With hours long, Baloga exits for family, fundraising

 Nancy Haggerty, nhaggerty@lohud.com 7:39 p.m. EDT May 10, 2016

Barry Baloga was going through photos earlier this week. Photo, upon photo, upon photo.

Thousands, in all.

Cross-country photos. Track photos. Kids and more kids.

Baloga was in very few.

Maybe that’s because his coaching was never very much about himself. It was about the kids.

Baloga, who teaches 11th-grade English literature at North Rockland High School, had been a coach there since 1997, 1996 if you include middle school coaching.

He coached through this past fall cross-country season.

There were some prized kids – prized moments.

John Martinez, Class of 2005, won the USA Junior steeplechase championship that year and made the Junior National Team.

Baloga's 2009 boys cross-country team won the state Federation title, beating not only the state public schools but all the private/parochials and New York City public schools, as well.

Then there was last summer, when Alex Harris, who’d just finished her sophomore year at North Rockland, took third in the Pan-American Junior Championships 3K women’s steeplechase in Canada.

After that, there wasn’t a lot left to do.

“I felt complete,” Baloga said. “I gave it a lot for many years. I knew I had sacrificed a lot, especially time with my wife and kids.”

Many coaches who step down cite family, even those in their 60s and older, whose kids are usually grown.

But Baloga, a 1991 Pearl River grad and cross-country and track star, really meant it when he said he was exiting for family.

“It’s a six-day-a week job,” he said of coaching track.

Given track’s onerous hours – big meets often running six to 12 hours – Baloga contends track coaches should either be young and single or retirees who don’t have little kids waiting for them back home.

“It doesn’t matter how understanding your spouse is. You’re sacrificing something,” he said.

Now, he gets to watch his kids – Michael, 13, and Karrilynn, 10, play soccer, and 7-year-old Jack plays Little League Baseball and soccer.

He gets to his home in Cornwall in Orange County to get the kids off the bus and to make dinner. There are long weekends in the Poconos with his parents.

“Winter, for me, felt like it was a year long,” Baloga said, adding that was not a bad thing.

“Christmas vacation was so special, so different. It’s like you’re breathing again – like you’re living.”

So, no, as much as Barry Baloga loves kids and loves sports, he’s not pining to return to the sideline.

“I literally didn’t miss a second of it,” he said of the months that followed his fall exodus.

He still works a little with Harris, who’s good friends with his kids and his wife, Katie, whom he met when they were both runners on the University of Delaware’s track team, Baloga having found and developed a love for steeplechase there.

“He was my steeple coach since freshman year and he believed in me more than anyone ever has. He dedicated his time into making me a better runner,” Harris said.

But Harris understands her coach’s desire to be an ex-coach. She, in fact, came up with the name for the new side business he has started, Fleet Fundraising (www.fleetfundraising.com).

One of the behind-the-scenes things so many coaches do that gobbles up more hours is fundraising so kids can have the extras, like training out of state, major road-trip games or cool matching hoodies, jackets or sweats.

Baloga avoided direct involvement with fundraising during winter and spring track, since his roles were as an assistant coach, not head honcho.  But he oversaw plenty of cookie dough drives while North Rockland’s boys cross-country coach.

Some schools make kids (or, most often their parents) pay for the extras. But not at North Rockland. Baloga credits Athletic Director Joe Casarella with setting the correct tone.

He has said no North Rockland athlete will pay for experiences related to the high school sports program, Baloga said.

“Not every kid can fork over 400 to 500 dollars to go on a track trip,” he added.

But he thinks the extra trips and team jackets and more are important, making kids feel like they’re part of “prestigious” programs. And the experience of having to sell something to get something or somewhere is a positive, he said, explaining working together toward a shared goal develops accountability.

Baloga, who wasn’t interested in running car washes or bake sales, forged a relationship for his cross-country runners with Neighbor's Cookies for the cookie dough.

Now, expanding his connections with high school coaches and athletes, his new Fleet Fundraising has already set up fundraisers for next year. His “humble” start includes baseball and soccer programs, as well as cross country and track.

Besides Neighbor's Cookies, which also supplies things like popcorn, he works with BSN Sports, a sporting good company that’s a vendor for Nike and Under Armor.

He motivates kids to sell in part by offering jackets and hoodies as selling prizes.

Baloga said his role takes “one less huge effort off a coach’s plate.”

The hours are nothing compared with what he put into coaching but the work has energized him and given him a new passion, he indicated.

Yes, he was a good coach – an energetic and passionate coach, one who developed such a tight bond with his athletes that he recently had dinner with eight of them, all now in their late 20s and 30s. Many former athletes bring their own kids and spouses to his home.

“We are family,” he said.

As for North Rockland's current runners, they're doing well without his coaching and he's fine with that.

“If you’re going to leave, they will go on without you. Kids will win and succeed. Every coach has to come to terms with that,” he said.

Right now, he's focused on his own kids and his goals. Half-seriously, half-jokingly, he said, "“I want to be the cookie dough king of the lower Hudson Valley.”

Twitter: @HaggertyNancy