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Holliston - Local Town Pages

Baker Optimistic Sports Will Return To Normalcy Holliston A.D. Glad Playoffs Back In The Mix

Jun 29, 2021 01:42PM ● By Chuck Tashjian

Staff Sports Writer

Matt Baker’s sixth year as Holliston High’s Athletic Director was all about patience, being able to adapt, and understanding the need to be flexible.

Modern day athletic directors must be quick to alter their routine plans, especially their teams’ schedules — for weather conditions or for conflicting dates like proms, graduations, etc. The covid-19 pandemic, however, turned the 2020-21 school year into a pressure-cooker for area A.D.s, forcing them to be vigilant every second of every day on a 24-7 basis.

“I stressed the need to be patient and adaptable,’’ Baker said. “We made decisions and we made changes from hour to hour. The pandemic forced us to expect the unexpected. At times, we didn’t know what the next 24 hours would be like. 

“As I look back at this school year, lots of people deserve credit for schools getting in four seasons of athletics. Parents, coaches and students followed the modifications from local and state officials, and the Tri Valley League’s A.D.s not only talked constantly, but we also had multiple meetings weekly to iron out problems and necessary changes. A majority of people realized we were in unprecedented times and there was no playbook to refer to.’’

The 42-year-old Baker maintained a calm demeanor throughout precarious times that called for coronavirus testing, quarantines, delays, postponements and cancellations. The pandemic taught many people many things, but for those trying to juggle sports into the daily mix of activities, covid-19 provided a lesson to appreciate the things we have.

“It taught us to cherish our athletic experiences every day,’’ Baker emphasized. “As Holliston’s A.D., I had to be prepared to adapt to policies, procedures and protocols that changed regularly. Losing the spring sports season in 2020 taught us not to take things for granted. We should all enjoy every minute or every day when we can compete.’’

The summer that followed last spring’s cancellation of interscholastic sports was an indication that high school athletics would be undergoing changes — major changes. Masks, social distancing, busing restrictions, hand sanitizing, and crowd sizes dominated the discussion of just about every committee linked to the Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA).

“The early part of the summer was tough,’’ Baker noted. “It was the great unknown. We didn’t have answers for students, parents and coaches. It was very different.’’

When the state and the MIAA ruled that sports would begin in the fall, the Panthers went into compete mode. The teams that suited up for shortened schedules and a variety of modifications were boys and girls cross-country, boys and girls soccer, field hockey and golf.

“Girls soccer went unbeaten (7-0-3),’’ Baker said. “Field hockey had a tremendous year, going 8-0, and girls cross-country posted a 5-0 record. The girls soccer team entered the season as defending state champions and two-time TVL champs. They’ve gone two seasons (32 matches) without losing. For the fall, we had 11 teams (varsity and sub-varsity) competing.’’

Falls sports that were moved to the newly-created Fall-2 season (March and April)  included football, cheerleading, indoor track, swimming and diving, volleyball and unified basketball.

“We got good results but creating the Fall-2 season was all about the theme for sports in 2020-21,’’ Baker said. “It was about providing opportunities and enabling student-athletes to compete. Sports looked different but we were active and we were competing. Our football team went 3-1 and tied for the TVL Large Division title with Ashland and Norwood. Girls track was 3-1 and the girls swim team had a 3-1 record.’’

The winter season was challenging. Holliston had to wait until Jan. 11 to get its pre-season underway. Local officials chose to delay the start because the town was in the ‘red’ zone for high incidences of the virus. When athletics did start, there were students who tested positive but, as Baker indicated, a bigger issue was “postponing games because opposing schools also had virus issues.’’

“We re-scheduled games and canceled a few,’’ he recalled. “The teams that competed were boys and girls basketball, girls co-op gymnastics, boys ice hockey and girls co-op ice hockey. Our teams competed hard and gave a great effort while winning several games in the competitive TVL.’’

The spring season, which included the resumption of sectional and state playoffs, got underway in May. Teams that competed were baseball (2-13), softball (11-5), boys lacrosse (6-7), girls lacrosse (6-7-1), boys tennis (4-10), girls tennis (7-8), boys track (2-3), girls track (3-2), and wrestling (0-4).

“Baseball, softball, both lacrosse teams and wrestling will be in tournaments, and our track teams competed in the league meet,’’ Baker said. “The two tennis teams opted out of  the playoffs. With tourneys back in the mix and league titles up for grabs, it was like normal times.’’

Baker is pleased that this year’s spring teams got the chance to experience playoff action, which got underway after Local Town Pages deadline. “It was a solid decision to wait for post-season playoffs, then resume them for the spring,’’ Baker offered. “Holding off was good because we were in the middle of the pandemic and still in unknown territory. Bringing back tourney play gives us a sense of normalcy. Our coaches did a great job all year of conveying the message about the importance of competing.’’

The personable Baker admitted that “the year wasn’t without struggles.’’ He indicated that opinions were offered but his office followed the guidelines and directions from medical and health officials at the state and local levels. The veteran A.D. believes the year ahead will be much better and that a return to normalcy will be very visible.

“Modifications are being eliminated and mask-wearing is now in our rear-view mirror,’’ Baker said. “And, there’s little doubt that the vaccines will play a major role in helping us get back to normal. But, as far as indoor sports go, we’re still in a wait-and-see period.’’ 

Baker was very pleased the way HHS student-athletes and coaches adhered to all the new guidelines. “Many kids played in summer leagues and had already adjusted to playing with masks on,’’ he said. “Coaches and trainers also deserve credit for stressing the need to distance, wear masks and use wipes.’’

Baker lauded school administrators and local health officials for their vigilance and their focus on safety and health. He’s delighted 2020-21 had four seasons and he credits “a lot of teamwork’’ for making school sports happen.’’

The 2020-21 school year at Holliston was a huge challenge at every turn. On the athletic front, Matt Baker says “mission accomplished’’ as far as providing student-athletes with the opportunity to compete.