Nearly 40 years after producing one of the greatest moments in Winthrop Highâ€™s long and glorious sports history, Ken Sirianni still remembers it well.
It was Ken Sirianni who received the baton from Buster Van Buskirk as the anchor for the Winthrop High mile relay team on that spring day in 1984 with everything on the line: a win over NEC powerhouse Beverly, an undefeated season, an NEC championship for the smallest school in the conference, along with Winthropâ€™s first title in 29 seasons.
Beverly had spoiled Winthropâ€™s title hopes a year earlier, and Sirianni and his teammates wanted to go out with a championship.
More importantly, Ken Sirianni said he wanted to win it for head coach Pat McGee, who had taken a non-track athlete as a youth and developed him into a school-record-setting runner. Sirianniâ€™s half mile (1:56.0) and mile (4:29.2) records still stand today.
A Fight to the Finish Line
Sirianni, who stands 6-feet-1, watched anxiously as teammates Scott Lerner, Robert Jarvis, and Buster Van Buskirk went neck-to-neck with Beverly for the first three legs of the relay. Sirianni had hoped he would have a head start because Beverlyâ€™s anchor was one of the fastest quarter-milers in the state.
â€œIâ€™m thinking to myself, â€˜I need to get a little bit of a lead on this guy because heâ€™s super-fast,â€ recalled Sirianni. And Buster gave me that edge.â€
The Beverly runner managed to regain the lead, but Sirianni never panicked or gave an inch.
â€œI was more of an endurance guy, so I just sat behind him and let him force the pace and not get away,â€ said Sirianni. â€œI wanted to make sure he knew I was right on his heels, and I wanted to go through his gas tank. The last 100 yards, I was going to go all out. This is the part of the race where Iâ€™m going to be at my strongest and thatâ€™s what happened â€“ I got him at the wire.â€
Pat McGee had watched the drama unfold from a spot several yards from the finish line. With the photo-finish, McGee couldnâ€™t tell that Sirianni was victorious until Sirianni was enveloped jubilantly by his teammates.
Mrs. McGeeâ€™s son, Dr. Paul McGee, was at the title-deciding Beverly-Winthrop meet. He knew how much the victory and coaching in the sport of track meant to his mother.
â€œMy dad [Arthur McGee] had died in December of 1983 and it was devastating after a two-year battle with cancer,â€ recalled Paul.â€œMy mother coached that indoor season and we came into the spring season, and we had high hopes. The final meet was at Marblehead because the Beverly track had been flooded, and it was a back-and-forth meet with Beverly. Kenny anchored that relay. He passed the Beverly kid and won it, and it was the first track title in 29 years. â€œThe kids told my mother, â€œMrs. McGee, we did this for you. We didnâ€™t do it for us, we did it for you. They knew all about her husband and my dad. It was very touching that they wanted to win it for her.â€
Ken Sirianni also understood the magnitude of the victory.
â€œWe had lost the title the year before and I know that was tough on Coach McGee and the team,â€ remembered Sirianni. â€œMrs. McGee was something special. Sheâ€™s a little lady, but basically a giant person.â€
Looking back on the famous relay race, Ken Sirianni said he and his teammates still talk about it. Others know they witnessed a once-in-lifetime race.
â€œI heard second hand that [then-Winthrop High football coach] Bob DeFelice told someone that it was the best race he had ever seen â€“ the way it all panned out, dramatic I guess,â€said Sirianni.
Coach Pat McGee, Ken Sirianni, and the 1984 track team were inducted into the Winthrop High Hall of Fame. A member of the Massachusetts State Track Coaches Hall of the Fame, Patricia McGee died on February 24, 2023.