Joel Baumgarten’s passion for athletics led him to the activities director’s job that opened up when legendary Mark Johnson retired.
The Rocori assistant principal assumes his new role in the district officially next week.
Baumgarten hopes he can fill it as well as his good friend Johnson did.
“I really believe it’s a natural move for me,” Baumgarten said. “After talking with Mr. Staska, he made it sound like a promotion.”
Scott Staska is superintendent of the Rocori school district. Filling Johnson’s position would be tricky.
In his 35-plus years in the district, Johnson had done everything from teaching dance classes to coaching football, hockey, swimming, track and field and golf besides being the highly successful AD.
“He (Johnson) has done such a wide variety of things for us as a district, from teaching to coaching to leading as an administrator,” Staska said. “He’s touches so many people and so many lives in this district. He’s been just a remarkable person in many ways.
“They are tough roles to fill, all of them.”
Johnson announced his retirement months ago.
He and his wife Nancy are on a Mediterranean cruise.
Nancy Johnson recently retired as a social studies teacher in the Eden Valley-Watkins school district.
“He was probably the most experienced person I know for that job,” Baumgarten said of Johnson.
“We’ve been friends for more than 20 years and we coached football and track together.”
Replacing Johnson is a huge challenge, Baumgarten admits.
“This district really has a passion for athletics,” said Baumgarten, noting that 74 percent of Rocori students are out for at least one activity. “The expectations are high.”
It also had a couple of rather large holes to fill on the varsity coaching staff. The entire girls hockey staff for the River Lakes Stars, led by head coach Kirby St. John, resigned.
The school already has made some important hires, Baumgarten said.
Blaine Hovel takes over the girls’ hockey program. He’s a former goalie from Alexandria who helped coach the Cardinals to a state Class A girls’ title in 2008. He’s a math teacher in Holdingford.
His staff will include Mark Fabian, a Rocori science teacher who played for Roseau and was a college football player at Valley City State in N.D., where Rocori head football coach Mike Rowe also played.
Another girls hockey assistant will be Jack Freeman, an elementary teacher in the Rocori school district from Brainerd.
“We feel real fortunate to have assembled such a great staff,” Baumgarten said. “I’m really happy with our hockey program.”
Rocori also is looking for a new head boys basketball coach after Bob Brink, another legendary coach who is the second-winningest high school coach in state history, resigned following the 2011-12 state tournament, Rocori’s 13th state appearance.
Baumgarten said he hopes to have that position filled soon. He is also looking for a varsity girls tennis coach.
Baumgarten is a graduate of Hutchinson High School. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from St. Cloud State and has another degree to be a principal from St. Mary’s. He has been at Rocori since 1989, when he was hired as a social studies teacher.
His wife, Kim, teaches first-graders at St. Boniface. Together, the Baumgartens work at the Minnesota Elks Youth Camp near Breezy Point in the Brainerd lakes area. It’s for needy youth.
The Baumgartens have four children. Justin, 21, is a senior education major at St. Cloud State. Brittany, 19, is a pre-medicine major at the University of St. Thomas. Keisha is a junior at Rocori who participates in cross country, basketball, track and student senate.
Colton is a fifth-grader involved in football, hockey and baseball.
Baumgarten has spent the past five years at Rocori as an assistant principal. The district has streamlined positions, going with one principal in grades 6-12 and two assistant principals, Staska said. Baumgarten is part of the re-shuffling.
Baumgarten will continue to work as an assistant in the football program. Under head coach Mike Rowe, who Baumgarten helped hire, the Spartans are coming off their best season in school history, having won the state Class 4A championship at the Prep Bowl.
They also have a new gymnasium and weight-room facility. And, like Baumgarten said, the community always has had high expectations for its athletic programs.
“We have a lot of really quality things happening at our school,” Baumgarten said.