Fernando Braz will become one of the select few to be inducted into the Massachusetts State Track Coaches Association Hall of Fame as both coach and athlete.
Inducted as a coach five years ago, Braz will be inducted once again this Sunday as an athlete. The Peabody High cross country and track coach will be one of seven athletes so honored at the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury at 11 a.m. prior to the State Coaches large school track meet.
Sean Furey (Methuen), Tamara Peeples-Mbengue (Weston), Leanne Burke (Randolph), Braz, Dan Dillon (Chiopee), Larry Rawson (St. Mary's, Waltham), and Bill McWilliams (Hanover) make up the rest of the illustrious Class of 2020.
"I'm humbled and very grateful," said Braz, who is also in the Peabody High and Boston College Halls of Fame. "It's something you never think about, especially with all the athletes in the state through the years. It's stunning when you think of all the ones they could've chosen — and also beautiful to know hard work pays off."
The MSTCA Hall of Fame was first started 25 years ago to honor deserving athletes and coaches.
When Braz was first contacted, in fact, he didn't think it was about him. "I found out right before Thanksgiving, and I really thought the call was to ask me about somebody else," he admitted.
There's no question Braz is deserving of this honor. What's unusual is the fact that he was inducted five years ago as a coach first, since not only is he highly successful imparting his knowledge of the sport, but was also a tremendous athlete with phenomenal distance running achievements at Peabody High, Boston College and beyond.
The 1980 Peabody Veterans Memorial High graduate ran for legendary head coach George Smyrnios and collected 12 individual state titles in cross country and track. In his senior year, he set a new indoor 5,000 meter record (14:52.8) that stood for 28 years and is, remarkably, still the time to beat in Massachusetts.
Ranked second n the country with a time of 30:42 in 10,000 meters, Braz was an All-American in both cross country and spring track.
He was the first athlete in Massachusetts to win back-to-back All-State titles and went on to have a great career at Boston College. As a member of the Class of 1985, Braz became the first BC athlete to qualify as an individual for the NCAA cross country championships in both 1981 and '82.
He was a two-time Big East Conference champ and two-time New England winner in both the 5,000 indoors and 10,000 outdoors (1982). Braz was All-Big East six times and All-New England 11 times. He went on to qualify for the US Olympic Trials in both 1988 and again four years later.
Braz will have his immediate family and other supporters there at the Reggie Lewis Center this Sunday. The meet will also be stopped to honor the seven new members, who will be given the opportunity to speak about their achievements if they so desire. Anyone, who knows Braz won't be surprised to learn it took him less than a minute to decline that offer.
He credits Smyrnios and his wife Joanne with being a great support system at the beginning of his career, and hopes they will be able to attend. Braz has tried to do the same for the many student-athletes he has coached through 21 years at Peabody and in his Going The Distance program.
"George was a father figure. I was very lucky to have him care more about me as a person than an athlete," said Braz, who came to this country with his family from the Azores when he was eight years old. "I wasn't born in this country, was bilingual, and know the struggles immigrants have. That consistency (Smyrnios) gave me along with teaching the value of hard work is something I've tried to carry on when I put on the coaching hat. I live by that legacy, and I've never forgotten what it has meant for me. I realize how very fortunate I have been.
"My support system is where it all started; that and having goals. It's the same model I've carried on from high school to college to life. I always work with the person first and athlete after that."