New boys hoops coach has a tradition of winning


Photo courtesy Jeff Ackermann

Jeff Ackermann, who won five WPIAL titles with Moon Township and Pine-Richland, is the new Baldwin boys basketball coach.

Growing up on the border of Brentwood and Whitehall, Jeff Ackermann fell in love with basketball playing on the neighborhood courts in Brentwood against Baldwin kids. 

“There was a group of eight Baldwin kids who would come up to the courts and we would play against them, and we eventually became friends with them,” Ackermann said. 

Many years later, after leading the boys basketball programs in Moon Township and Pine-Richland, Ackermann has become one of the WPIAL’s most successful coaches. And with his hiring by the school board on Wednesday, he is bringing his winning ways to Baldwin.

When Baldwin first began searching for a new head coach, Athletic Coordinator John Saras knew that Ackermann — with a .700 win percentage and an uptempo style of play — would be a top candidate to pursue.

“He is very competitive and has a passion for the game of basketball,” Saras said, “which will lead to the passion from his players.”

Ackermann has won five WPIAL titles — three at Moon and two with Pine-Richland — and one state championship, while coaching Moon in 2004. 

He was always competitive growing up, he says, and he transferred that energy to his teams.

“I really hate to lose and I was lucky enough to have great kids that were extremely competitive, so I think that helped the teams a lot,” Ackermann said of his history of winning. 

The heart just has not been there for the last couple of years, but the hiring of Ackermann will most certainly change that.

— Superintendent Randal Lutz

But after years spent with those two top-level programs, Ackermann is coming to Baldwin, where the Highlanders have had very little success in the past three decades. 

The last time the Fighting Highlanders won their section was in 1986. Superintendent Dr. Randal Lutz played on that team. 

“It’s been so long since the boys basketball team has had success,” Lutz said. “We had a great team and great tradition.” 

Lutz said that one of the driving forces of those successful ’80s teams was the Baldwin culture that everyone bought into. He said he hopes that with Ackermann, that standard will be put in place and the culture will be revitalized.

“The heart just has not been there for the last couple of years, but the hiring of Ackermann will most certainly change that. His passion for excellence is what I really like about him,” Lutz said.

One problem the Baldwin program has had in recent years is that some good players have chosen to play for local CYO teams instead of the Highlanders.

“A part of the issue is commitment. I worry that kids are going to CYO because they don’t feel like they belong on the team,” Lutz said. “The expectation is that we can get players from CYO to play for the school and to be fully committed to what Coach Ackermann is saying.”

Ackermann said he makes it a point to connect with student athletes and turn them into respected members of the community. Principal Shaun Tomaszewski, who was part of Baldwin’s interview team, said the standards Ackermann sets on the court translate to off the court.

“He spoke of fostering a family-like culture amongst the players,” Tomaszewski said. “I certainly expect him to have high expectations for the team off the court as well.”

Saras agreed, emphasizing that high school sports isn’t just about winning.

“He loves the game, studies the game, and wants to help his student athletes,” Saras said. “He understands the role of academics.”

Ackermann said his teams play a fast style and are effective at scoring a lot of points. 

“We are going to run a pistol offense and a motion set if the pistol doesn’t work,” he said. “We will also have a good amount of quick-hitters.”

Ackermann already has created a group chat with this past season’s Highlanders, and plans to have Zoom workouts with the team that will include dribbling drills and watching film with the players. 

Several Baldwin players said they are thrilled about getting to play for Ackermann next season.

“We are all eager to meet him and get to work,” junior Connor Lavelle said. “He has been known as a winner, and from what I heard he seems like a great guy.”

Junior Joey Starzynski echoed that sentiment.

“This year will be a fun experience for me and my teammates,” Starzynski said. “I have high expectations.”

Lavelle said the Highlanders need a new mindset, and that he believes Ackermann can lead the boys team to a winning season.

“We need people fully committed and people who want to win, and I think he can bring that in,” Lavelle said.

Starzynski cited some specific areas that need attention.

“We need to focus on our intensity and our decision making on offense and more importantly defense,” Starzynski said. “I hope our new coach will bring a new meaning to Baldwin’s name and a different mentality.”