In order to be a champion in any sport, or even in life's many other endeavors, it requires that you be a "great closer." In other words, you must be able to finish the job you set out to do.

During the course of a season (or one's life) it's possible to lay claim to victories, in some cases many victories. In and of themselves these gains can result in some immediate successes, good or pleasure: a win of any kind, but especially an upset victory or the defeat of a rival; a particularly sterling individual player performance that one can applaud; a hard-fought for pay raise; or the ability to embark on a dream trip or vacation.

But if we bask for too long in the immediate pleasure derived from these experiences, team championship quests (or other season goals), one's lifetime ambition or family plan can be compromised or even forgotten. Keep your eye on the prize!

In other words, realize that your work is not complete and a sustained effort is necessary to lock up your ultimate prize, whatever that may be. You need to be a "great closer" with the big picture in focus.

By now you are certainly asking where this introduction is leading. Is this an educational column or have we transitioned to a "philosophy of life" essay?

Well, let me cite the victories that the Towns of Ayer and Shirley have scored in their quest for a "champion" regional school system. First, a Regional Planning Committee (RPC) over three years sorted through various options to combine with each other (and Lunenburg) to resolve their community needs for school improvement -- especially at the high-school level.

The first win was a vote by each town to accept the framework and agreement that the RPC hammered out (and I mean hammered!) and have the state education hierarchy accept this plan.

The second win was the amazing cooperative and prompt response to the transition to new buildings, programs, assignments, curriculum and new administration and vision.

These items are certainly not finished products by any means, but are well grounded. The new regional School Committee and superintendent have smoothly accepted the torch to create a new 21st-century school system.

The towns can bask in these two wins but the plan for "the best system they can provide" can't be realized without a critical finish kick. A modern, safe, healthy and accommodating building is necessary to properly establish the environment and facilities "to finish the job you set out to do."

The State School Building Authority has been a patient and steadfast player (and most generous) in this process for the two towns' regionalization. Funding a plan with a high school of less than 1000 projected students (which it became when Lunenburg opted out) was not preferable. But they saw the commitment of the locals to work out a solution and the SBA was loyal to the process, with a sizeable state funding reimbursement offer.

This fact, together with a plan that has been tweaked from the original concept by a creative and cost-conscious School Building Committee, offers a superb chance for closure to what has been a lengthy but admirable "season" of five years.

That finish can result with another win at the polls on Nov. 17, resulting in the approval of the towns financing to proceed. This will be a true championship!

If anyone needs further convincing of the building renovation necessity, just consider how old it is! This scribe was on first staff to open the current building and I am aged!

It is sad and neglectful the way we allow our school buildings (even other municipal buildings) to deteriorate. Many become unsafe because of disrepair, are plagued with poor air quality caused by old and faulty venting, captured by mold and mildew (locker rooms), inefficient to heat due to aged doors/insulation and boilers and often just plain ugly with damaged lockers and worn-out floors. In addition to the basic condition of the school, we seldom upgrade the learning stations with modern technology or other equipment. 

North Middlesex School District recently had to eke out a positive vote to move forward to renovate the high school that has been cited by the accreditors as needing immediate attention.

The Nashoba Regional School District was turned down as they sought additional town money to supplement a state grant to upgrade their science labs. Aren't science and technology an educational priority and isn't lab safety a rather important concern?

The opulence of State Street or big corporations' work places isn't necessary, just the adequate standards that our young kids and committed teachers deserve in daily teaching and learning climates.

Tom Casey is a consultant and retired school administrator who lives with his wife, Kathy, in Lancaster.