DEVENS -- It was not just a celebration of past successes. The Ayer Shirley Athletic Hall of Fame induction ceremony featured present and future hope for the school's acclaimed sports program.
Saturday night's gala had a thread of connectivity running through it that wove legends from five decades ago to the class of 2018.
Highlighted by, but not limited to, the presence of former University of Michigan and NFL star Jamie Morris, the widely-attended event at Devens Inn and Conference Center was notable also for who wasn't there. Former Harlem Globetrotter "General" Lee Holman died on Christmas eve of 2015, unaware that his high school had chosen him for this year's class.
Speaking on behalf of Holman's widow Cynthia, Ken Swain spoke of Holman's contribution to professional basketball and entertainment. "But it was his humble beginning here at Ayer High School where the trajectory of his life was defined. It would not have been nearly as full as it was if not for his early life in this community."
Holman, a 1972 graduate, was one of seven former Panthers to be honored. Beyond the five athletes were two long-time coaches at the school, Richard Molloy (basketball) and Jamie Lamoreaux (football and track). Also recognized was former sportswriter/booster Steve Fallon, and the undefeated 1981 girls basketball team.
A player from that unbeaten team, Dianne Bacon Connor, was also among the individual athletes inducted.
"I was thrilled when I got the letter in the mail," she said in her inspiring address. "It's so great to be here and very humbling."
She was again on stage later with other members of the girls basketball squad along with fellow inductee, coach Jane Steinberg. Thirty-seven years of separation did not dampen the group's closeness. Connor's husband, Neal was inducted in 2016.
Lamoreaux has the deepest roots. The 1976 graduate earned eight varsity letters in track and football before returning as coach, guiding track & field athletes for four decades. He started a continuous run of success in both sports. One of his earlier students was Jamie Morris, the fourth brother of his family inducted, and former running back for the New England Patriots.
"I have this wonderful community to thank for everything. I love this town," said Morris, who also deflected the spotlight onto other inductees, classmates, civic leaders and school personnel.
Morris' days at Ayer were punctuated by his profile as the youngest brother of a popular family of athletic standouts. In addition to his success on the gridiron, Morris was league all-star in basketball and state track champion in the 100- and 200-meter sprints.
The baton of triumphant tracksters was passed further along to Shawnn Gyles, two-time captain of the Panthers' track team and Lowell Sun Player of The year in football in 2003. The Northeastern University graduate also lauded his hometown school and neighborhoods for his good fortune and selection into the Hall of Fame.
The loudest raucous was when MC Joshua Dolan, WAAF radio personality and Ayer alumnus, announced basketball coach Dick Molloy.
"We weren't a team, we were a family," Molloy said of the three dozen squads he handled during his time at 151 Washington Street. "Despite great success on the court, I am most proud of the fact that my kids never had a technical foul called on them. They were gentlemen."
"That," said Hall of Fame board chairman Tony Casavecchia, "best represents the spirit of this school."