With an undefeated record dating back to 1997, Tuesday’s victory pushes the HMHS team past a Paul VI program that had built its 244-win streak over 27 years.
By Matt Skoufalos | September 12, 2023
At the end of the 5K loop through Maria Barnaby Greenwald Memorial Park in Cherry Hill, Haddonfield Memorial High School (HMHS) Boys Cross Country Coach Nick Baker watched his top runners cross the finish line less than 17 minutes after they’d begun the race.
“That’s it,” he said.
In that quiet moment, Baker’s team made cross country history, winning its 245th consecutive dual meet to eclipse a record held by Paul VI Catholic High School for 27 years (1980 to 2007).
The HMHS boys team needed to land five of the top finishers in Tuesday’s meet to cement its victory; at least seven or eight Haddonfield runners completed the course ahead of any from Collingswood, Gateway, Lindenwold, and West Deptford, its opponents on the day.
For Baker, it was a moment of validation of the program for which he laid the foundation more than 25 years ago. When the dual meet win streak was established in 1997, HMHS also launched a winter track program, and Haddonfield Middle School started its own cross-country program.
Baker regards both running programs as cornerstones of the legacy that followed.
“That was the kickoff to things,” he said.
The streak that followed, however, is a result of buy-in from runners who passed the torch from one group to the next through the years.
“The kids took ownership of the program,” Baker said. “It went from being coach-driven to being kid-driven, from one group of leaders to another.
“We’ve got kids who can’t wait for this to be their team next year,” he said. “They take it as something bigger than themselves.”
Through the years, the Bakers have been there to guide the next generation of runners.
Eventually, Nick’s wife Maureen took over the Haddonfield Middle School cross country program, and then passed it on to their daughter, Courtney.
Today, the couple’s son, Colin, also volunteers as an assistant cross country coach.
In addition to their steady hands at the helm, the program has thrived because of solid competition, Baker said. The HMHS boys cross country team has taken home six straight Group 2 state championships, and 14 in the last 25 seasons.
But they’ve also watched as their Colonial Conference competition — including teams from Haddon Township, Haddon Heights, and Audubon — have won their own state titles in that time.
“It’s not like we were beating bad teams,” Baker said. “We’ve been beating some powerhouse teams. The Colonial Conference has done really well.”
Baker is also aware that the moment his runners were chasing Tuesday afternoon, and the streak they overtook in victory, is the result of “a lot of years and dedication by a lot of people,” he said.
“It took [Paul VI] 27 years to get it,” Baker said. “They were one of the best programs in New Jersey.”
HMHS runner Liam Dougherty, whose father, Paul, ran cross country at Paul VI during that school’s win streak, said the students who join the team are keenly aware of the expectations and responsibilities that come with it.
“Being a part of this team is a legacy you’ve got to carry on,” said Dougherty, one of the top finishers of the day. “You’ve got to make sure you’re strong for the team.”
The HMHS squad has embraced a culture of “being strong, and trying to outdo each other, and compete,” he said.
“From the time you join, you know there’s a streak, and you’ve got to keep it going,” Dougherty said. “It’s something to remember. This is something you can’t do with just one team.”
HMHS Athletic Director Lefty Banos described the moment as one of exceptional pride in the district cross country program, and recognition of the coach who molded it into a winning tradition of more than a quarter-century.
“Any time you have a program that has been so successful for so many years, how can we not feel pride and appreciation for all the student-athletes that have come through, and the coaches that have been part of this?” Banos said.
Banos lauded Baker as “one of the best coaches in the country in the sport of cross country.
“Nick is a coach who cares deeply about his student-athletes as people first and foremost,” Banos said. “He’s a lifelong learner of the sport, and always continues to learn and grow as a coach; to find the next new thing he can bring to his team.
“This doesn’t happen showing up at the first practice and hoping to be competitive,” Banos said. “This is something that occurs over multiple months and training sessions to maintain this level of success.
Haddonfield Superintendent of Schools Chuck Klaus described Tuesday’s victory as “confirmation of excellence over time” on the part of the cross-country program and its participants.
“It’s high expectations; it’s taking care of kids; it’s teamwork,” Klaus said.
“There’s 31 of them out there.”
If the HMHS boys cross country team puts together another undefeated dual-meet season by winning the remaining six events on its calendar, it’s poised to become one of the top-ranked high-school programs in the country.
According to the high-school sports website MaxPreps, the longest active cross-country win streak in the country is held by Christian Brothers Academy of Lincroft; it dates back to 1973, and is approaching 400 meets in a row.
Behind them are Blackstone-Millville Regional High School of Massachusetts, which racked up 265 wins from 1974 to 1992, and Fredonia High School of New York (250 wins from 1971 to 1984).
Addison Middle/High School of New York and Bishop Hendricken High School of Warwick, Rhode Island both have compiled a 247-win streak; Addison’s ran from 1998 to 2008, and Bishop Hendricken’s, begun in 2007, is still active.
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