They held a moment of silence Thursday at the SouthWest Suburban Red Conference boys track meet in memory of the one person who went way too long before his time.
Thornridge boys track coach and athletic director T.J. Shirley died Sunday, stunning all of us.
Thornton coach Vince Mcauliffe organized a "one final lap" in which all SWSC Red schools were encouraged to participate. McAuliffe said they would do it to the chant of "Blue Smoke." The Blue Smoke Relays were a sense of pride for Shirley and annually drew top teams.
Thornridge has had some great track teams and part of the reason was Shirley. There was much more to him than just his coaching abilities. He was a man who was considerate of others and was always encouraging his student-athletes to do better and to strive to do their best. That was not just in track, but in any sport or in the classroom.
That was also who T.J. Shirley was. He was more than someone with a whistle or starter's blocks. Like so many in his profession, he cared about people and was more concerned with what he could do for them rather than what they could do for him.
Former Thornridge football coach Mike Morrissey, who is now the football coach and sprints coach at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said he constantly still called Shirley.
"I always talked with him because I worked with our 1,600 (-meter) relay team and we did his workouts," Morrissey said. "We won the event at the Drake Relays. Even though I was not at Thornridge, he still gave me advice. When I got the football job at Thornridge, I knew he took a chance on me, but he was always encouraging me."
He also had a name for Shirley.
"He is Mr. Thornridge," Morrissey said. "T.J. gave everything to the kids and the school. He set an example for young coaches. He was there from sunrise to sunset."
It was Shirley who helped keep the coaches together when Thornridge was to become a freshmen-only academy for the 2011-12 school year. As it turned out, it remained a four-year high school.
Like many coaches, I am sure T.J. helped a kid out now and then. It is the nature of people in that profession to do that. It is not a requirement, but guys like Shirley would always make sure a kid had a pair of athletic shoes because some kids are from struggling families, but he didn't look at it that way. All kids were good kids and if they wore Thornridge's Columbia Blue, they were his kids and he would do what he could to help them.
T.J. Shirley loved what he did and loved the people and student-athletes he worked with.
T.J., we all love you back. We know you are looking down and saying not to make a big fuss over you. But everyone had to because you did a lot of things for other and never wanted any credit.
We just wish you were still here so we could tell you how much we appreciate you.
This column is solely the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.