Frank Malta took over a Jackson Memorial baseball program in 2005 that had its moments and its stars, but was a program on a second level compared to other Ocean County and Shore Conference forces – especially in Toms River.
On Thursday night, Malta officially leaves the Jackson Memorial as a team and a program that is positioned as well or better than anyone in the Shore Conference and perhaps the state.
Malta resigned as head coach at the Jackson Memorial after 15 seasons to accept the position of athletics supervisor at East Brunswick High School – a position he was approved by the East Brunswick Board of Education at Thursday’s board meeting.
“It’s bitterly sweet,” Malta said. “I love the Jackson Memorial. I love the people, I love the job I have to do every day. Training the kids I got to train for 15 years – I was incredibly lucky and I never lost sight of it. There is another type of child in Jackson: it is a smart, tough, blue-collar child who just wants to compete. Obviously there have been some good players, but even the lesser known role guys – the program guys – they had that edge around them, and it was so much fun to train. ”
Malta made its decision on Tuesday and informed the team the same day with a Zoom meeting that he said he felt he felt good enough about the decision to take his new job and even better about the job he left.
“I think they were shocked,” Malta said. “Some of them, I think, were a little hurt, but I explained to them exactly what my reasoning was, why it made sense to my family, and they got it. They coped with what our boys have dealt with tough situations: They may be a little angry at first, but they absorb it, process it, and figure out how to deal with it. A lot of guys discover, talked from the heart, we talked it out, and I think we all came away and felt pretty good about where this program is and where it’s going. “
The move came as a surprise to not only Malta’s players and coaching peers around the Shore Conference, but also Malta itself. He said he has been certified to be an administrator for a long time, but has never seen an opportunity attractive enough to give up his position as a baseball coach and physical education teacher at the Jackson Memorial. Malta and his family live in East Brunswick, and when he learned of the opening, he found the match.
“It was not something I expected,” Malta said. “I loved the Jackson Memorial, coached and taught there, and when I saw potential opportunities and openings, they did not make sense to me personally. When (the position in East Brunswick) came up, it only made sense when I thought about it. ”
Malta leaves behind a Jackson Memorial program that went 282-109 during his tenure with two Ocean County Tournament Championships (2012 and 2015), two Shore Conference Tournament titles (2009 and 2012), three NJSIAA Section Championships (2010, 2014 and 2018) and an overall Group IV championship in 2014.
In what had been his 16th season, Malta did not lead their team to an official high school game because the entire spring season of the NJSIAA was canceled due to COVID-19. In the summer, however, he got a chance to train his team with the Last Dance Baseball Tournament – a state tournament that gave high school teams a chance to meet again for meaningful games in July. Malta and his Jaguars players took the opportunity to compete against the rest of the state, and advanced to the final game with seven wins in a row before losing to a glowing Cranford team that captured the championship.
“If it’s the last group I train, it was a fantastic group to go out on,” Malta said. “Not just because of how good they were, but how much it meant to them. They just wanted to be around each other. When we were told that the last dance would take place, they talked about just getting the chance to continue playing. Each game was about getting a new training day and a different game to play, and that led us through the entire tournament. It was a special thing to be a part of. ”
Malta leaves behind a program that continues to import young talent and churn out Division I caliber players. Jackson Memorial’s most notable baseball album is Los Angeles Angels first baseman Matt Thaiss, who graduated from the Jackson Memorial in 2013, won the College World Series at the University of Virginia as the Cavaliers’ starting catcher and was then drafted No. 16 overall in the 2016 Major League Baseball .
The team on the left from Malta is set to boast two division I-aces showing main rotation in senior right hand and Coastal Carolina commits Matt Potok and junior hand hand and Auburn commits Zach Crotchfelt. The line-up will not have much experience, but senior Ty Beck and junior Chris Cartnick have proven themselves in high school games and in Last Dance. Senior Zach Rogacki and sophomore Charlie Meglio do not have an advanced resume, but have impressed in the summer.
Factor one of the best feeding systems in the area and the Jackson Memorial job will be especially attractive to baseball coaches from across the state.
“I’ve always tried to keep my guys connected to the history of the program, especially the guys I trained earlier in Jackson,” Malta said. “I’m going to tell them about what it was like when Matt Thaiss was here, and what kind of things Brandon Janofsky used to do. It’s a coaching tool, but it also gives them only the connection to the guys who came before them in the program, and it shows them that they shared really similar experiences as guys who have succeeded. ”
Malta was once one of the buses outside the area that saw something in Jackson, after playing at Elizabeth High School and training five seasons in Arthur L. Johnson. Now he will take what he has learned in 20 years as a baseball manager and use it to run an athletic program.
East Brunswick baseball already has strong Shore Conference ties with head coach Chris Kenney – the son of 800-winner Christian Brothers Academy coach Marty Kenney.
“I do not know Chris very well, but obviously I have great respect for his father and family and what they achieved in the CBA,” said Malta. “It’s a little funny that I’m leaving the Shore Conference and the baseball coach is going to be another Shore Conference guy, so that should be interesting. I look forward to getting to know Chris and all the other coaches and staff there. ”
Jackson Memorial’s baseball performance was an important part of Malta’s time, but he also made his presence felt off the field. In 2011, one of his players, James Volpe, died in a tragic car accident the night before an Ocean County Tournament game. Volpe’s death shook the players on this team, but the following year the remaining Jaguars dedicated the season to Volpe and won both Ocean County and Shore Conference Tournaments. The school later erected a new full scoreboard with Volpe’s name on it, and Malta made it a point to tell their players about Volpe every season on the anniversary of his passing.
“Every May 13thth“I’m taking the guys together and telling them about James,” Malta said. “Not so much about what he was as a player, but just what kind of special person he was and what society lost when he died. It’s not something I like to talk too much about out of respect for the family, but in our team I have always felt that it was important to keep James’ memory alive and strong. ”
Malta also tackled its own challenges in the family with its eldest daughter, Marisa, who was diagnosed with retinoblastoma at a young age. Malta has been involved in fundraising campaigns and raising awareness about the disease and other forms of cancer in children, and has offered its experience and energy. Marisa has since overcome the disease and plays field hockey in East Brunswick, where she is currently a junior.
“It’s a truly unique opportunity for my family,” Malta said. “They were surprised when I took the job, and I was a little surprised that they were surprised because it meant that I would be able to spend more time at home. My daughters were just like, ‘Are you not going to miss baseball coaching?’ I think they saw how much I loved doing it, and it made them curious about the things I did, like making an internship plan. They wanted to look at some of the things I did and asked: ‘Why does this exercise end at 3:14? Why not 3:15? ‘My assistant coaches wanted to ask me the same thing, so it made me ready.
“Those are the things I will miss, but I look forward to making a new routine and making a new plan.”