TOWNSEND — Jarret Ross and Mike Skelly have been sensational athletes for the North Middlesex Regional track and cross country teams for the past four years.
The two are hoping to close out their phenomenal high school careers with another record-breaking day on Saturday when the Patriots’ 4×800 relay team competes at the All-State Championship at Fitchburg State University.
“They’ve both performed at a high level for a long time,” North Middlesex head coach Ralph Wolfendale said. “They will both be greatly missed, not only for their athletic ability and talent, but just as importantly for their leadership on the track team.”
“It’s been great coaching them. … I’m going to miss their work ethic, leadership ability, their personalities. They are just two solid kids. It’s been an honor to have them on the team, and the younger kids have definitely benefited from the example that they set.”
The two made perhaps their biggest splash as part of the record-setting 4×800 relay squad. On May 19, Skelly and Ross paired with junior Bobby Johnston and freshman Chris Skelly to shatter the school mark in the event. They finished in 8:16.09, breaking the previous record of 8:21 and winning the Mid-Wach A title.
“Mike and I had been looking at the school records for a long time, and were hoping to break one of them,” Ross said. “When we started the outdoor season, we thought we had a good chance to break it. When we broke it we were ecstatic, it was really awesome for the seniors to leave one last mark on North Middlesex.”
On Saturday, the 4×800 team placed third at the District E All-Class Championships with a time of 8:16.32. They’ll have one more chance at rewriting the title Saturday against a talented field.
“I think we should have a pretty good shot,” Mike Skelly said. “We might be able to crack the top 10. We don’t run until 7:30 at night, so it should be nice and cool.”
Ross will be on double duty Saturday, also competing individually in the 2-mile after finishing third (9:44.34) in last weekend’s district championship.
“I’m more excited about running the 4×800 than the 2-mile,” Ross said. “These guys are like my family now. Running with them has changed my view on running. Each person does their own part in the relay, and for me to be able to help them and be part of a team is a huge deal for me.”
Ross, who will compete on the Division I UMass Amherst team next year, has been a three-sport athlete (cross country, indoor track, outdoor track) who really turned the corner during his junior year, making the transition from a contributor to an elite runner. Ross made it to the state championships in cross country his junior and senior seasons, finishing 56th in Division 1 with a time of 16:57 in the 5K race this past fall. As a senior indoor runner, he finished second at the Division 1 Central Mass. meet in the 2-mile (10:20.37), third at the state Division 2 meet (9:43.13) and sixth at the All-State Meet (9:31.10).
Mike Skelly was an accomplished baseball player for the Patriots during the first three years of his high school career, starring in center field, but decided as a senior to give up baseball to focus on track and field. Next year, he will compete on the Westfield State University roster.
“Originally I just ran to stay in shape,” he said. “I ran cross country and indoor all four years. Last year I really started thinking about running outdoor, but played baseball still and we made districts, which I was happy about. I decided to plan to run track in college, so I switched to outdoor. We have a great group of guys, I really wanted to enjoy my last year and it’s been worth it. The only thing better than breaking the 4×800 record was being able to do it with my brother.”
Mike Skelly qualified for the state Division 1 cross country championships this past fall, finishing 11 seconds behind Ross in 81st place (17:08). Along with Ross, he helped North Middlesex finish fifth overall at the Central Mass. Division 1 meet. During the indoor season, Mike Skelly finished eighth in the Division 2 state championships in the mile (4:34.34) and third in Division 1 Central Mass.
In addition to their lofty individual success, the seniors have also mentored North Middlesex’s younger runners.
“Jarret and Michael are two leaders,” Wolfendale said. “They know what to do for workouts, how to work out, what they need to do to pace themselves during workouts. They get their mileage in and get their speed work in. That carries over to the younger kids, which is great.”
That influence has been significant among their relay teammates.
“They’ve totally taken me under their wing,” said Mike’s younger brother Chris Skelly. “I’ve really embraced my love for running since I’ve been running with them. Mike and I have talked about running on a team together for a long time.”
“They got the ball rolling into getting me and Chris to run really decent times,” Johnston said. “Running is tough, but when you have two seniors that you can look up to, it makes it a lot easier.”