by Dean Backes
Special to The Leaven
ATCHISON — By day, Maur Hill-Mount Academy president Phil Baniewicz puts everything he has into making sure his students become the men and women God created them to be.
In the evening, that same passion carries over to the baseball diamond, where he is the Ravens head baseball coach.
Baniewicz, with the assistance of his wife Lisa, has been surprisingly successful in both endeavors.
Now, he will be honored by the MH-MA board of directors Mar. 29 by having the school’s baseball diamond in Atchison named after him in recognition of a decade’s worth of service, dedication and passion for the school and for being instrumental in bringing baseball back.
“The board [of directors] caught me totally off guard,” said Baniewicz of having the Raven baseball facilities renamed Baniewicz Field. “They hit my heart pretty well. They know I have a lot of love for the school, and they know my love for baseball.”
“It’s very humbling,” he added. “It’s a little awkward for me, but I’m sure it’ll become more and more special as time goes on.”
Jonathan Mize was the chairman of the board a decade ago when he brought Baniewicz aboard, first as president and second as the baseball coach.
“I’m just glad they decided to do it,” Mize said of the board adding Baniewicz’s name to the baseball diamond that he and his players essentially built themselves. “It’s long overdue. I think it’s just a great tribute to Phil to have the baseball field named after him.”
When Baniewicz left his role as vice president of college relations at Benedictine College in Atchison and stepped foot on campus as president in April 2010, he had his work cut out for him. MH-MA’s Catholic identity was flagging, and the northeast Kansas Benedictine prep boarding school was facing the real possibility of closing its doors due to financial struggles and declining enrollment.
But the youth minister turned president stepped up to the plate, handed the school’s future over to Jesus and hit a home run as a fundraiser. Now, MH-MA has two all-school retreats per year, as well as annual individual class retreats.
Baniewicz, who has five kids — Miranda, 25; Noah, 23; Madeline, 21; Hope, 16; and Abigail, 13 — also incorporated First Friday Adoration, confession and daily Mass into the lives of MH-MA students on a regular basis. He raised millions of dollars for the school and increased enrollment to the point that MH-MA had a waiting list prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think the leadership . . . the drive,” Mize said of what he saw in Baniewicz and his ability to get the job done. “I went to school there back in the day when Father Edwin (Watson) was the main fundraiser for Maur Hill Prep. You had a headmaster, you had a principal and you had one person focusing on raising funds — and I saw that attribute with Phil.”
Not only did Baniewicz oversee improvements in faith, academics and financial stability, he saw to it that the campus was appealing to alumni from the outside. Enhancements were also made to the win-loss records of all of MH-MA’s sports teams and their facilities.
“Baseball is a passion of his,” chairman of the board emeritus Sandy Sampson said of Baniewicz’s self-proclaimed hobby. “And we have one of the best baseball programs in the area. It seemed to be a fitting way for us to honor him for his service at the school and for his passion — not just for baseball — but also how he has worked with our kids.”
The three years before Baniewicz’s arrival, MH-MA’s baseball program went 5-34 collectively. The young Ravens went 5-16 in 2011 — Baniewicz’s first season at the helm — and 9-12 in 2012. Since then, MH-MA has done nothing but win baseball games.
Baniewicz, who is 133-77 at MH-MA, helped the Ravens go 20-3 last spring and produce a Northeast Kansas League championship mark of 11-1.
The son of a Hall of Fame baseball coach in Arizona, Baniewicz guided the Ravens to a regional championship and the Kansas state baseball quarterfinals in 2015. MH-MA also claimed the league title in 2015, 2016, 2019 and 2021 and was regional runner-up in 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021 under Baniewicz.
Baniewicz, who was also the head baseball coach at Seton Catholic High School in Chandler, Arizona, is 257-119 in 18 years as a head coach. He also transformed the Sentinels into consistent winners. Seton Catholic won a state title, finished as state runner-up and claimed two regional titles under Baniewicz. They also made six consecutive trips to the state tournament in the seven seasons Baniewicz ran the show.
“Coach Baniewicz is a faith-driven man,” Raven junior pitcher/infielder Parrish Beagle said of his coach. “That’s what his main priority is with us. He wants us to be strong in our faith and to grow as a man outside of the baseball field.”
MH-MA senior pitcher/outfielder Drew Caudle said Baniewicz has high expectations of his students and the baseball players that play for him.
“I think that’s a sign of respect,” Caudle said. “He expects a lot of things from us in school and on the baseball diamond. He always tells us that he loves us and he’s always making time for us. He is the same person on the field as he is off.
“It’s been a blessing that he’s been here for the entire school and for me. He’s done so much for me and I’m forever grateful for everything. During baseball he talks about being holy and his definition is ‘to do the right thing at the right time.’ That can be applied to anything. He talks about it when we are at the plate. He says to focus on what you need to do and execute.”