AYER -- Few players in the Mid-Wach D boys' basketball league have the size of Ayer Shirley senior forward/center Ryan Richard.
Richard stands at six-foot-one and weighs roughly 200 pounds, but it's not his broad build that creates mismatches for opponents. It's his ability to weather contact and finish at the rim. That's what makes the senior so hard to defend.
Richard is a multi-sport athlete. In addition to basketball, he competes in Track and Field and was a standout fullback/linebacker on the Panthers' football team that finished 2-9 this fall. In track, Richard competes in the javelin throw and he is just eight feet shy of the state qualifying distance of 156 feet.
Richard is just one-of-three Panthers varsity players who are over six-feet. Oh, and by the way, with senior point guard Zak Walker at six-foot-four, Anthony Burwell at six-foot-three, and junior Christopher Patano at six-foot-two, Richard is the shortest of the Panthers' big men.
"The big men are just feeding off each other and getting assists," Richard said. "Burwell could have had 32 the other night -- he had 18 points at the half. Me and Burwell had 33 rebounds the other night, together. We (Burwell) push each other in practice. He's always in my face contesting me."
Richard is a member of the National Honor Society, and he is consistently involved in the community with youth basketball camps among other things like volunteering at the Life Care Center, in Leominster, where his mom works.
"I like to work with old people," the Ayer Shirley senior said. "I visit Lakeside Parks here in Ayer from time-to-time. I go sing Christmas carols during Christmas and help out at the old folks home. I also clean up trash around the community and help out with my cousin's basketball team. With the old people, I like seeing them happy. I love seeing the smiles on their faces."
Back on the court, the Ayer Shirley senior is among the team's top leading scorers, averaging a double-double nearly every night with his 17.5 points-per-game average.
"Ryan is a very versatile player," Ayer Shirley basketball head coach Justin Carlson said. "He has a unique size and build. Throughout the last four years, we have used him anywhere from a guard to a center. He's a good-sized kid that can handle the ball and he is a streaky jump-shooter. His strong point is driving the ball inside and getting to the foul line. I am almost positive he has averaged a double-double. He is always giving his teammates extra opportunities, which you need throughout the course of a basketball game. "
Richard was nominated captain in his junior season, but his role as a captain was not renewed. Not a knock to his leadership qualities, but rather a decision by the Panthers not to choose captains in order to put the focus on the team, not an individual.
When the game is on the line, every team has that one player it feels comfortable taking the final shot. That man, without question, is Ryan Richard.
"We have used him to try and hit the game-winning shot," the coach said. "The coaching staff believes in him, so therefore the players believe in him. Ryan has played a lot of basketball so he understands the game. He does a really good job of calming down the younger players when they get rattled, especially his younger brother, DJ. The whole sophomore class looks up to Ryan."
Richard has yet to make his college choice, but he is currently looking at Assumption College, Fitchburg State, Westfield State and UMass Lowell. He has been scouted to play basketball at Fitchburg State. He aspires to be a police officer and study criminal justice.
"Without my parents and my family, I would not be who I am today," the senior forward said. "It's fun doing all three sports with my brother and pushing him to be the best he can be. Hopefully, he will be like the seniors are this year, having fun and shooting the ball."