Bill Baker, the longtime Mohonasen High School coach and athletic director who led the Warriors to Suburban Council and Section II championships, died Wednesday. He was 79.
Also a physical education, health and driver education teacher, Baker retired in 1988, but had kept close ties with Mohonasen through its Athletic Hall of Fame and the Mohonasen Foundation for Excellence.
“We’re grateful for his years in our community and athletic program, and for the foundation he laid years ago,” said Joe Scalise, the school’s current athletic director.
Baker, a Mont Pleasant High School and Springfield College graduate who joined the school district when it centralized in 1957, spent four years coaching the freshmen and junior varsity basketball programs before taking over the head coaching job from Bill Manikas in 1963 to begin a 26-year tenure.
Baker’s 1968-69 team, with a starting lineup of Jack Goldthwaite, Rit Fuller, Dick Capeless, Chuck Evans and Bill Murray, tied Colonie for the Suburban Council championship with a 13-3 record and finished 16-4 overall, knocking off Albany in postseason play and losing in overtime to Mont Pleasant in the Class A sectional semifinals.
“The Goldthwaite years were super years,” Baker told The Gazette in February 1988. “That was an extremely good group of kids to work with.”
Mohonasen had even more success a few years later. After making a surprising run in the 1971 sectionals to reach the final, the Warriors came back a year later and ran the table, winning both the Class A and A-AA titles with a 16-6 record. That team was honored during the Kirvin Cup Christmas tournament three years ago. Regulars in the lineup that season included Paul Wukitsch, Jack Conroy, Mike Danton, Ed Gejay and Larry Pardi.
“That 1972 year was awfully exciting,” Baker recalled. “It was a group we didn’t expect to do a lot, and we came on to win the whole thing.
“Another great year was 1979-80. We lost to Gloversville in the Class B finals at the Civic Center. It was an exciting year, especially with my son [Dennis] playing.”
The 1980 squad went 18-6 and set a school record for wins in one season, part of Baker’s career total of 248.
Many of Baker’s players earned college scholarships and some even went into coaching. Baker included Goldthwaite, Dave Wheeler, Bruce Wheeler, Nick Constantino, Jim Danton, Paul Manikas, John Thuotte, Joe Thuotte and Joe Renaud in the list of the best players he had.
Baker also found success coaching baseball from 1960-65, earning a tie for the Suburban Council title in 1963. He coached volleyball, golf and girls’ soccer during his career, and recalled one busy stretch when he was athletic director, coached three varsity sports and had four gym classes per day.
And somehow, Baker also found time to referee varsity soccer games for many years as a member of the Eastern Board of Approved Soccer Officials.
“He’s been much of that part in the history of our athletic program, and shaped and molded a lot of our student-athletes,” Scalise said. “Many of them have come back to express their gratitude.
“Some of our coaches and athletic directors have looked to him for advice.”
Although retirement gave Baker more time to enjoy his favorite pastime, golf, and pursue a small business of repairing golf clubs, he never wandered far from Mohonasen.
Baker not only was a member of the inaugural class in the Mohonasen Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009, but was also a driving force behind its inception. He remained an important member of the selection committee in following years.
“Coach Baker was very instrumental in getting our hall of fame up and running,” Scalise said. “Without his history with Mohonasen athletics, we could not have done it.”
Baker also served on the board of directors for the Mohonasen Foundation for Excellence and chaired its annual fundraising golf tournament.
Prior to coaching his final basketball game, Baker reflected on his long career.
“I’m very satisfied,” he said. “I look back, and I wouldn’t have wanted to do anything else. I’m very happy with what I’ve done.”
Baker is survived by his wife, Lois; sons, Dennis and Roger; daughters, Debbie (Wilday) and Kim; and grandchildren.
Calling hours are from 5-7 p.m. Monday at the DeMarco-Stone Funeral Home, 1605 Helderberg Ave., Rotterdam. A memorial service will be held Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the Bellevue Reformed Church in Schenectady..