By Tim Gardner
Rick Baker, who grew up in the Banner Elk Community of Avery County and was a multi-sport, standout athlete at Avery County High School in the 1980s, has been named Director of Athletics at Mars Hill University.
The appointment was officially announced by the school on May 8th.
Mars Hill University is located in Mars Hill, NC, and is a National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) Division II school that is part of the South Atlantic Conference (SAC).
Baker previously served as Mars Hill’s longtime sports information director and assistant athletics director. He had served as the school’s interim athletics director for several months and will assume the director’s duties on a permanent basis June 1st.
“I want to thank (Mars Hill University) President Tony Floyd for this great opportunity,” Baker said. “I would also like to thank the search committee for their hard work and our coaching staff for its support. I am very flattered by all the support I received from the Mars Hill campus and community and I am extremely excited to lead the athletics department at Mars Hill University.”
When former athletic director David Riggins announced that he would retire at the end of the fall 2018 semester, the university launched a nationwide search for his successor. Floyd’s charge to the search committee was to find an athletics director who would demonstrate a strong work ethic, with integrity, willingness to innovate, strong leadership and trust.
“In particular,” Floyd noted, “I wanted someone who could lead us with hope as we build our program into a competitive program, while simultaneously graduating young men and women. All of these are timeless Mars Hill values.”
Nearly 100 applications came in for the position, presenting the search committee with a diverse pool of candidates. By the end of the process, Baker had risen to the top.
“During the spring semester Rick has served as a member of our leadership team on campus,” said Floyd. “During this time he has shown an incredible work ethic, has rallied our coaches and athletes in morale building moments, and has handled the position in a way which demonstrated to me that he is ready to assume this key role on our campus on a permanent basis.”
Baker has support within the Mars Hill athletics department, as well.
“We are extremely excited to have Rick Baker as our new athletics director here at Mars Hill,” said longtime Mars Hill head football coach Tim Clifton. “He brings a great work ethic and leadership to our program. We are looking forward to the future with him at the helm of the athletics department.”
Baker began his Mars Hill University career in 1994, serving as the Lions’ sports information director and assistant baseball coach. He later served one year as head baseball coach. In 2003, Baker was named assistant athletics director and director of compliance, while also remaining sports information director. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from East Tennessee State University, where he was a four-year letterman on the baseball team and team captain for the 1990-91 season.
Baker and his wife, Angel, have two children and live in Mars Hill.
Baker is the son of Don and Joyce Baker of Banner Elk. Rick Baker followed in his father’s footsteps as an athletics director as well as a sports information director and coach. Don Baker was Lees-McRae College’s athletics director, sports information director and head tennis coach for many years.