Members of the Ayer Shirley Regional High School girls basketball team received a special citation from the MIAA for sportsmanship and community service, which included shoveling out the Wayside Community Center after a recent snowstorm to provide better access to residents and first responders. Here, team members, staff and assorted helpers take a break from their shoveling. COURTESY PHOTO Ayer Shirley girls hoop

AYER — The Ayer Shirley Regional girls basketball Panthers were winners long before they stepped onto the court.

Coach Pete Page and his squad were scheduled to receive the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) award for community service in a short ceremony before their home game against Murdock, which was postponed. The award will be presented at a later date.

The 8-3 Panthers were not recognized for their consistent success on the court, but rather for their consistent contributions to both the community where they live and the fellowship of competitors on their schedule. Adopting the symbol of ‘Hard Hat,’ this year’s team carries on the tradition and culture that is historically pervasive in Panther athletics.

The MIAA Educational Athletics Achievement Awards are given out to “a student-athlete, coach or team that has been involved in exemplary initiatives or outstanding acts,” according to a description on the press release. Within that platform there are five pillars, including: wellness, sportsmanship, coaches’ education, leadership and community service.

“Community service,” as outlined in the award’s criteria, “is to recognize the privilege of athletic participation and the responsibility of giving back to the community.”

Page’s Panthers embody that spirit regularly, most recently by gathering to shovel out the massive Wayside Community Center after a snowstorm last month. The team threw snow instead of basketballs, clearing the 65-unit development to allow passage for the residents and access for first responders.

But their outreach extends to their opponents and league officials as well. According to MIAA Assistant Executive Director Rich Riley, the main point of recognition for the Panthers is the respect and courtesy they show to the sport.

“At every home game the team writes a letter to the officials welcoming them to the building and thanking them for their time. They take turns making baked goods for the opposing teams, and they recognize the seniors of every team that comes into the gym.”

It’s an award well-deserved.