AYER — Steve Kendall, formerly the sports editor of the Sentinel & Enterprise, has since moved on to other things. He coached Nashoba Regional’s ice hockey and softball teams over the last decade or so, thanks to his degree in education.
But now, he has taken on a new challenge.
Kendall, a 1988 Leominster High grad, is now the athletic director at Ayer Shirley Regional High School, where he took over last fall for Jon Sweeney. Since that time, he’s done quite a bit to help revamp the athletic department over on Washington Street.
One of those things was start an April vacation softball tournament much in the same vein as Hudson’s Sheryl Jones Tournament, which he coached in when he was at the helm of the Chieftains.
The Ayer tourney is named after Rita Briggs, Ayer’s lone female baseball player at the high school level back in the 1940s.
Briggs went on to play in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League — a.k.a. “A League Of Their Own” — for seven teams, including the four-time champion Rockford Peaches. In 2009, Ayer dedicated the softball field in her name, 15 years after she passed away.
“The Sheryl Jones Tournament is definitely the inspiration for this,” Kendall said after the Panthers beat North Middlesex Regional, 11-6, in the title game. “When I came in and found out who Rita Briggs was and that she was from Ayer, it seemed like a no-brainer to honor her memory.
“The idea was to have four Mid-Wach teams, which worked out that we had a B, C, D and E team in it. We were happy with the three teams we got, and it was a competitive tournament. Hopefully it’s the start of a regular thing.”
In addition to Ayer Shirley and North Middlesex, Clinton and Groton-Dunstable Regional competed in the inaugural tourney.
Kendall said that his experience at Ayer Shirley so far have been outstanding, noting that it’s a “different world” being the AD instead of a coach or a teacher. He previously taught English at Nashoba Regional.
“I get to help the coaches more so than I am (with) the kids; before, I was coaching kids, now I’m coaching coaches, coaching teachers. It’s a different role, but I’m enjoying it. The coaches here are great, the kids are great,” he said. “I’m very impressed with a small student body, that the numbers we have playing sports is incredible. We have 100 kids running spring track out of 384 kids — and still have numbers for a solid baseball team, a solid softball team, kids playing lacrosse (on co-op team with Bromfield).
“And our kids playing lacrosse are good players; they’re not uniform fillers.”
Kendall has worked to get the Panther athletic department in line with other Mid-Wach schools, who use online registration — FamilyID — to register for a particular sport, and he’s added Unified sports programs for the school’s students with disabilities. Right now, Ayer Shirley co-ops with Leominster for Unified track and field.
“That’s been a big thing for me,” he said.
One of the other things he’s especially proud of is that three teams have already earned sportsmanship awards this school year — including the boys basketball team.
“They were competitive, too. I know they only won two games, but they had eight losses by less than five points. But as I told the coach, they didn’t have that last year,” Kendall said. “Our kids are great kids, and our coaches have done a good job.
“Our coaches are leaders, and they are teaching leaders in our community: that was instilled in me at both Nashoba and Leominster.”
Outside of the AD duties, he’s teaching physical education and health courses, but he’s also doing teacher evaluations in the Ayer Shirley district.
“It’s all stuff that’s good for me as a teacher; I’m still teaching. I’m teaching teachers: I’m still in the classroom quite a bit,” Kendall said.
Got to see 2014 North Middlesex grad Jack Portlock on Thursday as his mom’s team — North Middlesex softball is coached by Janice Portlock — took on Ayer Shirley.
Jack was Tom Bartelson’s right-hand man during his time at NM, and he went to Springfield College to study sports management. He graduated last year.
He’s now the visiting clubhouse manager for the Double A Hartford Yard Goats. Not bad for a Pepperell kid.