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New beach volleyball complex named in honor of Jon Baker ’91

By Hilary Lehman
Published March 13, 2024
Categories: About Eckerd, Alumni, Athletics, Construction, Student Life, Students

The Baker Family and friends celebrated the dedication of the new complex with Eckerd Tritons beach volleyball players, coaches and staff. Photos by Lisa Presnail

Seeing Eckerd College’s new Jon Baker ’91 Beach Volleyball Complex—four NCAA-varsity beach courts with live-streaming capabilities, shower stations and berm seating with a view of the College’s bayside shoreline—it is hard to picture an Eckerd without beach volleyball.

The story behind the complex, though, lies in Eckerd beach volleyball’s fairly recent roots. On March 2, a group of family, friends, supporters and athletes gathered to dedicate the new facility during the College’s Reunion Weekend. The way the project came to be was, like volleyball, a team effort. But the linchpin was Jon Baker himself, the unofficial father of beach volleyball at Eckerd—an Atlanta financial advisor who died from cancer in 2021 before the idea of the complex had been discussed.

“As Jon knew, beach volleyball just makes sense at Eckerd,” said Tom Ryan ’87, the College’s athletics director.

Two men stand side by side smiling

Jon Baker ’91 (left) with friend and teammate Kevin Seeley ’91

In remarks at the dedication, President Jim Annarelli, Ph.D., described the story of the complex as classically Eckerd, bound by friendships and an enduring love for the College.

“We wish Jon was here today to see this beautiful facility,” Annarelli said. “But his memory lives on in this complex and the passion of the athletes who will compete here.”

Annarelli noted that it all started with Trustee Sue McDermott ’89, who attended a beach volleyball tournament at Stanford University and wondered why Eckerd, given its beachfront location and beautiful campus, wasn’t hosting similar contests.

The answer: too few courts that lacked necessary amenities. When the College received estimates for the complex expansion, the pricing came in at more than $500,000.

Alumnus Kevin Seeley prepares for the ceremonial first serve.

Kevin Seeley ’91 heard about the project and thought it would be a perfect way to honor Jon, his fellow beach volleyball teammate and friend. He reached out to Jon’s widow, Pam Baker ’93, and sister, Jessica Baker ’93—who, as well as being in-laws, had been Eckerd roommates.

Over the ensuing months, alongside Eckerd Athletics and Advancement staff, Seeley, Pam Baker and Jessica Baker reached out to friends, classmates and family to inch ever closer to the project’s nearly $600,000 goal.

“People pitched in for this … because of what Jon brought to volleyball and his energy,” Seeley said.

Over 30 years ago, Jon Baker built a men’s club volleyball team from the ground up, practicing with his teammates in the gym at 11:30 at night because that was the available time allotted to them.

“He wasn’t just a great player; he was a communicator,” Seeley said. “He was inspiring—he inspired us to play.”

Pam Baker expressed gratitude to the College for naming the courts after him, describing the many monuments to Jon’s life and coaching—club volleyball, high school athletics, even car racing—in their hometown of Atlanta.

“But this, I know for a thousand facts, is true: This is the most important,” she said. “This is the one that he’s up there being like, ‘Yes, I made it! I’m on Eckerd’s campus.’”

Kevin (left) and Jon won first place at the Ocean City Invitational in 1990.

At the dedication, Jessica Baker revealed what she called the best-kept secret about her brother, which is that he wasn’t a volleyball player when he came to Eckerd. Volleyball was a last resort when he didn’t make the waterskiing team.

“He learned not just the sport but how to coach other people,” his sister said. “Eckerd is a school that allowed for that to happen. It gave us the space and the opportunity to try new things.”

Jon and Pam Baker’s daughter, Sabrina “Beanie” Baker, will carry on the family legacy as she joins Eckerd in the fall as a first-year student in the Class of 2028.

“What I wish for her and for all of the kids is that they will find the people that Jon and I did,” said Jessica Baker. “Friends that will be there whether it’s two years or 20; friends who will answer 1,000 text messages and be on the journey with them from around the country; and friends who will be family. Maybe Beanie will meet them right here—with her dad watching.”

Beach volleyball player Mariana Olivares-Cely ’25 thanked those gathered for their support of the project and the team, saying the complex was the embodiment of a long-desired dream.

“On this court, we learn the importance of leadership, communication and perseverance,” she said. “We celebrate victories of all sizes together and learn from defeat, all while fostering a sense of respect and fair play that extends far beyond the boundaries of the game.”

Jon and Pam in earlier days