Passion drives cross country team

Breezing past 150 dual meet consecutive wins, the Haddonfield Memorial High School boys’ cross country team is a perennial powerhouse.

The borough’s close proximity helps the team prepare for the season, said Coach Nick Baker.

And prep they do, with practices beginning in June.

“We meet all summer,” said Baker.

Rather than working on a tan, the boys work on their stamina.

When the season officially arrives in late August, the mantra becomes faster, faster, faster.

“We’re not trying to get in shape. We’re already in shape,” Baker said.

Living within a mile radius of other teammates makes it easier to meet for practices, simply walking or riding bikes to the school.

“It’s not as inconvenient,” said Baker, as a regional school competitor that pulls students from a 50-mile radius.

Top runners this season include captains Greg Halla, senior, and John Greenberg, junior.

Halla was a middle school star and came speeding into the high school.

“He’s having a tremendous season,” said Baker.

Greenberg had humble beginnings when he joined the middle school team, Baker said, but he built himself through hard work and a desire to be good.

Now, Greenberg and Halla both bring great leadership and organization to the team, he said.

Baker’s wife, Maureen Baker, helps with the process at the middle school level.

As coach, she exposes the young runners to the sport.

“She gets them excited for the possibility of being successful at this activity,” said Baker.

At that level, student athletes generally dip their feet in the pools of a plethora of sports, from soccer to football to basketball, while testing the potential of being a long distance runner.

“A lot of our middle school kids just have tremendously busy schedules,” Baker said. She’s very flexible with the schedule.”

To reach full potential as a runner, there must be passion involved, he said, which is true for any part of life.

“That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “They need to be passionate and have a love for what they’re doing.”

If you love running, Baker explained, then the training and practices don’t feel like hard work.

Haddonfield’s current streak of wins began in September 1997.

At the time, the team’s current assistant coach, Tom Brennan, was a sophomore in high school.

That status has helped him to relate to the team while bringing needed intensity and passion.

“It’s so great for me to have him around,” said Baker, who has been coach since the 1975–1976 school year. “It just makes my job so much more enjoyable and fun.”

Even with countless meets under their belts, Baker pushes the team forward, always looking for areas of improvement.

“Keep getting better,” said Baker. Faster. The best they can possibly be.

The ultimate goal for this season, he said, was to be the top team in the Colonial Conference, which they cinched in mid-October against rivals Haddon Township at Pennypacker Park.

At the competition, Halla was a stand out runner for Haddonfield with a time of 15:27.

“You want to win your conference,” he said. “We want to be the top team in the conference.”

“Our kids just performed incredibly well. That was very exciting,” Baker added.

With 150 down, is the team heading for 200 consecutive wins now?

“Yeah,” Baker laughed. Those runners are currently prepping in middle school.

“We have some pretty good ones out there,” he said.

The high school team is filled with younger grade levels. There are only three seniors this year out of the 27 on the roster, said Baker.

There are three keys to the team’s success, he said.

The students’ drives, good coaching and plenty of parent support.

“We have great kids,” he said.