Hopi coach Rick Baker inducted into Hall of Fame

POLACCA, Ariz. — Veteran Hopi cross country head coach Rick Baker was honored for a national cross country record 27 consecutive state team championships during his induction into the National High School Hall of Fame in Orlando, Florida, July 1.
 
“It’s quite an honor,” said the 62-year-old Baker, who was presented with a plaque along with a medal and a ring. “It’s the pinnacle of your coaching career. But there’s still more to coach. I’m still going to coach until I can’t go no more.”
 
Baker said he shares the national honor with others.
 
“All the student-athletes I coached and their parents,” he said. “I’m glad I’m at Hopi High School. The credit goes to the kids for doing the work. I’m from First Mesa but this honor is shared by all the villages.”
 
Under Baker, the Hopi boys cross country team started its incredible state run of state titles from 1990 to 2017 for a remarkable 27 state titles in a row, despite moving into larger classifications. The Bruins won 11 straight 2A state titles from 1990 to 2000, six consecutive 3A titles from 2001 to 2006 and 10 straight 4A state titles from 2007 to 2016. It’s the third longest streak for any high school sports behind boys and girls swimming.
 
Hopi’s 1999 state squad scored a perfect team score of 15 points by finishing first, second, third, fourth and fifth during the state meet. Baker is the ninth Arizona member to earn the National Federation of State High School Association’s highest honor for a coach or player. Veteran Winslow, Arizona, girls basketball head coach Don Petranovich was inducted to the National Hall of fame in 2015.
 
Along with the 27 state titles, Baker has had nine individual boys state cross country champs.
 
After the stunning string of 27 state tiles in a row, the Hopi Bruins finished as state runner-ups the past two seasons, losing to Northland Prep in 2018, which snapped the streak, and to North Phoenix Prep in 2019. COVID-19 wiped out the 2020 season.
 
In addition to coaching cross country and track, Baker has also coached Hopi’s boys basketball team for 18 years with a state title in 1997 and the girls and boys track teams for the past 10 years.
 
Honor delayed
Due to the pandemic, Baker’s 2020 honor was delayed to this year.
Baker’s wife Deborah and one of their son’s Steven were in attendance during the induction. Chad Baker, their oldest son, was unable to attend. Both Steven and Chad ran for the Hopi Bruins under their dad’s guidance.
Baker, who teaches PE, has coached the boys cross country for the past 33 years and recently took over the girls cross country program, which has garnered 22 team state titles of their own, three years ago.
With the pandemic, Hopi and much of the reservation schools did not participate in any sports this past school year.
 
“Having no sports – that was hard,” Baker said. “Arizona was shut down.”
Baker, who has been at Hopi Junior Senior High School since it opened in 1986, said he expects a solid group this fall.
 
“We graduated just one boy and one girl. I think we have a good group coming back.”
 
Baker said he tries to instill life skills into his student-athletes.
“I want them to show up and keep up and do their best effort day in and day out. And not to be afraid to train hard and to be ready to race. Also they must have loyalty to the program. Those are life skills that are important.”
 
All-Americans
Baker, who was a state champion in the mile at Winslow High and was part of Winslow’s state cross country team in 1976, is especially proud that two of his individual state champions — Juwan Nuvayokva and Devin Lomayaoma — also excelled at the collegiate level.
 
Nuvayokva was a six-time state champ in cross country and track. Nuvayokva, who is also currently Baker’s assistant for the past 17 years, was also a two-time Big Sky Conference 10,000-meter champion and an All-American in cross country at Northern Arizona.
 
Like Nuvayokva, Lomayaoma, was also a six-time state champion in cross country and track at Hopi. A two-time All-American in cross country, Lomayaoma competed for Central Arizona before transferring to Northern Arizona.

This article was written by Independent staff writer Santiago Ramos Jr.. It was originally published July 9, 2021.