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Baker Hoping HHS Student-Athletes Can Compete This Fall

EDITOR’S NOTE: At Local Town Pages deadline, neither Governor Baker nor the Department of Education had ruled on the status of interscholastic sports for the fall.

By KEN HAMWEY
Staff Sports Writer

Matt Baker has lots of experience in athletic administration, both in college and at the high school level. But, during his 20 years in sports management, he’s never had to deal with a pandemic. 

The 41-year-old Baker, who’s starting his sixth year as Holliston High’s athletic director, was associate A.D. at Mass. Bay Community College before working as an athletic administrator at Framingham State for 12 years. He’s seen his share of situations that postpone or cancel events but never has he seen an entire season eliminated.

“We got hit hard last spring, and it was sudden,’’ said Baker, who has his bachelor’s degree from Assumption College and his masters from Framingham State. “Unable to finish the State championship games for the winter was shocking, then spring sports took a gut punch. I felt badly for our spring athletes, especially the seniors. Their prom, senior awards night and graduation were all affected.’’

Baker strongly believes that last spring’s athletes at Holliston, especially in track and field, would have set some records. He also was sad that two winter competitors and a 2019 graduate were unable to be cited for individual honors. 

“Hockey player Brendon Geary, who won the Tri Valley League’s Boston Bruins Sportsmanship Award, lost his chance to be honored at the Garden on March 26,’’ Baker noted. “Lily Trainor, who’s now at the University of Vermont, was going to be honored as our all-time scoring leader in lacrosse, and we also wanted to honor Brian Garry, who won his second straight State wrestling title. He became the eighth State wrestling champ in school history. We’ll continue to work on a plan to honor and recognize these accomplishments, which could include banners, record boards, plaques, etc.’’

The late spring and summer were also difficult. Baker and fellow athletic directors were waiting for a decision on whether athletics would be in the mix this fall.

“The summer has been a roller-coaster,’’ he emphasized. “All our fall team schedules were completed as we waited to get the green light. All the TVL’s athletic directors were prepared to adjust to whatever the guidelines would be. As athletic directors, we often have to change schedules because of inclement weather or possibly because of a conflict with another school’s prom or awards night. There was no playbook on how to deal with a pandemic. But we all dealt with it at a moment’s notice. We’ve been in a variety of situations, but never anything like this.’’

Baker obviously hopes athletics will be in the mix this fall.

“If there are sports this fall, there’ll provide a great boost of enthusiasm for student-athletes and coaches,’’ he emphasized. “If we have sports, they’ll be starting later than usual, but our school culture, fans and parents will be getting a big lift, even if the format is in a reduced capacity. For a lot of kids, it might be their last opportunity to showcase their talent or to put on a Holliston uniform.

“If athletics are canceled, we’d unfortunately be back to last spring. Kids have been working out on their own with the hope they’d be competing when school started. Whatever officials come up with, I hope there will be creative thinking in offering opportunities for kids to compete this school year.’’

If sports are in the mix this fall, change will be prevalent at games and practices, and there’ll be new protocols on buses and in locker-rooms, weight rooms and training rooms.

“Crowds at games will be monitored for social distancing,’’ Baker said. “Practices likely will be conducted with limited groups and training rooms no longer will have an open-door policy. They’ll be new cleaning procedures for locker-rooms and weight rooms. In the past, we’ve sent varsity and jayvee teams to games on the same bus. Now, that’s changed. Where do we get added buses, and what about the increased costs?’’

Losing the spring season was difficult and Baker not only felt badly for seniors, but also for underclassmen.

“Seniors lose an opportunity to compete,’’ he said. “All their preparation and training never got tested and they didn’t get a chance to set records. For juniors, they lost the chance to showcase their ability for college recruiters and scouts. That’s when they have the best opportunity to start planning for their futures. That’s when they get film to colleges. Freshmen and sophomores also lost out because they’re striving to be on a varsity roster. Losing a season simply creates lots of gaps.’’

Baker is hopeful the fall season is spared because the Panthers have some powerhouse teams that are eager to once again prove themselves. Boys’ and girls’ soccer are two good examples.

“The girls’ squad went unbeaten (19-0-3) and won the State title last year,’’ he noted. “And, the boys team has won two TVL championships in a row. The girls, who have lots of talent returning, want the chance to repeat as State champs. And the boys would like to make it three straight league crowns. Our fall teams are very competitive. Football is traditionally a strong program and our field hockey, cross-country and volleyball teams have had success. They also want the opportunity to succeed.’’

With all the drama that the coronavirus created for athletics, Baker never lost sight of the big picture. He’s acutely aware of the pandemic’s death toll and its far-reaching effects. 

“The health and safety of everyone are what’s important,’’ Baker emphasized. “Athletics is just a small part of the equation. All the decisions that have been made have been done to preserve and protect the health of students and all those in our community and our country. It’s kind of ironic that last fall we had to deal with the threat from Triple-E. Now, it’s Covid-19.’’

Since Baker took the reins as Holliston’s A.D., the Panthers have won two State titles (girls’ soccer and football) and four Sectional crowns (girls’ soccer, boys’ soccer and two in football). There likely will be more success to follow.

As officials grapple with whether to keep interscholastic sports on the extra-curricular menu, athletics, nevertheless, will eventually be facing new protocols — for the coaches, the athletes and for fans. At Holliston, and in so many other communities, there’s a sense that when sports competition returns, there will be some sort of a return to normalcy.

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