Successful Era Ends as Baker Leaves Athletic Director Post
During the last three years, when Dennis Baker served as Bellingham High’s Athletic Director, the Blackhawks won two state championships, four sectional titles, and three Tri Valley League crowns. His watch also included having a two-time track-and-field All-American (Sarah Edwards) and twice hosting prestigious Division 4 track meets that drew 2,500 athletes and fans on both occasions.
Those achievements and the coaches and student-athletes who contributed to make those accolades a reality are what the 67-year-old Baker will remember fondly as he steps away from the A.D. position for the second time in his career.
Baker, who came out of retirement to be the A.D. in 2013 after serving as sports chief for 12 years previously, will be unable to continue because the school budget is calling for the A.D. position to be full-time. Baker can work in only a part-time role as a retiree. Superintendent Peter Marano recommended the move to full-time status and it was approved by the School Committee. The salary, according to Marano, now will range from $70,000 to $80,000 and will represent an increase to taxpayers of about $30,000.
Although Marano is fully aware that the move to full-time status eliminates Baker from continuing, he was effusive in his praise of the veteran A.D. “I have tremendous respect for Dennis and all the capacities he’s served,” Marano said. “He’s been a consummate professional, and he really cared about the town and the kids. He’s a true Bellingham Blackhawk.”
Baker was Bellingham’s A.D. for 15 years and worked in the system for 45. He’s been softball coach for 18 seasons and baseball coach for 10. During his early days as an adaptive physical education instructor, he served as Bellingham’s Special Olympics coordinator for 27 years, working closely with the Lions Club.
“I’ve got no regrets,” the popular Baker said. “I’ve enjoyed the last three years serving and working with all students, especially student-athletes. I look forward to watching Bellingham teams compete in the years ahead. It’s been my pleasure working with good people, good coaches and the staff in the athletic office. An important part of my work was helping special needs students at all levels. That was a very rewarding time for me.”
June 14, 2014, is a date that Baker will never forget. On that day in Worcester, the baseball team won the state championship at Holy Cross and his softball squad captured the state crown at Worcester State. TJ Chiappone’s baseball contingent defeated Monument Mountain, and Baker’s softball team topped Grafton.
“That day was so special and so memorable,” Baker emphasized. “I was so proud of what our student-athletes achieved. Another day, May 21, 2014, also was dynamic. We won TVL titles in baseball, softball and boys track on that date. Another nice memory was watching our ice hockey team compete in the tourney. It took 14 years to get back to tournament play, but we did it this year. That’s a credit to the coaches and players. And it was great to see eight seniors end their hockey careers in the tourney.”
Baker, who spent 14 years as baseball coach at Ashland, graduated in 1966 from Ashland High, where he starred as a three-sport athlete. At 6-foot-2, he excelled in baseball, football and basketball before heading off to the University of Maryland on a baseball scholarship. He was a two-way receiver in football, a center in basketball and an outfielder/first baseman in baseball. A Dual County League all-star in football and baseball, Baker was the sixth man on the 1964 Clocker hoop squad that lost to Holliston in the state finals. In 1966, he helped Ashland win its first state crown in baseball by defeating Norton.
“Although we lost to Holliston at the old Boston Garden, it still was such a big thrill to play on the parquet floor,” Baker recalled. “Baseball was my favorite sport and being on a state title team was a major thrill.”
The scholarship to play baseball at Maryland was no fluke. Baker hit .500 in the cleanup slot for the Clockers, and he could also hit for power. He played only a year of freshman baseball, then focused on academics, graduating from Maryland in 1971 with a degree in education and later earning a master’s in administration at UMass-Boston. He joined the Bellingham faculty in 1971.
“I truly liked coaching Ashland’s varsity baseball team,” Baker noted. “I had a chance to coach my two sons [Dennis Jr. and Matthew]. We won three TVL titles and got to the South Sectionals once.”
Baker expects to spend more time with his family, especially his six grandchildren, in his second stint of retirement. His son Matt is the A.D. at Holliston, and Baker says, “Don’t be surprised to see me on the sidelines in Holliston.”
A superb educator who knew every nuance in his role as A.D., Baker will close the door to the athletic office at Bellingham High for the final time in a few weeks. It will be a sad day for Baker but even sadder for students and athletes.
Dennis Baker was an excellent teacher, coach and A.D. who bled black and white for 45 years in a town he called “[his] second home.”