A conversation with PEA's new director of athletics

Jason Baseden brings a passion for educational athletics and a global perspective to drive change.

Craig Morgan '84
August 17, 2020

Athletics have been a constant for Jason Baseden since childhood. An Oregon native, Baseden competed in “all-comers track meets” in Eugene, site of the University of Oregon’s famed Hayward Field, which has hosted numerous Olympic trials, USA Track & Field championships and NCAA championships.

In 1980, his parents, both educators and former athletes, moved the family within a couple miles of Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton. Baseden played football, basketball and ran track at Beaverton High School, where he earned All-America honors in the 1,500 meter run and a scholarship to St. John’s University in New York.

While injuries derailed his Olympic dreams, his education opened other doors and broadened his perspective. He worked for Universal Television in sales and marketing. He spent time in Spain, and in South Africa, working for the nonprofit Hoops for Hope, where he now sits on the board. He worked in ad sales for The Discovery Channel, but an opportunity to work the Tour de France sent him back to Europe for 13 years, coaching basketball, track and field, and strength and conditioning at the American School of Paris, before spending seven years as the athletic director at the International School of Brussels, where he met his wife, Katie.

While in Brussels, Baseden joined the board of the International Association of Athletic Administrators & Coaches, on which he still serves. With a family on their minds, Jason and Katie explored opportunities to return to the States. Baseden earned his Masters in Athletic Administration from Ohio University, and he accepted a position as athletic director at The Peddie School in Hightstown, New Jersey, where he spent the past five years. Last fall, PEA offered Baseden the newly created position of director of physical education and athletics —mere months before the COVID-19 pandemic altered the athletic and academic landscape.

We caught up with Baseden in July, just a few weeks into his new post, to discuss his vision for PEA athletics and the challenges ahead.

What have been your initial impressions of Exeter?
“The community has been so welcoming on so many fronts. If there has been one benefit of COVID, it has been the chance to get to know people earlier than I might have otherwise through video calls. I really felt like I was able to hit the ground running when we arrived on June 20.

“My kids (son, Ciaran, 16 months; daughter, Carys, 3) are both here, and I’m sure both of them will be all over this place, whether their interests are in athletics or the arts. This is a place that I feel can build their curiosity and character.”

How have your international experiences altered your perspective, and how will they inform your approach at Exeter?
“Living abroad for 13 years, working with families from around the world, and learning different cultures and how they look at what we do allows you to communicate better because you understand their perspective and concerns. There’s a lot of value in that. As large and vast as we are in the U.S., we’re very insular and we don’t necessarily have much outside perspective. When you have the opportunity to look at what we do, how we do it and our traditions, you can see things that speak to the greater world and elements that do not. In my conversations and my experience, Exeter is hungry to look to the outside world in athletics. Exeter, for all intents and purposes, is an international school. The sport world is international, too, so I truly believe the time spent abroad broadened my vision on what educational athletics is, and what it can do for students beyond their time here, in terms of their lifelong learning.”

"You can have the smartest people in the world but if they don’t have the grit, life skills and social skills to put that academic knowledge to use, then they fall short of their potential.”
What are the benefits of combining the physical education and athletic departments?
“In many ways, they are one and the same position, but hiring an outside AD and making sure that this position reports directly to the principal, that’s a new thing. They did a self-study in 2015 and one of the things that came out of that was we needed more of an outside look. The old way of recycling the position and rotating the leadership every five years didn’t allow for a lot of outside thinking. In many ways, I feel that some of the challenges we have today in P.E. and athletics are due to not having the perspective of outside voices, and also a voice at the leadership table. That provides a greater footing to launch Exeter P.E. and athletics into 2025, 2030 and beyond. With our resources and traditions and history, we should be the greatest in the world at what we do.”
What challenges does the COVID-19 pandemic create and what are your plans for managing it?
“COVID has presented us with one of the greatest challenges of all time, but we are trying to put together a program within the parameters provided by our medical director and medical team. One area where we have been fortunate is that all of the sports we offer have governing bodies so we have been able to collect recommendations from all of the governing bodies. Our medical team has also been outstanding in helping us guide our potential programming, but the challenge is that things are ever evolving so what we had one month ago could change again.

“We’ve got a plan in place that we feel will provide our students with exercise and movement. With our students taking classes online, we’re going to need that more than ever. We have been working on programs both for our student-athletes to train and for our students who just want to get some movement through some of our P.E. courses. We know that a number of our student-athletes are looking to compete at the college level so we’re in communication with coaches about putting skills and drills programming and strength and conditioning together over the course of the fall. Our hope still is that toward the end of the fall, we’ll be able to hold some interscholastic competitions, perhaps here in New Hampshire if the (COVID) numbers continue to go down. Maybe our phased-in approach will provide us with an opportunity to have a jamboree weekend with a couple of other schools, maybe at a neutral site so we’re not bringing our students to another school; not bringing theirs here.

“At the same time, we’ll look to run some internal showcases on campus which we will look to stream and record for college coaches to be able to see our students in action. Students will be staying home from Thanksgiving through Christmas break, so we’ll be setting students up with strength and conditioning and skill development for winter season athletes, and hopefully come January, there’s a vaccine or we’re in a position to get our teams together for some competitions. Our hope is that spring sports will resume as normal. It would be a tragedy for those students to miss two seasons in a row.”

What is your vision for PEA P.E. and athletics?
“My vision is that we transition from our traditional approach to P.E. and move toward exercise science. I really like the collegiate model that focuses on kinesiology, biomechanics, physiology, sports medicine, sports nutrition, etc. I’d like us to offer courses in this realm. In order to do this the right way, we would need to develop and maintain a human performance lab that our exercise science courses can use. It would also create possibilities for us to collaborate with the science, math and health departments. Our exercise science courses will be a perfect complement to our athletes and athletic teams. Athletes will benefit from a more detailed look and deeper understanding of their movements, strengths and weaknesses allowing them to create a plan to reach their full potential. If you look at Stanford’s or Duke’s exercise science program, they collaborate with their athletics program, their health science program, and their medical schools.

“A lot of what we do in P.E. is team sports but we call it P.E. I’d really like to move a lot of what we do in P.E. under athletics. It’s important that we continue to provide options for students that have a passion but don’t make junior varsity or varsity. I’d love to look at the potential of having thirds teams so those students experience the true benefits of competitive interscholastic athletics.

“I am doing a lot of research right now and having conversations with those in exercise science at Duke, Stanford and Springfield to name a few. I’m trying to find out from colleges and universities what they believe would be beneficial for high school students if they were to enter their programs. I really think we need to look at Phillips Exeter Academy Exercise Science and Athletics as the future with the goal of making sure we’re cutting edge, doing something nobody else is doing.

What is the long-term value of sports?
“If there is one thing that we need to have in common, it’s movement. If we strip this down, the important thing is that we get people moving in ways that they are passionate. Sports are a perfect vehicle for that. We want our students to try everything, and hopefully with a number of offerings they can find something they are passionate about. If we can do that, we can create a lifelong sport or two or three that involve movement. Even if it’s something like yoga or tai chi, it’s something they can carry with them the rest of their life to support one’s health and happiness.

“With team sports, it’s the perfect way to develop life skills like working with others. I think Forbes had a piece recently that showed that a high percentage of the Fortune 500 CEOs were ex-varsity athletes. There is a skill set you gain from working with others toward a common goal and then the emotion that comes with the sports, the highs and lows build integrity; prepares you for dealing with adversity. That’s why these things are important and need to be a part of overall education. I find that you can have the smartest people in the world but if they don’t have the grit, life skills and social skills to put that academic knowledge to use, then they fall short of their potential.”

Given the racial strife that has engulfed the nation, what else comes to mind when you consider the value of sports?
“Going back to my international experience, that ties right into this equity and inclusion piece that has been at the forefront of our world more recently. Much of the world is looking at how it can become anti-racist. One way to do that is through sport participation. Sport itself is not prejudiced or biased. When we look at the Olympics or we look at sport in general, the benefit is that it brings people from around the globe together over a common passion. This happens with spectators and the athletes themselves.

“That is something we are going to be intentional about this year. If you look at some of the social media from the past few months, clearly we’ve got a lot of work to do, but if we can continue to work together as human beings to understand one another, focus on our commonalities, then that can help this next generation be better than we are, and hopefully the generation that follow.

Craig Morgan '84 has worked in sports journalism for three decades, most recently as a senior writer covering the NHL for The Athletic. He is the founder of AZcoyotesinsider.com and is a correspondent for NHLNetwork.com.