Coach Braz entered the locker-room the same way he always does, assertive and with a plan in his mind to express to his team before another league meet. He stepped up on his stand in the middle of a room of the countless athletes that he oversees daily and gave his preparation speech as the team was minutes away from competing with Salem.
Everything he said came into fruition. Salem attacked hard with their sprinters, Peabody focused on taking points where their matchups were strongest, and after a 93-43 win Braz was satisfied with how his team took care of business. That’s what the Tanners track program has become known for, winning meet after meet with a specific plan for every single one and intense individualized preparation beforehand. It’s extremely difficult to imagine handling a roster of around 100 high schoolers, Braz has not only done it he has thrived at it year in and year out.
The Salem meet produced four state qualifying times for Phil Bynum in the 100 meter (11.2), his 4x100 meter relay team (44.4), Moisse Irizarry in the high jump (6’0), and Ugonna Okananwa in the long jump (21.5). Anthony Pizzo won the 2 mile in 10:36, Shane Braz took the mile at 4:52, Carlos Chez fought hard for second in the 400 meter hurdles (61.0), Marcello Rocha soared to a 2:03 victory in the 800 meter, and Irizarry also took the 200 meter at 23.8. Patrick Pang dominated the shot put (43’10”) and discus (113’1”) while Jake LaFlam finished first by a wide margin in the javelin field (140’6”). Across the board, Peabody got the job done.
The success of Peabody Track and Field almost seems like a given every season but few from the outside understand the intense dedication, leadership and internal motivation within the athletes alongside the specialized work over years by coaches to raise their runners and throwers from the bottom up. Every day the team goes out and gives maximum effort and despite being a group so large that sometimes teammates don’t even come across each other in a given day, the group grows collectively by the brunt of their drive.
“Our team chemistry has been just unbelievable” Pizzo, running in his fourth season, said of the complexion of the group. “Speaking from just the distance team...we hang out together all the time we’re a bunch of close guys. There’s nothing that can break us apart we’re all friends. Team chemistry really leads to success.”
It’s that collectiveness within each of the team’s numerous groups where the framework for success is set. Veterans and new, younger athletes come together around one specific craft and push each other every day towards results on the meet days. No where is that more true than the hurdle group where Chez and fellow junior Justin Canuel have taken the initiative to lead their squad in one of the sport’s most difficult technical events.
“When you see yourself improve and I go into a race I tell the new freshman, ‘when you’re racing, the personal record is your birthday,’ but then beating someone is a little cake on the side. It’s good, but you want to have your birthday and you always have your birthday because you’re always having your PR and you’re always improving yourself. That’s what you want to aim for...it’s pushing yourself because the only person you’re truly racing against is yourself” Chez stated on his philosophy.
It’s that mindset of battling with yourself that seems to be the invigorating force within Peabody track’s coaches and athletes. So much of the sport is mental. They’re always trying to top each other with every group that comes in. It’s a daily internal battle to know that you’re a step above where you were yesterday.
That’s an attitude that has been passed from excellent athletes who have succeeded and moved on. On the weight team that is extremely evident. That group lost three elite level throwers to graduation and in their place Patrick Pang, Peter Leon, and Joseph Donahue have stepped up like clock work. To Leon that’s no accident as the success was passed down when they trained behind them:
“I learned a lot from them, me and Pang learned a lot from them, they were big guys, they were tough guys. They didn’t take anything for granted and that’s what they passed down to us.”
That gradual rise to the top is what’s so special about this program and quite possibly the key to their continued relevance in state competition. The team’s top athletes are a product of the greats that they saw come before them and once they reach that point they understand how crucial it is to look out for their younger counterparts. Joe Farhat, one of the team’s standouts in his junior year, buys into that concept heavily.
Even as the top-tier runners runners are fixated on state-wide competition rather than league meets, which they often take off for added training, they are still careful to lend support and inspiration to those competing in their place, an important balance:
“We try to lead by example” Farhat commented. “Sometimes we’ll use the smaller meets as workout days but the younger kids are oblivious to that. We’re running real hard and that inspires them to run real hard. The main thing is always being there for them, cheering them on, making sure they can hear your voice when they’re running and just letting them know that every single thing they do benefits this team...we make sure we let them know...so no matter what they do, good or bad, they feel like they’re benefiting this team.”
That’s the fixture of Peabody track. It’s athletes come from so many different athletic backgrounds and join the team for such a variety of reasons that instilling importance even into the runners just there to get into shape is of fundamental importance. It’s evident in Irizarry, a football and basketball player at the school who went from using the sport for conditioning purposes to becoming a star in this sport as well.
“At first I did track to get myself into shape for those other sports” he said. “But at the same time it challenges you mentally as well. As you know football is a crazy mentality, but same with track. If you’re running the 400 you have to push yourself mentally to get to that next level. I think that’s why I do track, to condition my mind and my body as well for those other sports.”
Irizarry is a prime example of why the track program has become so widely viewed as a place to be for the best athletes in the school. In his junior year he is already an elite level sprinter and high jumper while beginning to move into hurdling as well making him a versatile triple-threat that could be capable of competing at a top-level college.
“They’re always pushing us to be better” Farhat added of the coaches. “They make it clear that if you work hard and get to that upper-level scholarships come easy in college and that’s what really drives a lot of kids is that need for an easy scholarship...you just have to run great times in high school and then you’re in to any D1 or D2 school you want.”
That’s what continues to drive Coach Braz even after years of success and achievement that propelled him to the Massachusetts athletic hall of fame. He speaks on it all the time, the track program is not only focused on winning but guiding its athletes towards successful futures as athletes. For that reason there may not be a better institution for PVMHS students to be a part of as it provides a challenging and cooperative environment, the daily focus on achieving new goals, individual attention towards the future, and a basis for finding success in any part of your life.
Garrett Braz, the director’s nephew and one of several in the family who are part of the track program including state champion Marcello, may have wrapped up the track environment best:
“All my homies are just so inspiring to me, they’re always pushing to make progress one way or another. Here as a Peabody athlete, we take our athletics very seriously, rigorously working to push ourselves to our limits.”