AYER — When thinking about track programs with legendary sprinters, one school in North Central Mass. comes to mind: Ayer Shirley Regional High School.
Some of the best sprinters in the nation have come out of the school in the past, and currently, with some coaches on staff with that same pedigree, there is a group of Panther sprinters looking to make their mark in the school's storied history.
Jimmy Robinson, Jack Brewer, Leonardo Rosales and Lucas Sargent, all seniors, as well as alternate Fayad Bashir, competd at Saturday's MIAA All-State Outdoor Track and Field Championship at Westfield State University after winning last weekend's 4x100-meter relay at the Central/Western Mass. Division 2 Championship.
Robinson also competed as an individual sprinter at all-states.
"Rosales has led this thing, and has been a captain since day one," Ayer Shirley boys' head coach Chris Donovan said prior to the All-States. "To fall short of the team title (at the Central/West championship) was unfortunate, but the secondary goal was to get this relay back to all-states, which they are happy about."
It's been more than 30 years since the Morris brothers (Joe, Mike, Larry and Jamie), who Sports Illustrated called possibly the greatest family quartet to lace up football cleats and running shoes, put Ayer High School on the national stage. Two played in the National Football League, while Mike Morris' records still stand to this day, as his 100-meter time of 10.4 seconds in 1981 still stands as the meet record.
Now the next generation of Panthers looks to emulate its Ayer ancestors as it heads to the all-state championship. The 4x100 relay enters the meet with a time of 45.06 seconds, pegged 22nd-best walking into the day. But Robinson, who ran the 100 and 200 at the state qualifier, will be joining the relay this time around, as he will sit out the 100 and only race in the 200 at all-states.
Robinson qualified for both races, as he won the 200 (22.19), and finished second in the 100 (11.27), but he knows competing for Ayer Shirley in the sprints means more than just team pride — there is a legacy and sense of history associated with it.
"The sprinting history is pretty cool, to be honest," Robinson said. "But at the same time it kind of stinks though, because to beat the school record you have to get a 10.3 (in the 100) and you can't go anywhere near that yet."
The legacy associated with Ayer Shirley sprinting goes beyond just its storied athletes, as it currently has two sprinting coaches with similarly impressive resumes. Catherine Milledge was a Boston University standout in the hurdles and even made it to the Olympic Trials.
Trevardo Williams was a disciple of Milledge's, and joined after a football career at the University of Connecticut. Williams, like some of the Morris brothers, heard his name called on the NFL's draft day, as he was a fourth-round pick of the Houston Texans. Williams was an All-New England sprinter in high school, too, but an injury ruined his professional football career.
"Between our two new coaches, that's pretty crazy to have that type of clout here every day," Donovan said. "You can see it with the block work and the handoffs, and explosiveness. That type of experience goes a long way, especially for a small school like ours."
Robinson enters all-states individually as the eighth seed in 200 meters, and will be running in the top flight in the race, with a chance to go to New Englands.
"Robinson is in the fast heat, seeded eighth, and with the top six going to New Englands, I think that is a real possibility," Donovan said. "In the relay, having (Robinson) re-entering the group, I think we can move way up."
The 2019 senior season for Robinson is one of redemption, as a football injury as a junior left Robinson sidelined for the entire indoor season and most of the outdoor season. Robinson's personal bests in the 200 came this season at 22.1 (electronic) and 21.9 (handheld) seconds. He attributes those times to working on block starts and his drive phase. This will be Robinson's first time competing as an individual at all-states.
"I didn't compete in the indoor season," Robinson said. "I had to stop midway through the outdoor season because my injuries were catching up with me. Last year was disappointing, but I'm having way more fun, competing with my teammates."
Rosales, the relay team's anchor and the Panthers' captain, is no stranger to the all-state meet in the 4x100, as he has competed in each of the past three years. Robinson competed his sophomore year with the relay, and Brewer competed last year.
"I'm more prepared, and it's less nerve wracking having done it before," Rosales said of all-states.
Sargent, who is a first-year senior with the program, notes the cohesion of the relay, which helps to create team success.
"Being friends with these guys outside of here made my experience that much better," Sargent said. "It's exciting being a part of the team, and the success we've had, because I'm not used to this in some of the other sports I competed in."
The four seniors involved got the ending to the career they asked for, one more shot at states and a school record. It was a solid run for the veterans, who won the league title each of the last three years and finished third at Central/West Division 2 this year, after winning the meet last year.
During the last three years the relay shaved about a second off its time, and is shooting to break the school record at 43.7.
"It feels great to be ending my career this way," Brewer said. "It's something that I always wanted to accomplish and I feel like we're going to perform well at all-states. Going against the best in the state will hopefully push us to break the school record."