When Frank Malta walked through the doors of Jackson Memorial High School in 2005, he did not know anyone in the Jackson School District.
The Elizabeth High School alum and former coach of the Arthur L. Johnson High School baseball team in Clark, Union County, only knew Jackson Memorial was in Ocean County and competed in the Shore Conference, where the best baseball was played, and he wanted to be a part of it.
In the years since, Malta has turned a good Jackson Memorial program into one of the best high school baseball programs in New Jersey.
Malta changed the mindset of a program from one that only wanted to compete against the top teams in the Shore conference to one that wanted to become the “top dog” in the conference and in Ocean County.
He led the Jaguars to three state sectional championships, two Ocean County tournament titles, two Shore Conference tournament titles and the NJSIAA Group 4 state championship in 2014.
“At our first meeting before each season, we set out a list of goals to win the Shore Conference A South Division, the Ocean County and Shore Conference tournaments and to compete for an overall Group 4 state title,” Malta said in an interview this week. “Those were the goals. Our guys came in confident they were capable of that and believed in one another. They had the confidence to win every day.”
Malta’s record as the Jaguars’ coach stands at 282-109. Many players developed into NCAA Division I student-athletes and 2013 graduate Matt Thaiss has reached the Major Leagues and plays for the Los Angeles Angels.
“I wanted to help our guys get ready for the next level,” Malta said. ”Our players were very smart kids. I loved interacting with them and getting their input on different situations in games and during practices. We had a lot of high character guys and that helped in the transition to college.”
Malta transformed Jackson Memorial into one of the state’s best baseball programs and the time had come for him to take on the next challenge of leading an entire high school athletic department.
To that end, Malta has accepted the position of supervisor of athletics at East Brunswick High School in Middlesex County and has stepped down at Jackson Memorial.
An East Brunswick resident since 1999, the opportunity to run the athletic department at the high school was “too good” for Malta to pass up. He broke the news of his departure that same day to his players over Google Meet.
Malta said his players were “taken off guard” by his announcement and were upset he was leaving. But, he said, they understood going to East Brunswick was a good opportunity for him and were happy he will have the opportunity to run a high school athletic program.
“They were very gracious and happy for me,” Malta said of the players. “They knew how good of an opportunity this was for me.”
Malta was not able to coach the Jaguars during the spring of 2020 because the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the season, but he did coach his players during a 2020 summer tournament that was dubbed the Last Dance World Series.
He watched his players reach the championship game of the tournament and enjoyed seeing them on the diamond in what became the end of his successful tenure at Jackson Memorial.
Jackson Memorial breaks it down one last time. @COACHMALTA had a great run to the @NJLastdance championship game. Made the most of losing out on their spring season. Showed in the tournament why they’re one of the best teams in NJ. CC: @central_jersey #NJLastDance ⚾️ pic.twitter.com/9FnGnNMyAQ
— Steven Bassin (@SBassin_Sports) August 1, 2020
“I’m very thankful we had that” summer tournament, Malta said. “We had a very close group of seniors (in 2020) who were all great players. We got to play a who’s who of the best teams in South Jersey. It gave us a special memory.”
With Malta’s departure, Patrick George will take over as head coach of the Jaguars. George was a coach on the Jackson Memorial staff in 2018 and helped coach the team during the Last Dance World Series.
In 2021, Jackson Memorial will be led by righthander Matt Potok and lefthander Zach Crotchfelt. Belmont Abbey College commit Ty Beck returns to anchor the middle of the infield, while junior Chris Cartnick and senior Zach Rogacki are expected to have a big spring after playing well last summer.
Malta said he has been working with George to ensure a smooth transition. The veteran coach said he will miss going to practice every day and interacting with his players and coaches, and the camaraderie of the team.
“We accept everyone in our program,” he said. “It didn’t matter if you were a freshman or a senior. We wanted to make everyone feel comfortable. That builds confidence in the program.”
Malta will officially begin his tenure at East Brunswick on March 22.
The parents of the Jackson Memorial booster club hosted a going away party for Malta on Feb. 20. He was honored with a plaque and a specially made sweatshirt.
“It was a nice gesture and I am very appreciative of those who came to say goodbye,” Malta said. “I’m very fortunate for the time I had at Jackson Memorial.”