Standout student-athletes who made an impact in soccer, track and field, golf, and football plus a longtime leader in athletic training will be honored Sept. 22 with their induction into Baker University’s Athletic Hall of Fame at 7 p.m. at Rice Auditorium on the Baldwin City campus. The event is free and open to the public.
Here’s a look at Baker’s 2023 Hall of Fame class:
AARON HANNON, ’11
As a student-athlete, Aaron wasn’t thinking about being a part of the Baker’s Athletic Hall of Fame after he graduated.
“I wasn’t dreaming about the type of legacy I wanted to leave for the track and field program,” he said. “I was just fully invested in training and working hard. So now that I’ve been removed from the training days for a bit, I can really embrace this idea of ‘all my hard work and love for the sport’ was noticed and appreciated.”
His hard work resulted in setting Wildcat records in the decathlon, heptathlon, 400-meter relay, 1600-meter relay, and 60-meter dash. In 2010, he became the first Baker athlete to win an event at the prestigious Kansas Relays, which began in 1923, by capturing the decathlon crown.
“Winning KU was great considering I grew up in this area and spent many days back and forth from Lawrence [to Baldwin],” he said. “So this feeling of representing my local community was special. Everything at the meet seemed to click at the right time, and that’s exactly what you want to happen in the decathlon.”
Practice and other competitions also proved memorable for Hannon.
“So many memories that pop into my head have to do with the fun times at practice and competitions with my teammates and all the bonds formed through the years,” he said. “Of course, there’s the achievements that took place, like medals and awards, that also hold a special place in my memories. But overall, living the life as an athlete, being with my teammates, feeling super athletic are at the core of my memories.”
Coach Rob Mallinder encouraged Aaron his freshman year to consider training for a heptathlon and decathlon. Before then, he had experience in sprints and hurdles.
“I began my journey of learning all the events I had never done before,” Aaron said. “I had to learn long jump, shot put, high jump, discus, pole vault, javelin, and train some more endurance for the 1500.”
Aaron joins his father, Philip Hannon, ’86, who played baseball and football and was a longtime Baker baseball coach, in the Baker Hall of Fame. They are the second HOF father-son combination to be inducted. The first is former coach Karl Spear, ’33, a member of the inaugural 1977 HOF class, and his son, Bud Spear, ’61, a 2000 inductee. Hannon also joins his maternal grandfather, Ted Potter, ’54, who is a 2008 inductee.
“My dad was my biggest and greatest influence on my athletic journey,” Aaron said. “Nearly all my values and attributes pertaining to sport come from him, whether it be from him coaching me in baseball my whole childhood or hearing all the stories of his athletic journey . . . all of it filtered into me, allowing me to become a great competitor.”
ALIX SCHIRALDI MAINS, ’12
The team’s top scorer for three seasons and Baker’s offensive most valuable player three times, Alix helped lead the Baker women’s soccer program to its first NAIA semifinals appearance as a junior and was a captain her senior year, when the Wildcats reached the NAIA national quarterfinals.
“Honestly I am truly honored to receive this award, and I cannot thank Baker Athletics and Baker University enough for this recognition,” Alix said. “I poured my heart into my college soccer career and worked so hard every single day to be the best forward and player that I could be. The blood, sweat, grit, and tears were all worth it in the end and that means so much to me.”
Alix played at Baker with her sisters, Gina, ’10, and Shelby, ’15, ’17 MLA. The Schiraldis became familiar with Baker through Coach Nate Houser, ’94, who is a member of the Hall of Fame and played professionally with their father, Gino. Gina was the first Schiraldi to play for the Wildcats.
“Coach Houser first spoke to my dad personally about his interest in Gina joining the Baker program,” Alix said. “My dad trusted Nate and knew his abilities as a player and a coach. I would go watch their games, and Coach Houser would talk to me after every game about the possibility of me playing at Baker. When it came down to choosing my school, I first and foremost wanted to play with my sister, but I also wanted the opportunity to start as a freshman and be a part of building a really good program. I saw that I could be a part of something really great.”
Playing for Houser and being close to the Kansas City area sold the Schiraldis on Baker.
“We also all loved the aspect of being close to home,” Alix said. “We are a very close family, and Baker is far enough away but not too far where we could still all see each other whenever we wanted. I also personally liked that the classes were smaller and that I could personally get help from my professors if I needed too. I didn’t feel like another number, and knowing my personality, I knew that is what I needed to be successful in the classroom. Baker University felt so personable and like a home away from home.
“I don’t think I would have made it my first two years without my sister Gina’s guidance and then passing that onto my sister Shelby was really special. I wanted her to know that I was there for her, and I wanted to guide her as Gina guided me. Playing on the field together was another story. We knew where each other was like the back of our hand. Gina could slip me a ball on a dime without even looking through a whole sea of players, and Shelby could send me a long 40-yarder and basically assist a goal to me from center back. We had a connection on and off the field that cannot be described or duplicated. It is that special sister bond that we will always have.”
Alix will always remember being a part of some of Baker’s most successful teams. Winning at Graceland to claim the conference tournament championship, beating William Jewell in the NAIA quarterfinals, and the long run in the national tournament are among her fondest memories.
“Being the first Baker women’s soccer team to make it to nationals and being a part of that history really means a lot to me,” she recalled. “We were the underdogs. Everyone underestimated us, and I think we proved to everyone in those two years at nationals that we were here to stay and that we were a team to be taken seriously. I think that paved the way for future Baker women’s soccer teams, and our peers realized that our program is dangerous. I think it also left a mark on the HAAC conference that our program is one of the top tiers. It makes me feel overjoyed that I was a part of something that special and that future Baker women soccer players can look at what we did and know that they can do it, too.”
SARAH PAYNE KUEFFER, ’03
A standout golfer for the Wildcats, Kueffer placed in the top five in more than 25 tournaments and won seven individual titles in four years at Baker. She qualified for three NAIA national tournaments, placing fourth in 2002.
“This is not a recognition that I expected, but I am so grateful for the honor,” Sarah said. “There are so many successful athletes, coaches, and other staff that have entered the Hall of Fame over the years, and I am blessed to be included in their company.”
During her performance at nationals, Sarah shot a 73 round to tie the record for the single-day lowest 18-hole score at the NAIA tournament.
“It felt like I couldn’t do anything wrong during that round, and every putt was falling,” she recalled.
Before Baker, Sarah was a standout long-distance and cross country runner at Washburn Rural High School in Topeka and competed in cross country and golf for three years—in the same fall season.
“I would practice with the cross country team and play golf on the weekends with my family,” she said. “I turned in my scorecards to my coach on Monday to hold me accountable. I can’t remember how I made the decision to play golf rather than run cross country, but I’m sure glad that I did.”
Sarah did run indoor track her freshman year at Baker before focusing solely on golf.
“Coach [Karen] Exon encouraged us to be involved in lots of activities,” she said. “One of the benefits of going to a smaller university is the opportunity to participate in a variety of activities.”
Karen Exon was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year as part of the all-female class to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX .
Sarah’s teammates made the collegiate experience more enjoyable and created many memories.
“I had some great teammates, and we had a lot of fun together,” she said. “The time the Baker van got a flat tire on the way home from a tournament was a memorable experience. Nothing quite compares to being stuck on the side of the highway with Coach Exon and a broken-down van.”
CHRIS BROWN, ’84
A hard-hitting middle linebacker from St. Louis, Missouri, Chris came to Baker in 1980 to play football under legendary coach Charlie Richard and recovered a fumble for a touchdown in his Wildcat debut. Chris earned first-team Heart of America honors all four years with the Wildcats before being recognized as first-team NAIA All American his senior year.
“Being on the sideline as an offensive player for the Wildcats, while the defensive team was stopping many offenses from our conference rivals, your eyes were attracted to Chris as he could go from sideline to sideline in pursuit of running backs or quarterbacks,” said Baker Associate Director of Development Philip Hannon, who was Chris’s teammate for two years. “You could almost hear their hearts beating fast in knowing that once Chris caught you, there was going to be an abrupt stop in your progress. Chris was the first big-time middle linebacker that I witnessed firsthand.”
Longtime friend and Baker University teammate, Ron Avery, ’86, says that he and Chris often talked about their days at Baker, Chris’s playing career, and what an honor it would be for him to be recognized as one the great football players of that era.
“Chris would truly be humble in accepting this award and share that the hard work, dedication, and commitment to the Baker University football program made it all worth it. The experience and people that he met while at Baker always brought back fond memories for Chris,” he said.
Chris, who passed away on Oct. 28, 2022, is being inducted posthumously.
After serving on the University of Kansas’ athletic training staff for 28 years, Lynn became Baker’s athletic trainer and an instructor in 2005 and continued in that role for years before retiring in 2021. A longtime advocate of athletic training, he educated more than 200 students earning their Certified Athletic Trainers credential. Lynn was honored in 2005 by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association with the Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer Award and a year later was inducted into the Kansas Athletic Training Society Hall of Fame.
“This Baker honor means a lot to me,” Lynn said. “I had no idea that was going to happen. I loved every minute of my time at Baker. It was fun and an exciting time to join Baker as the athletic programs continued to grow.”
Soon after he was named BU’s athletic trainer, Bott hired Lynsey Payne as an athletic trainer and instructor. After Bott’s retirement, Payne was promoted to assistant athletic director of sport performance and athletic health in 2021.
“I was fortunate to have a great staff,” Lynn said. “Everybody enjoyed what they were doing, worked hard, and knew what they had to do to help the student-athletes succeed.”
Lynn is also a member of the Mid-America Athletic Trainers’ Association Hall of Fame, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Hall of Fame, and the Emporia State Health, Physical Education, and Recreation Hall of Fame.
Written by Steve Rottinghaus, ’14 MSM