Coach Nick Baker Picks Top 3 Moments He's Seen

During a Hall of Fame coaching career that spans six decades, Haddonfield's Nick Baker has certainly seen  his share of memorable moments around the track and trails.

But which are the absolute greatest performances among NJ athletes and teams that he's ever laid eyes on?

It's time to find out.

This spring, we at NJ MileSplit have begun a series with veteran coaches asking them to provide the three most memorable moments -- team or individual -- in XC or in track and field while they've been coaching. The only rule is that a coach cannot name an achievement -- whether it be a title won, a record broken, etc. -by one of his or her own student-athletes

Previously, Ridge's Tim Mooney, Rumson's Tim McLoone, and current Ramapo College coach Justina Cassavell, who built a dynasty at Voorhees High, revealed the top NJ moments they've witnessed.

Now it's Baker's turn in our coaches spotlight.

But before we unveil Baker's Top 3, let's take a look at his legendary coaching career

Coach Nick Baker's Background

A native of Dublin, Ireland, Baker moved 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 champion track team. He earned his college degree from Springfield College (Mass.).

Baker, the head XC boys coach at Haddonfield since 1982, is a member of the NJ State Coaches Hall of Fame, the South Jersey Track Coaches Hall of Fame, the Camden County Sports Hall of Fame, and the Haddonfield Hall of Fame.

In cross country, Baker has compiled an astounding dual meet record of 346-16, including an astounding current winning streak of 222 straight dual meet victories from 1997 through 2019. That's No. 3 all-time in state history and the sixth longest meet streak in U.S. history for a boys team. The only NJ boys teams with longer XC dual meet winning streaks than Haddonfield are CBA, who own a currently active national record streak of 371, and Paul VI,  who racked up 244 straight W's from 1980-2007. 

Haddonfield's boys XC program has also won a state record 37 South Jersey sectional titles (32 under Baker), including the last 16 in a row. Baker's teams have qualified for the Meet of Champions 31 times, which is the most by a public school, have won 17 state championships, and in 2001 they won the Meet of Champions and finished No. 1 in the state and No. 5 in the country. 

Haddonfield's 2001 XC team was the first team in state history to have three runners (Chris Platt, Skip Stiles, and Breton Bonnette) run under 16 minutes in the same race at Holmdel Park when they did it at MOCs.

Baker's resume as the head boys track and field coach at Haddonfield is just as impressive. He was the boys head outdoor coach from 1978-2003, and has been an assistant ever since '03. After starting the boys indoor program in 1978, Baker was the head indoor coach from 1978-2014, and is now an assistant coach in the winter. 

In addition to numerous conference, county and sectional championships, Baker led Haddonfield to nine winter track state titles, six indoor state relay titles, and five outdoor state championships.

That's a total of 20 track state titles to go along with the 17 state titles in cross country for a remarkable total of 37 state championships

And don't forget that Baker was very instrumental in the development of Haddonfield All-Time greats and U.S. Olympians Erin Donohue and Marielle Hall.  

Donohue, a 2001 graduate of Haddonfield, ran the 1,500 at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and is one of the greatest athletes to ever compete in NJ in any sport. Baker's wife, Maureen, was the head coach outdoors during Donohue's high school career.   

Hall, who graduated from Haddonfield in 2010, ran in the 10K at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Baker was serving as an assistant coach during Hall's high school days.     

Baker has also coached eight national champions in track. His distance medley squads won indoor national titles in 2002 and 2010, and his 4 mile relay won the indoor national championship in 2002 and 2010, and the outdoor title in 2010.

Baker isn't just a great coach. 

He also served as the President of the SJTCA for 20 years and the vice president for 14 years. He started the Haddonfield Invitational and has been the director for 30 years. He is also the meet director of the Haddonfield Distance Night, and he started the Haddonfield winter track and middle school programs and the Colonial Conference Middle School Championship.

Baker has been named the SJTCA cross country coach of the year four times, the SJTCA track coach of the year twice, the New Jersey cross country and track and field coach of the year twice, and has been named the Northeast Regional Coach of the Year in cross country.

Now it's time for Baker to pull the lever on his time machine as he rewinds the clock and reveals the Top 3 NJ moments that he's witnessed. Baker had a tough time cutting his big list down to three, but after careful consideration, he came up with these three gems!

It should also be noted that we are asking coaches to pick performances that don't involve their own team. 

No. 1 -- Dream Mile

On May 16, 1971, two of the greatest milers in U.S. history,  Olympians Marty Liquori, who ran at NJ's Essex Catholic, and Jim Ryun, hooked up at historic Franklin Field in Philadelphia in one of the most hyped showdowns ever

Ryun, who became the first high school runner to break the 4-minute barrier in the mile when he ran 3:55.1 as a senior at Wichita East High in Kansas in 1965, was the world record holder with the 3:55.1 he ran at the 1967 AAU Championships in Bakersfield, Calif. 

Liquori, a senior at Villanova at the time of this memorable clash, was the third high school runner to break four minutes, running 3:59.8 in when he was third in the '67 race where Ryun ran his world record.  
Ryun, who was known for his huge kick, was naturally the favorite based on his much faster PR, 3:51.1 to 3:57.2, and his record of 6-0 vs. Liquori at the time.

The match-up lived up to its billing!

After a slow early pace, Ryun took over the lead at the half (2:03.3). But Liquori made a huge move to the front with about 700 yards to go. Liquori and Ryun then waged a war over the final quarter with Liquori splitting 56.7 on the bell lap to get the narrow victory as both runners were timed in in 3:54.6. 
Baker was a senior in high school at the time.

It was dubbed the "Dream Mile'', and it took place live on CBS at the Martin Luther King International Freedom Games. 

"The Dream Mile race at Franklin Field in 1971 between Jim Ryun and Marty Liquori was one of my greatest track memories. Jim Ryun was a hero to me and the first track book I ever bought was "The Jim Ryun Story" that I just about memorized. Marty was from Essex Catholic and one of NJ's greatest runners ever. It was cool that Ryun was the first HS boy to ever break four minutes in the mile and Liquori was the third high schooler to ever accomplish that. The race started slow with another NJ legend, Joe Savage of Roselle Catholic (a freshman at Manhattan College at the time) taking the lead. Over the final two laps it was just Ryun and Liquori battling it out all by themselves with Marty holding off Ryun down the final stretch. I think they were 2:03 for the first 800m and they ran a very fast 1:50 over the final 800m, the winning time was about 3:54.''

No. 2 -- DMR Classic at Penn

You simply can't put together a proper list of the greatest races in the long history of the Penn Relays without mentioning the 1983 High School Boys Championship of America Distance Medley Relay.

That's the race when Willingboro and Bernards both took down the meet record and ran identical times of 10:00.9, shattering the meet mark of 10:02.1 that was set in 1976 by Power Memorial of New York.

After Willingboro's Vance Watson and John Carlotti of Bernards crossed the finish line together, Willingboro was awarded the victory in one of the greatest finishes in the 119-year history of the meet. Watson, who also anchored the winning 4x800m in '83, was named the Outstanding Athlete of the meet for running events.

The winning time of 10:00.9 by Willingboro stood as the meet record for 16 years until St. Malachy's of Ireland ran 9:59.84 to win in 1999. 

"The 1983 High School Distance Medley Relay at the Penn Relays might be one of the greatest high school races ever.,'' said Baker. "Vance Watson (4:08.6) from Willingboro High School was credited with the win over John Carlotti (4:06.4) of Bernards High School These were the days before auto timing, so although Willingboro was declared the winner both teams were given the identical time of 10:00.9, which was a new national HS record. One of the crazy things about the race was that Willingboro's lead off 1200 man, Jeff Gordon, was a 400 runner who the coaches moved up just for this meet because they thought he was so tough. …It turned out to be a great coaching move.''

No. 3 -- Fred Sharpe's Epic Triple at the Meet of Champions 

Although Fred Sharpe ran 54.67 to place third in his junior year at Paulsboro in the 400 hurdles at the 1996 Meet of Champions, not very many people outside of South Jersey really knew who he was heading into his senior year.

But a year later, Sharpe made sure his name would be etched in NJ track and field lore forever.  

Just mention the name Fred Sharpe to anyone who has followed NJ track and field for at least the last 25 years and odds are they will shake their heads in awe over what he did at the 1997 Meet of Champions at Frank Jost Field in South Plainfield.

As a senior at Paulsboro High School, Sharpe pulled off a remarkable triple that blew everyone's mind, including Baker's.  

Sharpe opened the meet by winning the 400m hurdles in a then meet record 51.62.

Then he placed third in the 1600m in 4:15.73 behind two of the best distance runners in state history, and then came back to win the 800m in 1:53.40. WHAT A TRIPLE!

Many wondered why Sharpe would even attempt to run all three? "Because I qualified for all three,'' Sharpe said very matter of factly at the time.

Baker was blown away by what Sharpe did!

"One of the greatest individual performances I have ever seen was the triple by Fred Sharpe of Paulsboro at the 1997 Meet of Champions,'' said Baker. "Fred started his day by winning the 400 IH in a meet record of 51.62. Next, he battled to a third place finish in 4:15.73 behind winner Matt Elmuccio of Westfield in the 1600m. Fred returned again for the 800 meters and won in 1:51.62. Wow, what a crazy display of toughness and versatility.''

Sharpe followed up his MOCs performance by finishing second in the 400 hurdles in 51.79 and fifth in the 800m in 1:49.74 (his high school PR) at the National Scholastic Championships at North Carolina State University.  

Sharpe went on to an All-American career at Auburn where he ran PR's of 1:48.09 in the 800m and 48.86 in the 400 hurdles.  

Nowadays, Sharpe can seen back at Paulsboro and around tracks in NJ as he helps coach his triplet daughters, Amirah, Arielle, and Arianna , who last spring led Paulsboro to their first state Group 1 title in 15 years.  

NOTE - Elmuccio's victory in the 1600m in 4:11.21 at the '97 MOCs, completed a historic three-peat as the Westfield stud became the only boy to ever win three straight four-lap titles at the Meet of Champions, a feat that no one has matched ever since.

Steve Slattery, a junior at Mount Olive at the time, was second in 4:12.90. Slattery, who won two NJ XC Meet of Champions titles and was a two-time FL National XC qualifier, and Elmuccio wound up being teammates at the University of Colorado.  

SPECIAL BONUS:  Since this series calls for coaches not to include their owns teams, I couldn't help but wonder what Baker would choose as the top 3 Haddonfield moments that he witnessed? Aren't you curious as well? Of course you are!  

The answer?

Baker said his top 3 would be his boys team winning the XC Meet of Champions (a week after they lost at the Group 2 meet when Skip Stiles got sick during the race and couldn't finish). Donohue placing 2nd at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials in Euegene to make the Olympic Team,. And watching his son, Colin, run a high high school PR of 4:09.30 to get second in the 1,600 at the 2010 Meet of Champions..     

How about that!!!! His team wins Meet of Champs, someone he coached makes the Olympic Team, and his kid goes sub 4:10 in high school!!!! Now that's one helluva triple!!!! How many high school coaches in the country can match that trifecta??

Here's to you, Nick Baker!!!!! Congrats on everything you've accomplished!!!!