A deep dive into John Stark baseball, the program Dennis Pelletier’s built

Dennis Pelletier, now in his 10th year as the Generals' baseball coach, hopes to take his team to another state championship game.

Dennis Pelletier, now in his 10th year as the Generals' baseball coach, hopes to take his team to another state championship game. Chip Griffin—Photos By Chip

John Stark senior Anthony Paolicelli slides into third base during a game against Bow earlier this season. Paolicelli will continue his baseball career at Franklin Pierce University next spring.

John Stark senior Anthony Paolicelli slides into third base during a game against Bow earlier this season. Paolicelli will continue his baseball career at Franklin Pierce University next spring. Chip Griffin—Photos By Chip

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 05-24-2024 9:06 AM

Brett Patnode is always asked the same question: How does John Stark baseball produce so many college baseball players?

Patnode’s currently a senior playing at New England College in Henniker with three of his former John Stark teammates: Brady Philibotte, Austin Hazzard and Aaron Robertson.

John Stark Regional High School is the fourth-smallest school among NHIAA Division II baseball teams with 587 students, so it’s a fair question. But Patnode doesn’t have to think long to come up with an answer: head coach Dennis Pelletier.

“Dennis always encourages us to work hard and never give up. He helps us on the college side of things. He believes in all of us. He encourages us to use recruiting apps and reach out to coaches and to not be afraid,” Patnode said. “He puts that work ethic in each and every one of his athletes, whether that be the field hockey team he coaches or baseball. He just encourages hard work, and if you give hard work, he’ll reward you with playing time, and he’ll praise you.

“He’s a great coach, and I think it really starts with him.”

Pelletier knows quite a bit about how to build winning programs at John Stark.

He led the way building up the community’s field hockey program from scratch, ultimately leading to state championships for the varsity team in 2022 and 2023. He also led the baseball program to a state title in 2021 and has the Generals in strong position to add another championship banner this spring.

With the baseball regular season winding down, the Generals have clinched the top seed in Division II after a 16-1 campaign—another successful season in a string of many successful seasons during Pelletier’s tenure. But as Patnode noted, Pelletier hasn’t just built a solid program, he’s also given his players those tools to continue their playing careers at the next level.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Opinion: A look at the Elderly Property Tax Exemption
Many Hopkinton residents say it’s time to get rid of the pay-by-bag program
As Concord city council debates bus stop location, larger concerns about homelessness continue
Documents show N.H. teacher took student for abortion
State: Don’t worry about the pine trees shedding needles
Concord crew team rows its way to a national title

Currently, there are eight former players of Pelletier’s playing college baseball; this year’s team features another two (Anthony Paolicelli and Hunter Keim) who are committed.

How’s he done it? Well, he’ll deflect the credit to his players who he said are the ones that buy into the program culture, put the work in and are motivated to play beyond high school. But Pelletier’s role is just as key.

It all starts with having the infrastructure. Without it, none of what John Stark baseball has achieved would be possible. 

Pelletier’s expanded the baseball offerings in town over the years, including adding an American Legion team to play over the summer. That, in addition to Pelletier always encouraging his players to investigate colleges they’re interested in playing at, helps plant the seed early that playing baseball beyond high school is a realistic possibility.

He’s also bought a video system to record all of the team’s games, allowing the players access to game footage they can then send around to college coaches.

“It honestly starts with that student mindset. He’s so student-focused,” said Rodney Brown, John Stark’s athletic director. “He just shows that he cares. He’s constantly thinking about the game of baseball. He really sets our student-athletes up to be successful, not just here at John Stark but in the future.”

The intense small-town support from the Weare and Henniker communities also goes a long way, Patnode added.

“We always had that chip on our shoulder, and people would often overlook us,” he said. “Even in Legion, we would beat some of those big towns like Nashua and Concord and Manchester. People would often overlook us, but we were always playing right with them. We take a lot of pride in being that small town and being that underdog, and it was an amazing ride when we were younger just beating all those good teams.”

That support helps to elevate John Stark. It’s one thing to build the infrastructure that allows for the on-field success; but it’s another to enjoy the ride along the way when so often, higher aspirations of playing in college cloud the excitement of the present.

Pelletier’s teams rarely come across that problem.

“The kids just, they love baseball,” he said. “I think it’s a true view if you look at our team this year, those boys just love to play baseball, and they love playing baseball together.”

Continuity is key. Each group of players grows up playing together. Once they reach high school, they play for Pelletier during the school season and, if they want to, over the summer as well.

The fact that four John Stark alumni still play together at New England College is a further testament to those bonds, Patnode said.

“The chemistry we’ve created and the bonds and memories we’ve created throughout our playing careers has been awesome,” he said. “I’ll forever cherish those moments. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”