AYER — Numerous spectacular athletes roamed the halls of Ayer High School, as it was once known, long before Shirley was added into the district name.
The Panthers roared to greatness in all sports from the 1980 Super Bowl football team that blew out Monty Tech to the late Rita Briggs, who went on to play professional baseball for the Rockford Peaches.
Sports have always been an integral part of putting the small towns of Ayer Shirley on the map.
Devens, which was once an active military base that housed soldiers and their families, provided Panther athletics with a steady flowing talent pool.
But, one thing was lacking at Ayer Shirley, a sports hall of fame.
Athletic director Jon Sweeney, who is entering his third year at the school, heard rumblings from people in the community that starting a hall of fame was something that was always talked about, but it was never done. The Ayer Shirley Hall of Fame Committee held its first fundraiser Billiard’s Cafe, in Ayer, Saturday night and raised $200.
“We had a great turnout and support from the community,” Sweeney said. “People really seem like they’re backing it, and that’s a very good thing.”
Sweeney hopes that the Hall of Fame will give current student athletes something to strive for.
“It has been a long time coming and the kids who are at the high school need to understand this school’s tradition,” Sweeney said. “It is going to give the kids something to work towards. It will give them an understanding of what it means to put on the school jersey. It is not only about what they’re doing now, but the school’s past. It’s an all-around great thing.”
With the construction of the renovated high school nearing its final phases, what better time than the present to finally give these athletes the recognition they deserve?
The committee is comprised of six individuals — five of which have direct ties to the community. School committee members: Dan Gleason and Pat Kelly; Justin Lamoreaux (alum,teacher and coach) Tony Casavecchia (parent and alum); Sweeney, and outside member, Joe Leone, who has experience with both the Concord-Carlisle and Burlington High School Hall of Fames.
“I was talking with people in and around town and I heard that there were two or three times that people tried to make a hall of fame committee,” Casavecchia said. “Everybody had an agenda and people wanted their buddies in. The now committee and I got together and discussed how to make this a reality. Joe Leone had the structure and basis for the whole thing. He has been advising us about how to go about achieving this.”
The six-man committee started meeting at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year and discussed the possibility of this happening.
With such a loaded pool of talent to pick from and over 50 years of accolades to sift through, all members admit it was not easy.
Leone, who is an assistant baseball coach at Westford Academy, is happy to help Ayer Shirley name its first hall of fame class.Leone was doing a long-term substitute teaching job at the high school and spoke with Lamoreaux and Sweeney about getting the ball rolling.
“I told Jon and Jamie about my experience with hall of fames, and I am on the executive board for the Central Mass. Baseball Hall of Fame committee for the last 30 years,” Leone said. “Ayer’s history is full of tremendous athletes — it was extremely difficult to narrow down that first class. We were able to get a lot of names for the first class. It took a lot of phone calls and research, but I think we have an unbelievable first class.”
The inaugural class is planned to be introduced at halftime of the Panthers football game on Oct. 23 .
“We want to be able to give the inductees a tour of the school,” Gleason said.
“None of them have seen it since it has been renovated. So, it will be nice to do that for them. It will be a totally different than they remember.”
The induction ceremony will be held the following night at the Devens Inn and Conference Center. Tickets for the ceremony and dinner are $35 and can be purchased by mailing a check payable to ASRHS Hall of Fame Dinner, 80 Willard St. Ayer, MA 01432.