Baker Lists Goals for Holliston Athletics for 2019-20 20

KEN HAMWEY, Staff Sports Writer
Entering his fifth year as Holliston High School Athletic Director, Matt Baker seeks to build athletes, and leaders.
Issue Date: 
July, 2019
Article Body: 

Matt Baker will be starting his fifth year as Holliston High’s athletic director in the fall and, when he talks about his objectives for 2019-2020, it’s obvious the 40-year-old administrator has the proper perspective to deal with a very challenging role.
The Ashland native, who’s lived in Holliston for the last 14 years, lists four goals he hopes will all be achieved. “I want to see our participation numbers continue to increase,’’ Baker said. “And, I’ll do whatever I can to assist students to have an enjoyable athletic experience. I’ll also strive to make our coaches’ jobs less difficult, and I’d like to add a few more Tri Valley League and Sectional championships to our mix.’’
Baker noted that participation numbers were up slightly for 2018-19 and that about 65 percent of the student body (800 enrollment) competes.
“I was pleased with the increase and with a large freshman class arriving this fall, I anticipate a high turnout,’’ Baker said. “Track and field had huge numbers last year and girls’ lacrosse had the most candidates ever — 52 students out at all levels. If all our competitors are counted for the numbers of sports they played, we had 914 athletes involved in the school year just completed.’’
As for team success, the Panthers seem to thrive when autumn arrives. Holliston won three TVL titles at that time and they included football and boys’ and girls’ soccer. The one Sectional crown was a fall sport — boys’ soccer. The only State championship was achieved on an individual level, and that occurred when wrestler Brian Garry captured the crown at 126 pounds.
“We’d like to add some more championships,’’ Baker emphasized. “Teams that should continue to perform well are football, boys’ and girls’ soccer, cross-country, golf, volleyball and field hockey. Girls lacrosse is also in the mix, because of its numbers and a very knowledgeable coach (Ali Jacobs).’’
To Holliston’s credit, there will be three student-athletes who’ll be playing at Division 1 colleges. They include Scott Elliott (Harvard football), Alex Panaggio (Syracuse soccer) and Lily Trainor (Vermont lacrosse).
While success is often measured in wins and losses, Baker is acutely aware that there are other areas that are equally important and also crucial to long-term prosperity. Those areas include co-op teams, athletic fees, leadership programs, hiring and evaluating coaches, maintaining a quality training program and liaison with youth sports.
Holliston currently has three co-op teams. It is the host school for swimming and diving, and it co-ops with Medway. There also is a girls’ ice-hockey team that’s hosted by Medway and includes Ashland, Holliston and Millis. The gymnastics team is hosted by Medway and includes Holliston and Millis.
“Co-op teams offer students the chance to play a sport that otherwise might not be available,’’ Baker noted. “Fortunately, the schools we co-op with are close and the A.D.s are great to work with. If we’re the host school, we deal with the scheduling.’’
Athletic fees can be difficult for some families but at Holliston the $225 cost for all sports has not changed since Baker arrived. “Keeping fees at a status-quo level is a plus,’’ he said.
Leadership development is a key element, and A.D.s are getting more and more involved in stressing to students the importance of attending seminars. Baker also has a Captains Council at the school that’s become a very positive force.
“We’ve taken athletes to the MIAA seminars on leadership,’’ said Baker, who has degrees in communication from Assumption and in public administration from Framingham State. “The Captains Council meets monthly, and what’s discussed is the culture of leadership. Kids from all sports participate. We pair teams up so, for example, players in basketball get to know what a player in swimming has to deal with. It’s all about being supportive.’’
Acquiring quality coaches is vital to an athletic program and Baker says he’s pleased with his staff. His additions for 2018-19 included two coaches for girls’ basketball, two for girls’ lacrosse and two for softball. “We’re confident that because of the people we’ve hired our programs are heading in the right direction,’’ he noted. “One position we filled for the new school year is the boys’ varsity basketball job. Mark Champagne, who coached at Ashland High and King Philip Regional will be directing that program.’’
A capable and effective athletic trainer makes life easier for an A.D., and Baker is quick to laud Nicole Siglin, who’s been the Panthers’ trainer for eight years. “Nicole is a great resource,’’ Baker emphasized. “The safety of our athletes is a big priority, and we know they’re in good hands with Nicole monitoring their health and physical needs. At times, when I may need some help with a specific issue, Nicole is always ready to help.’’
Keeping in tune with youth sports is always a plus, and Baker is delighted his coaches are concerned about that relationship. “Most of our coaches are tied to the youth programs,’’ he said. “Communication at that level is very important. We often have youth teams at the gym performing at halftime of games.’’
Most A.D.s will agree that five areas dominate their roles — scheduling, budgeting, purchasing, hiring and evaluating. Baker concurs that “if those areas are taken care of properly, then the department and the athletic programs are running smoothly.’’
Baker, who’s married and has four children, relies on a competitive philosophy that gives importance to reaching one’s potential and ensuring that there’s enjoyment in competing. “Winning is part of one’s athletic experience,’’ he said, “but I also want our coaches to work with students to improve and reach their potential and to also enjoy their athletic journey.’’
And, the life lessons he wants student-athletes to diligently learn speak volumes about Baker, who was a TVL all-star in baseball at Ashland High where he also played basketball and ran cross-country.
“Overcoming adversity and being resilient are important lessons learned in sports,’’ he emphasized. “Leadership skills can also be learned and sharpened. Athletics also teach how to be disciplined and accountable and how to compete.’’
Holliston’s athletes, Baker says, are fortunate to compete in the TVL, where “they face great competition, go up against knowledgeable coaches and see good sportsmanship.’’
Matt Baker has all the attributes to be a top-notch A.D. He’s patient, listens well and he’s objective. And, when he talks about the favorite part of his job, it’s very telling.
“Going to as many games as possible and seeing our kids develop as student-athletes is so rewarding,’’ he said. And, it’s enjoyable to see our students progress and develop into quality athletes.’’