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’He has shown a lot of growth over the last few years and has really put it all together this year.’ – Amy Allaire, Ayer history teacher on Rich Parsons

AYER — Trying to evaluate how good a goaltender is sometimes can end up being sports’ version of the chicken-and-egg question. Does a goaltender make a team, or does a team make a goaltender? Often the answer is fleeting and subjective and lies in the eyes of the beholder.

Goals-against-average can muddy the water because not all goaltenders face the same quantity and quality of shots.

One thing is for certain, being a goaltender on a team that is building can be an exasparating experience. But anyone who gets put into that position, and resists the temptation to give up against overwhelming odds, can profit from the experience.

Senior captain Rich Parsons recently completed his varsity career as the backbone of a rebuilding Ayer boys soccer program. The athletic and hard-working Parsons gave the team strength and leadership at a vital position and could always be counted upon to give 100 percent.

But anyone who knows Rich was hardly surprised by the character he showed on the soccer field. It was just an extension of what he brings to Ayer High School.

“Rich is an outstanding athlete, but he also seems to be involved in everything that goes on around the school,” said Ayer Athletic Director Justin Lamoreaux. “He did a good job of keeping the soccer team in games and stole some wins. He hung in when things were bleak, and always played hard whether his team was ahead 2-0 or behind 3-0. He showed great leadership.”

Lamoreaux has been able to work closely with Parsons, who has toiled as the athletic director’s intern this year.

“Being an intern requires a special person and a self-starter who can work with little or no direction,” said Lamoreaux. “He does a little bit of everything and has been my right hand man. He has gotten a full taste and has done a great job.”

“Rich is just a great all-around kid.” said Ayer High School Principal Don Parker. “He is a good student and will do anything for anybody. He is well-respected by both the staff and the other students.”

Rich wasn’t always a goaltender during his four-year career at Ayer. He was a forward until the middle of his sophomore season when the starting Panther goaltender quit the team.

“I had never played goaltender before but I volunteered,” said Rich. “I wanted a change and figured it was a good time to try something different. The hardest thing to learn was to judge when to stay in the net and when to come out. It took me until my senior year to feel comfortable about that.”

With little knowledge of the fundamentals about goaltending, Rich relied on his athleticism to get the job done, but he wasn’t happy about his performance as a junior.

“Having a heavy workload helped me gain experience more quickly, and I tried to learn from my mistakes,” said Rich. “I was disappointed with my performance in my junior year.”

That disappointment drove Rich. He attended the Ultimate Soccer Academy in August 2005 in preparation for his senior season.

“I stayed for two weeks and I learned a lot,” said Rich. “The second week was very important because the Boston College men’s goaltender coach was there. He stressed timing and getting a jump on the ball when the opposing forward is ready to shoot. We got a solid dose of basics and fundamentals and scrimmaged every night against quality competition.”

That experience set Rich up for his senior season, but the Panthers’ roster was dotted with young players without a lot of varsity experience, not the recipe for a goaltender to succeed. Also, injuries to key players further sapped depth, but Rich fought the good fight, doing his best to keep the team in games.

“We were built around our defense and the ball was in the defensive end a lot of the time,” said Rich. “My job was to keep us in games and I tried to lead by example and communicate on the field.”

“Rich is a great kid and a great peer motivator,” said Steve Tully, assistant varsity coach. “He is honest, dedicated, sincere and caring and was always positive with his teammates. He was a good sportsman on the field and was well respected by opponents.”

“The toughest part about being overmatched was trying to keep the team focused and believing we could compete,” said Rich. “There were games we showed a lot of grit, like the second St. Bernard’s game when we played with nine players, and the second Littleton game when we trailed 1-0 at halftime and lost 3-0. Those were the games I will remember.”

What are Rich’s thoughts about the future of the Panthers’ soccer program.

“Coach (Bob) Bechara has done a good job and brings a lot of passion for the game of soccer,” said Rich. “Every day he builds for the future by teaching fundamentals that will pay off later. It will take a commitment at the town level as the kids need to start playing early and continue through high school. Coach Bechara is doing that now and we have a lot of good kids at the sixth-and seventh-grade levels.”

Rich Parsons’ soccer career at Ayer High School has ended. But the younger players on the team have been handed a blueprint for future success by Parsons, which includes working hard every day, never giving an inch to a better opponent, and leaving everything you have on the field. Ayer will climb the soccer ladder one day, and the example Parsons set may well have set that climb into motion.

But when Rich graduates in June his loss will extend far beyond the soccer field. He has been a four-year member of the Ayer Student Council and is president this year.

“Rich is a great kid who has a lot of personality and works hard,” said Ayer History teacher Amy Allaire. “He has provided leadership, both in school and on the soccer field. He did a great job of encouraging the younger soccer players, and did it in the right way. He has shown a lot of growth over the last few years and has really put it all together this year.”