For almost fifty years now, the Connecticut high school running community has had no idea how lucky it is. Way back then, a Manhattan College senior answered a help wanted ad for an Economics teacher and cross country coach at Ridgefield High School, and Bill Baron answered it. He thought to himself, this is just what I was looking for. College prepared me for this teaching position, and I'm a serious runner. He got the job and the rest, as they say, is, well, historic, and so lucky for the rest of us.
So for nearly half a century, Coach Baron has been out there working with countless teams and countless athletes in all three sports seasons, first at Ridgefield for two years and then at East Hartford High until 2001, when he retired from the classroom. He graduated from East Hartford High School in 1960, and will always have a soft spot in his heart for his home town. He and his wife, Marie, still reside close by in nearby South Windsor where they raised their two children, Linda and Michael. They have called South Windsor home for forty years.
"I want my athletes to work hard, be prepared when the time comes to perform, and take these lessons with them after they leave high school." Many of them still keep in touch because they know he cares. Once, right after Coach Baron underwent major surgery, the hospital people were wheeling him down a corridor when Life Coach Baron spotted a clock on the wall, and, noting the time, remarked that it was about time for Sheldon Simpson to be doing his intervals. Always thinking...about others.
A wise man once said, "A teacher effects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." Whoever said that captured the essence of teachers and coaches like Bill Baron. In fact, the motto of East Hartford High School is "Not for School, but for Life." If ever there was a teacher/coach who brought that lesson to reality for his students and athletes, it is Bill Baron. Bill credits his high school coach, Lionel McCabe, for laying the groundwork for a life-long commitment to running as part of a healthy life style for kids.
With an appreciation for staying organized and paying attention to the details of coaching, Bill also credits the man with whom he coached for a couple of years at East Hartford, Bill Kelleher, who went on to coach track & field at UConn for many years. Coach Baron still recalls taking lessons from Coach Kelleher about preparing workouts and dealing with different personalities on a team. Must have worked because Baron chalked up over 600 wins. How about 7 state championships?
Dick Brimley, himself a long-time coach at East Hartford High, is also one of Coach Baron's influences; in fact Baron calls Brimley, "an inspiration." Brimley, three years ahead of Baron, was an outstanding runner at East Hartford High School and Manhattan College, and Baron followed right in his footsteps. The partnership remains strong to this day. You can find Coach Brimley working at whichever meet Coach Baron is Meet director. Brimley claims, "Whatever Bill has today in this world he got with hard work and attention to preparation."
The two godfathers of cross country and track and field in Connecticut, Irv Black and Lindy Remigino, also helped the greatness in Bill Baron blossom over the years, and for many years now, the second generation of godfathers now sits on Mount Olympus. Way back in the beginning Coach Baron remembers sitting in coaches meetings with Black and Remigino and being intimidated by their stature and accomplishments, and thinking to himself, am I in the right place? Well, for a long time now, Coach Baron has earned his own stature and his own accomplishments, and has achieved his rightful place among The Great Ones. In the right place? You bet.
Example: Coach Baron just hosted the 30th Wickham Invitation...a big cross country jamboree consisting of 14 different races, drawing teams from all across Connecticut and from parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Held at Wickham Park in Manchester, this became a major date on the XC calendar a long time ago. You don't miss this event. By planning and organizing this meet, and state championship meets, Coach Baron rises above the level of coach to the level of meet director, and ultimately to the level of Statesman, as he promotes the sports at the state level. Like so many other great coaches, it's a way to give back to the sport and the larger community, and Baron will never let go of that notion.
But did he hype the 30th anniversary of the Wickham Invite? Not much; not his style. Let's emphasize the sport and kids who participate in it.
His run began as an outstanding runner at East Hartford High School where he was all-conference four times in track and cross country, and all-state as a senior in cross country. Leadership? He served as captain of all three teams during his senior year...XC, indoor and outdoor track, and as he competed during that XC season he set five course records around the old Capital District Conference. For example, he set the course record on his home course and at the Greater Hartford Invitation, then held at Keeney Park. In fact, Marie Baron remembers sitting in home room at EHHS and listening to the morning announcements and hearing, "Yesterday, Bill Baron set another course record at..." East Hartford's Rotary Club named him Outstanding Athlete in 1960, and for all of his quality performances, Manhattan College awarded him a four-year scholarship.
During his run, the Connecticut High School Coaches Association named him Coach of the Year for Outdoor Track in 1977, and for XC in 1980. The CHSCA completed the hat trick by naming him COY for Indoor Track in 1994. Coach Boron's inevitable induction into the Connecticut Coaches Hall of Fame came in 2001. Baron is proud of the Thomas Monahan Award from the Coaches Association, given to him in 1998, but he's most proud of the East Hartford High School National Honor Society Outstanding Alumnus Award, given to him in 1986.
So as he continues his run, his wife, Marie, continues on the run with him, as an invaluable partner. Marquette Basketball Coach Al McGuire once said that the first people who get to Heaven are coaches wives, but Marie and Bill will get There together. And rightfully so. Connecticut is lucky to have Bill Baron, but just as lucky to have Marie.
Long time friends Bill Baron and Bob Haddad share a moment at the 2011 Haddad Windham XC Invite in September 2011.
Matt Buckler of the Manchester Journal Inquirer enjoys a pre-race chat with Coach Bill Baron at the 2011 CCC XC Championships in October 2011.
Below, Coach Bill Baron explains race tactics and course conditions to East Catholic XC teammates prior to the 2011 CCC XC Championships in October 2011.