Valley Dispatch Photo by Gayle Simone
NECC Knights baseball coach Kerry Quinlan helps Jarrett Mackin with his swing after practice.

HAVERHILL — Since taking over in 2000, Kerry Quinlan has led the Northern Essex Community College baseball team to three league titles, one trip to the regional title game and a berth in the College World Series.

Adding to his team’s success, Quinlan was named American Baseball Association Junior College Coach of the Year, beating out 392 other coaches for the honor.

Quinlan, with a 92-47 overall record entering his seventh season with the Knights, was also named the Massachusetts Region 21 Coach of the Year and 2006 Louisville Slugger Coach of the Year.

“It’s a great accomplishment,” the Methuen resident said of the award. “But it’s not really about me; it’s about the team. A coach should never take credit for a win. The only time a coach should take credit is when they lose, because that means he didn’t prepare them.”

Quinlan first took over the squad with only 10 to 12 players trying out for the team. The team won its first title in 2003 with only 11 players.

“Back then it was the lean years,” Quinlan said. “I was lucky if I had 10 or 12 kids even trying out for the team.”

Still Quinlan, who now has nearly 50 young men trying out for the Knights, said does his best to be a coach and a teacher to his players.

“I like to teach the game,” Quinlan said. “If there’s a problem on the field, I can fix it. You can play all you want, but you’re not going to get any better.”

The team plays one game during the week and a doubleheader every weekend. The other days are devoted to practice, which Quinlan said helps keep the team stay mentally focused and physically fit.

“That’s what happens to other teams down the stretch,” Quinlan said. “They don’t do those two things and we do.”

The Knights are off to a good start this season; 6-2 in the regional play and 7-11 overall which included playing Division II schools during spring training.

One of the tougher drills Quinlan has instituted with his club is the “10-to-1,” which he said builds teamwork.

“It’s to let teammates know, ‘I always have your back. If you can’t get the job done, I’ll help you,'” Quinlan explained. “They run laps and if there is a gap between players another teammate will run across and fill the gap.”

The drill gets its name because while the club is running laps, they will stop to do jumping jacks from one to 10, then back down to one, finally ending with 25. Another key to the drill is if one player is caught not counting, the drill will start over from the beginning.

Quinlan believes in discipline on the field and off.

He doesn’t allow his players to have facial hair, visible tattoos or jewelry. “I guess I’m old-fashioned,” Quinlan said. “It’s how you hold yourself and how others look at you.”

Quinlan, who made one of his players wear long sleeves the entire season to cover a visible tattoo on his arm, said he doesn’t think his players mind.

“It’s because of the outcome. They see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Quinlan said. “I think kids deep down inside need discipline. I may be old-fashioned, but I see they need discipline.”

So what happens if a player violates team rules? “They get it,” Quinlan said. “If they don’t, they’re no longer with the program.”

The strictness Quinlan shows on the field starts in the classroom. He requires that every player submit progress reports from each professor.

“I truly believe if you’re not getting it down in the classroom, you’re not doing it on the field,” Quinlan said. “You’re here to get an education. Baseball is a luxury.”

Quinlan also holds study halls before practice to make sure his players are getting their school work done. “We’ve got a good thing going here,” Quinlan said. “I’m not going to let anyone tarnish it.”

A good thing is an understatement.

The Knights have won the Massachusetts Community College Athletic Conference championship in 2003, 2005 and 2006. They won the Region 21 Division 3 championship in 2006, earning a berth in the Division 3 World Series, and were the Region 21 runnerup in 2005.