Kenn Baker: "Leave it better than you found it," -- A coaching legacy flourishes


Teaching, coaching, and school administration encompass three of the most difficult — yet potentially rewarding — jobs in the world. The words chosen, the actions taken, and the visions shared can have huge impact in the lives of students, athletes, and families. It was Dr. Billy Graham who once stated, "One coach will impact more young people in a year than the average person does in a lifetime."

Teachers, coaches, and school administrators do not get to choose which words or actions carry lasting impressions. That’s left up to the recipients. The overwhelming majority in those professions, however, have the greatest of intentions, empathy, optimism, and integrity.

In the midst of my career that included all three roles, I was given the opportunity by the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) and the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) to travel the country as a national faculty member to speak with and teach thousands of other athletic directors and coaches at national conferences.

The blessings were immense and the sharing of experiences with coaches and athletic administrators from every state and Canada educated me even more than the certification courses I was there to share with others.

In teaching, we often use examples and share influences. It is a nice way to personalize points of emphasis and draw in your audience.

While my career was impacted by dozens of teachers, coaches, and administrators I admired, there aren’t many with a greater impact on the local, Bartow County community than the career of Kenn Baker. He taught, coached, and was an administrator at three of the five local high schools from 1990 into the current decade and his career spans an even greater period of time and geography.

Although my own career didn’t start until the mid-1980s, Baker and I taught in the same department and coached football and basketball together for several years at Cass High School. At national conferences in the 1990s after becoming athletic director, I often shared the experiences Baker and I gained together with our athletes and I shared things I learned from observing his work with our students and athletes.

Locally, we have watched Baker’s family blossom as they took root in Bartow County. His kids are all adults now and his influence — along with the influence of his wife Bea — has extended into the careers of his children. Two of which are now college coaches, so the Baker coaching impact continues to flourish across the nation.

(Click on image to enlarge) Top left, clockwise: Baker as coach at ECA, 1990 Cass High School football staff; 1991 Cass boys basketball; 1992 Cass football coaching staff

Kenn Baker’s teaching and coaching career began in nearby Calhoun. From 1977 to 1985, the young social studies teacher, football, basketball, and track coach worked at both Calhoun Junior High and Calhoun High School. From there, he took a position at Washington Wilkes High School in the late 1980s before arriving in Bartow County at Cass High School in 1990.

Coach Baker continued to coach football throughout those years, but became the head boys basketball coach at Washington Wilkes and continued those same roles at Cass High until 1997.

Next, Baker spent 1997 to 2007 as the athletic director at Woodland High School where he also served as an assistant and eventual Associate Principal. He continued his athletic coaching career during those years as well, working with middle school and high school sub-varsity basketball, track, and football.

In 2007, he took on the role of school principal and left the Bartow County School System for a few years. Baker was principal at Martin Luther King High School until 2009 and was principal at Towers High School in Atlanta from 2009-2012 before returning to the Cartersville community at Excel Christian Academy.

Baker spent 2013 to 2017 as an assistant principal, athletic director, and coach at ECA and now even in retirement continues to teach AP U.S. History part-time at Cornerstone Prep Academy in Acworth.

The father of Kim, Treece, Kenny, Kelsey, and Kaylin, Baker has seen each child enjoy success. Two of the five are now college coaches themselves and he and his wife Bea enjoy traveling and even attending the games their children now coach.

Baker's time in Bartow County has touched many lives. As you read his words below and the words of his own children, many of you that have enjoyed Coach Baker as a teacher, coach, and/or administrator will once again experience and take pleasure in many of the same words you have most likely heard from him before.

The following excerpts come from interviews conducted with Coach Baker along with conversations with his daughter Kelsey (Huntingdon College softball assistant coach) and son Kenny (Mercer University defensive line coach).

Kenn Baker

Catch us up, what are you doing these days?

I am currently teaching part-time at Cornerstone Prep Academy ,a University Model School located in Acworth, Georgia. I teach two classes of AP US History three days per week.

Where are the kids these days?

Kim; my oldest daughter is a Customer Service Supervisor for Banyan Air Service in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. My daughter Treece; is the Clinical Nurse Expert for the Piedmont Healthcare Critical Care System of Georgia. Her office is in Atlanta. Kenny is starting his fifth year as the defensive line coach at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. Kelsey is beginning her third year as the assistant softball coach at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama. Kaylin will graduate from Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia in December with a degree in communications.

With two of your kids now following your footsteps and coaching at the college level, do you ever reflect on your influence in their lives?

It has been very satisfying to see Kenny and Kelsey as coaches. It was a little strange at first, because both Kenny and Kelsey swore that they would never teach or coach. I guess having been around me and Bea and seeing all of the time and work that goes into teaching and coaching they decided that they did not want to be in education. On the other hand, because they had been involved in athletics and education all of their lives, they felt a natural gravitation to stay involved in athletics by choosing to coach. We enjoy attending their games and watching them coach. We go to Kenny’s football games at Mercer in the Fall and we attend Kelsey’s softball games in the Spring. One of the good points is that we love to travel and by attending their games we get to visit different parts of the country. I try not to be an armchair quarterback, but I do enjoy talking to them about their team’s performances and their coaching philosophies and strategies.

What other aspects of your life have changed with semi-retirement?

We’ve had the opportunity to travel more. We have visited several historical sites in different states and countries in the past couple of years. We have also become more active in our church as a part of the youth ministries and Sunday school.

Like many of us in coaching, you ‘out-kicked your coverage’ with your wife Bea. How has she impacted your career?

Bea has been a blessing in my life. In so many ways she has been the rock of the family. Particularly early in my coaching career when you spend so much time away from home. She has always been supportive in all of my endeavors and in a lot of cases been the voice of reason for our family. I cannot express enough how much she has meant to me and our family. She was an outstanding teacher in her own right, who had an impact on the lives of the students that she worked with. One of the things that is unique was that she was voted as the Teacher of the Year at Pine Log, and I was voted Teacher of the Year at Cass during our tenure in the Bartow County School System.

What other influences have impacted your career?

The biggest influence in my life was my mother. She was exceptional woman who overcame so much to become a very successful business woman. She graduated as the valedictorian of her college class at Paine College. She served as a Lieutenant in the Air Force during the Korean War. She opened the first African American Day Care in Palm Beach County and ran it for 37 years until she retired. She always demonstrated strength and perseverance and was a hard worker. She was not about excuses. She just found a way to get things done. She held me and my brother accountable and provided the groundwork for the work ethic and attitude that I have today. She was a great role model. When I was growing up I always wanted to be a teacher. I was blessed to have several outstanding teachers that had a tremendous influence in my life. My fourth grade teacher Mrs. McKay, my fifth grade teacher Mrs. Townsend, my high school math teacher Mr. Owens, and my high school history teacher Mr. Bryant were the teachers that had the biggest impact on me deciding to become a teacher. They all demanded that you perform at a high level, they made learning fun and interesting, they were very caring and giving, as well as imparting life lessons that helped you to become a better person.

My high school, Atlantic High School, had a very successful athletic program. The coaching staff was extremely demanding and pushed you to perform at a high level. Those two things stayed with me in both coaching and teaching. Coach Norman Price, my high school basketball coach and Coach Cary Wilder my high school football coach, were early influences.

What made you decide to coach?

When I was hired for my first job at Calhoun Junior High School, Mrs. Baxter, the principal, told me that the position would require me to coach. Since we were a small school I coached all three sports offered at the school: football, basketball and track. So that’s how I started my coaching. I did not really think about coaching until the opportunity presented itself at Calhoun Junior High. I had played all three sports in high school, so I just used the experiences from participating in those sports to coach my first middle school teams.

Who inspired you or served as role models in your coaching career?

Probably the coaches that had the biggest influence on me once I first started coaching were Ray Tucker, Lynn Walters, and Jerry Smith in Calhoun, Butch Brooks and Curtis Williams at Washington Wilkes and Dwight Henderson at Rome High School. My observation of them helped foster my belief that being a coach does not stop on the court or playing field. You invest in your players, in the classroom, and in the community. You take an interest in their daily lives and in their growth and development as individuals.

They were knowledgeable about their sport and worked hard to get the best out of their athletes. They held their players accountable by setting high standards for their programs and making the players understand that the team is more important than the individual. I always tried to take bits and pieces from all of the coaches that I worked with and interacted with during my coaching career. I always tried to work hard to improve as a coach and educator.

Who were your influences as a school administrator?

When I became an administrator I was blessed to be around several outstanding administrators that mentored me and shaped me as an administrator and prepared me to become a principal. Kay Baxter, Jimmy Gainey, Ken Prichard, Bill Kiser, Connie Olson, and Donnie Denson were all excellent role models. However, the person that had the biggest impact on shaping me as an administrator is Dr. Nettie Holt. I learned so much from working with her. She epitomized all the characteristics of a great leader. She was innovative, and a visionary in bringing the IB and Performing Arts Programs to Woodland High School. She held you to high standards while at the same time trusting you to do your job. She had an amazing way of motivating you to do your best.

The characteristics that I took from those administrators that I used when I became a principal were; organizational skills, accountability, being innovative and visionary, and building relationships with both your faculty and students.

I have been blessed to have the opportunity to work in education and interact with teachers, coaches, administrators and that have made a commitment to impact the lives of children. I think that teaching is the noblest of all professions because of the impact that you can have on a student’s life. I am glad that I have had the opportunity to be a part of it.

KELSEY BAKER

Kelsey Baker has been an assistant softball coach at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama since 2016. Before Huntingdon, Baker was a volunteer assistant softball coach at Georgia Highlands College and Excel Christian Academy and a student-assistant coach at Paine College where she played after graduating from Woodland High School. As a player, Baker was a team captain at Paine College. She was team MVP, won the Silver Slugger Award and was named to the conference All-Academic team. Before Paine College, she played softball for Cleveland State Community College, where she was a Distinguished Scholar-Athlete award winner.

Baker earned a bachelor's degree in history from Paine College as a Summa Cum Laude graduate in 2014. She was a Merit Scholar Recipient, Outstanding Academic Achievement Award winner, Alpha Kappa Mu National Honor Society member and the female Student Marshall for her graduating class.

As a student-athlete at Cleveland State, Baker was a recipient of the Dr. George L Mathis Scholastic Achievement Award, was a member of the Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society and the Tennessee Community College Athletic Association Honor Roll.

She was SIAC All-Academic Team in her senior season at Paine College where she pitched and played first base. Baker led Paine in slugging percentage (.560) and doubles while carrying a 3.75 GPA and graduating with a degree in History.

What are your current coaching responsibilities?

I am the Assistant Coach at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, AL. I primarily work with the pitchers and catchers, and assist with team defense. With our pitching staff I work on pitcher and pitch development, mental approach and game preparedness. With our catchers I work on building relationships with out staff and improving catching techniques. I share recruiting responsibilities with my Head Coach and we recruit the southeast, and are expanding our recruiting to the North and West.

Other than your dad, who were/are your greatest influences in coaching?

Greg Hight, he coached me in recreation sports and travel softball. Greg introduced me to softball and taught us how to play the game the correct way.He believed in us as people and as players. He treated all of us as if we were his and I thank his wife Cindy and daughter Hannah for sharing him with us for all those years. Next would be Colman Roberts, my coach at Woodland. He taught me how to play toughly and handle adversity. Coach Roberts taught us that "everything comes out in the wash," that sooner or later what you do will eventually tell on you, good, bad and everything in-between.

How did growing up with your dad involved in coaching impact you as a young person and how has it influenced you today as a coach?

It showed me that when a person does things for the right reasons, the rewards are bigger than any trophy or title. That when you challenge people to be the best version of themselves the rewards are lifelong. I firmly believe that because my father gets emails and letters from former athletes thanking him for how he impacted their lives. Coaching is about building relationships with your players as people and as athletes. That is something I do with my current players by learning them in all areas allows me to see them as the entire person and get the best out of them in all areas.

What impact did your own collegiate playing experience have on your decision to enter the coaching profession?

I knew that after I finished as a player, I was not done with softball. I was not sure how at the moment but I knew I was not finished with softball. There where some situations and things I experienced in college that were great and some that were not. I knew that I wanted to impact young women. I wanted to help them to face life's challenges with confidence while continuing to grow as a person myself. Coaching is allowing me to fulfill that.

What are your career goals in collegiate coaching?

My career goals are to always be a student of the game and by continuing to learn one day be a head coach.

What are one or two of your fondest memories growing up in sports in Bartow County?

Winning the championship and advancing to regionals in rec basketball. We got these cool shirts made and I still have it. Also, being able to play and try different sports. I was able to go through the rec department with a group of friends that I am still in contact with today.

KENNY BAKER

A graduate of Woodland High School, Kenny Baker is beginning his fifth season as an assistant football coach at Mercer University.

Baker arrived at Mercer in 2014 after spending the 2013 season as the co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Berry College during the Vikings’ inaugural campaign.

Prior to his time at Berry, he served as the defensive coordinator at Augusta’s Lakeside High School after spending a season as a student assistant at his alma mater, Gardner Webb.

A four-year letter winner at Gardner Webb, Baker was a three-year starter on the defensive line. He was selected as a team captain in 2007, while also garnering the team’s defensive player of the year honors. An honor student with the Bulldogs, he was a regular member of the Dean’s List and the Big South Honor Roll.

He graduated from GWU with a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education in 2009 and currently resides in Warner Robins, Georgia.

(Click images to enlarge) Kenny Baker, defensive line coach for the Mercer University Bears.

What are your current coaching responsibilities?

I am the defensive line coach and I also have recruiting responsibilities that include Fulton County, western Georgia along I-20 and across to Tuscaloosa through Birmingham in Alabama.

Other than your dad, who were/are your greatest influences in coaching?

Coach Eric Bishop:

It was the spring of my senior year and we were playing in a Saturday morning baseball game in Ooltewah, Tennessee. There are two reasons I will never forget this day for as long as I live. One reason being, that Coach Bishop scheduled a baseball game on the same day of our senior prom and the second reason for the events that took place after the game. The outcome of the game didn’t turn out in our favor, we lost and I had a bad game. I had a bad day at the plate and made an error in the field. As we were packing up after the game and walking to the bus, myself and a fellow teammate were stopped by man in a red polo. The man in the red polo was a college baseball coach and he was there scouting the game. The encounter was brief, he shook our hands, took down our information and said “Tough one today. I know it wasn’t your best day at the plate and in the field, but I want to let you know you guys play the game the right way. I watched how you guys ran on and off the field and how you carried yourself and those are the type of players we want in our program. At this point Coach Bishop was standing there with us and as we shook hands one last time and went our separate ways, It was the six words that came from coach that I will never forget…”See, you never know who’s watching”. How you carry yourself, the importance of first impressions and taking ownership for all the areas of your life. Some of the greatest lessons I learned, were on the baseball field. It was the mandatory black cleats, shirts always tucked in, showing up early, taking pride in your dugout, neat haircut, trimmed facial hair, respect for the game and the daily pursuit of excellence. He made sure we understood the “little things” are what matter in baseball and in life. I can still hear him yelling “You better take the field running, you never know whose watching”. He taught me, “How you do one thing, is how you do everything.”

Coach Jimmy Lindsey:

“If you want to impress someone, tell them your accolades. But if you want to impact someone tell them your failures”

He was my college defensive line coach for one season and has invested in me since day one. He’s one of the best football coaches I’ve been around and has taught me a lot of football over the years. The thing I am most thankful is our conversations about the things he has gotten wrong. In a time where, transparency and real is not the norm, that’s where Coach Lindsey always starts. He’s my guy.

Coach Mike Doolittle:

My first full time coaching job, was defensive coordinator at Lakeside High School in Augusta, Georgia. I had just finished playing, fresh out of college and truth be told, really had no idea how to be a defensive coordinator. Thankfully, at that same time Coach Doolittle was the offensive coordinator at Lincoln County High School in Lincolnton, Georgia about 30 minutes away from Augusta. So, for the next two years, my Saturday mornings consisted of driving to Lincolnton, grabbing a biscuit from Hardee’s on the way in and postponing his own film study and opponent scouting and him sitting down with me to review film, making corrections for the previous game and teaching me the game. Coach Doolittle was my college defensive line coach and to this day one of my biggest mentors in coaching. The thing I cherish the most about our Saturday morning ritual, was our talks about balance and growth, but personally and professionally. I just really enjoyed being around him. He believed in me and invested his time in me.

I heard a coach once say “You can always see higher on the shoulders of Giants.” Man, am I thankful for the Giants in my life.

How did growing up with your dad involved in coaching impact you as a young person and how has it influenced you today as a coach?

From as early as I can remember, there was no other person I looked up to more and wanted to become more, than my dad. Simply, he was and still is my hero. To me he was dad, but to everyone else he was Coach Baker. Over the years, the definition of that five letter word in front of my dad’s last name has changed tremendously. From a young age, I wanted to be just like Coach Baker, because he had keys to everything. There wasn’t a gate, gym, field, equipment room that he couldn’t open, he always had practices and games, he got to drive the bus, travel all over and everyone seemed to like him, I wanted to be just like Coach Baker. As, I grew older, graduated from high and college and started my own career in coaching, that five letter word in front my dad’s names means so much more. These are some of the lessons I have learned from my dad:

✮ "It’s not about you." It was and has always been bigger than him. He always taught me to live my life serving others in all that you do.

✮ “They don’t care what you know, until they know you care.” My dad gave me this advice my first year coaching. In order for you to get the most out of your players and take them to where they never thought they could go, they have to know you care about them. He told me to make sure, it’s not always about football.

✮ “Do it right the first time.” Take pride in everything you do.

✮ “Raise your standard to that of greatness.” What I often thought was his sometimes unrealistic expectations for myself and his players, I see now was only his passion for seeing you become the best version of yourself. He would always tell me when I first started coaching was “Young people want discipline and want to be pushed and it’s our job as coaches to give them that”

✮ “Keep the main thing, the main thing.” Keep your faith, family and relationships first.

✮ “You don’t have to be perfect.” You will make mistakes, learn from them. Don’t be afraid to mess up…He believed in me.

A story about my dad:

I remember growing up, riding in my dad’s black Dodge Dakota trunk on the campus of Woodland High School. Either on his way in or way out, he would drive by pieces of trash and have me pick it up and we would do this all over campus and before we left we would stop by the garbage can and throw it all away. I never understood why I had to pick up others people’s trash, it wasn’t mine and it wasn’t my job. Even when I was away at college and would come home for the summer, we still drove around picking up trash. And it wasn’t until I got into coaching did he explain to me why we drove around picking up trash on campus, He said Kenny “You always want to leave it better than what you found it”….

I love him and I thank him, the coach I am today is because of him. He’s the REAL Coach Baker. I just want to make him proud.

What impact did your own collegiate playing experience have on your decision to enter the coaching profession?

Gardner-Webb University gave me the opportunity to further my academic and athletic career after high school and for that I forever grateful. My favorite quote of all time is from legendary Tennessee Vols Coach, Pat Summit “You win with people”. I have been extremely fortunate to be associated with so many successful people and coaches. People and coaches like Dr. Dee Hunt, Coach Jimmy Lindsey, Coach Mike Doolittle, Coach Travis Cunningham and Coach Chris Foster invested in me as a player but more importantly as a person. They were outstanding coaches, great teachers, passionate and demanded excellence on and off the field but more importantly they were great men, husbands and fathers. I always thought, I would come back and coach in high school. I was huge Florida State Seminoles fan growing up and always enjoyed watching college football but never thought I would become a college coach. My experience in college showed me two things: One, that good coaches travel, the level they coach at, is just the platform they’ve been given to impact and influence young people. Secondly, the same need to pour into the lives of young people is just as important at the college level, they need to be surrounded by the type of coaches I was surrounded by. My college playing experience and the impact Gardner-Webb had on me was the icing on the cake, I knew I could coach at any level.

What are your career goals in collegiate coaching?

Just to keep working at it and plugging away. That’s how I was raised and all I really know how to do. Letting my total body of work speak for itself, learn my mistakes, serve the players and coaching staff to the best of my ability and surrounding myself with people that can help me grow. One thing I’ve learned about life and coaching, is you can’t do it by yourself. I would love to move up the collegiate ranks, become a coordinator, a head coach and maybe even coach in the NFL. I love the challenge and I love the grind. But, at the end of the day the good Lord has a plan for me, I just have to stay out of his way. It’s bigger than me.

What are one or two of your fondest memories growing up in sports in Bartow County?

Growing up as a ball boy.

It’s where it all started for me, it’s where I fell in love with football and sports. Fridays, was the best day of the week! My mom would drop me off at the field house after school, I would find my dad and then it was game time… Putting on that jersey, the smell of the concession stand, seeing the freshly lined and painted field and most importantly being around the players…I loved it all, I was at home. I’m glad my dad allowed me to be a part of it.

Little League Baseball

Growing up, there was nothing like the spring and summer for me… I played baseball ALL the time and I loved it. I remember it all, the games, the double headers, and the road trips, but the thing I remember the most was the guys I played with. I was playing a game I loved with guys I loved. It had nothing to do with me, I was with my guys and that’s all that mattered.

Congratulations to Kenn and Bea Baker on a job well done. Your continuing impact has not diminished. It now flows well beyond the borders of Bartow County through the children you raised and the lives of students, athletes, and adults you continue to reach on a daily basis.

#WherearetheyNow #AthletesBeyondBartow #Woodland #Cass #ExcelChristianAcademy

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