank you for always believing in me and pushing me to be the best version of myself."
Danny Brennan '15 commented, "While the medals may get lost, mile-splits forgotten, and meets become a thing of the past; the manner in which you were able to leverage running to educate young men and women about the importance of hard work and dedication for decades has impacted us all in ways which are truly immeasurable."
Pam Gess, a parent observed, "I remember all the little things we do as parents to help teach our children the importance of hard work, perseverance, overcoming obstacles, teamwork and winning/losing with grace. Yet in only one season with you those lessons were forever ingrained in my children. Your consistency, intelligence, compassion and love of running are a potent mix that terrifies the rest of NJ but has helped mold countless Haddonfield children into wonderful, independent adults. Today, years away from running, both Bri and Derek continue to stumble upon unexpected parallels between their professional lives and their lives as runners. You are an eternal compass that guides them in both their daily as well as life changing decisions. For this, Nick, I am eternally grateful as you have single handedly played a monumental role in the bettering of the core of so many people."
It's easy to think that his impact was all about his coaching but it was much more. Elisa Camiscioli '85 shared, "I wasn’t good at gym and you didn’t make me feel badly about it. I remember this very clearly, more than thirty years down the road. You also taught me driver’s ed and I can picture you at my side, with your gentle and calm presence. Thank you for being that kind of adult in a young person’s life. What a gift that is, and you have given it many times over."
I cannot do justice in this space to the extraordinary outpouring of love and appreciation that appear on that website. To read many more well wishes click the link that follows: Caring Bridge
On a personal note, for 47 years, Nick has been a fellow coach, my colleague, my friend and my confidant. His example gave me someone to emulate in every one of those roles. At HMHS, we often talked about putting students first. He did that. He created a culture that was welcoming to every student, that encouraged them to develop and reach their potential, that offered them opportunities to lead and that promoted mutual respect. I marveled as he found a place for every student, the hockey player that never ran before, the special needs child who could blossom as a manager, the marginalized kid who needed a place in the community. It was something that every teacher, coach and administrator could learn from. I know I did. As Eric Bonnette '97 said in his well wish, "Take that victory lap now Coach. You have won the race."
Memorial donations in Nick’s name may be made to the Haddonfield Educational Trust, PO Box 178, Haddonfield, NJ 08033 (www.haddonfieldeducationaltrust.org/donate) to continue Nick’s legacy of nurturing growth and commitment to the community he cherished.
The Haddonfield Educational Trust, Inc. is a non-profit foundation
dedicated to enhancing educational excellence of the Haddonfield Public Schools.
Where Do Your Donations Go?
The Haddonfield Educational Trust is a qualified 501(c)(3) non-profit entity that is dedicated to enhancing the educational excellence of the Haddonfield School District. The HET solicits, receives and manages funds that benefit Haddonfield Schools.
Since 2016, the HET has awarded $100,000 in grants to support Haddonfield innovative teachers. Additionally, we have purchased playground equipment for all three elementary schools, raised $350,000 for the HMHS Campus Beautification project, and $120,000 for the HMHS Auditorium.