EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 14, 2013

Methuen track's Hall of Fame duo

Michael Muldoon
mmuldoon@eagletribune.com

---- — METHUEN — What were the odds that Roger Fuller and Mike O’Donnell would have Hall of Fame careers in track and field?

Fuller was always a baseball guy, then later in life a tennis guy. O’Donnell was a skier and a soccer player.

Neither ever thought they’d be involved with track, never mind carve out spectacular careers in the sport.

Fuller, the Methuen boys coach, will be inducted into the Mass. State Track Coaches Hall of Fame on May 19 in Randolph.

O’Donnell, the All-State mile champion this winter, should be in the school’s Hall of Fame the first year he’s eligible.

The accidental tracksters form a mutual admiration society.

“He’s an amazing coach and an amazing guy,” said O’Donnell, who was the All-State runner-up in cross country in the fall. “After 42 years (actually 43) he knows what he’s talking about.”

When asked Fuller’s impact on his career, O’Donnell called it “tremendous.” He added, “He always knew. At the end of my freshman year he explained how much potential I have.”

So much potential that he made a special promise. He’d stick around his whole career.

“It definitely means a lot that a coach would put off retirement to stay with you,” said O’Donnell. “It’s encouraging to know your coach will be there, no matter what.”

In the winter of his freshman year, O’Donnell fancied himself as a skier first, a soccer player second and was an indifferent runner. And a middle distance runner at that.

At least until his first practice. That was three weeks into the season, when he reluctantly joined the team.

Roger Fuller’s been doing this for a long time — he started as a Methuen assistant in 1971 — and he knew that day Mike O’Donnell was one of those talents who don’t come along very often.

Methuen had a group of all-star caliber veteran distance runners. Like usual, they were going hard at practice. O’Donnell joined them and stayed with the battle-tested Rangers.

Fuller hollered to then assistant Scott Ouellet, “Scottie, we’ve got one!”

One of a kind.

The UConn recruit has been The Eagle-Tribune’s MVP the last three seasons (spring track, cross country, winter track). With another O’Donnellesque season, he’ll take his place in the Holy Trinity of Ranger track greats with Olympic javelin thrower Sean Furey (MHS ‘00) and incomparable hurdler Jeff Baker (MHS ‘85).

Fuller, who’ll turn 68 on April 24, feels blessed to coach someone like O’Donnell, particularly at this late stage of his career.

“It’s spectacular,” said Fuller, who has lived in Newburyport his entire life.

Coaching a runner with personal best of 4:14.88 in the mile and 1:55.25 in the 800 is spectacular.

So is being a Hall of Famer.

“It’s nothing I really thought that much about starting out,” said the always upbeat coach.

He never thought much about coaching track. Baseball was his first love and in college he took up tennis, eventually becoming one of New England’s best doubles players.

But another Hall of Famer, Larry Klimas, asked him to coach ... similar to when Ranger assistant Kevin Alliette asked O’Donnell to try track.

He fulfilled his promise to O’Donnell and is still going strong. He retired from teaching at Methuen High in 2002 and the longtime assistant was named head coach the next year.

Now, he’s a Hall of Famer.

“I”m honored and flattered,” he said.

And he’s by no means just hanging on. He’s had double hip replacement twice, but said beyond that his health is fine.

“He loves track,” said O’Donnell, who chose UConn over Clemson, Memphis, Providence and UMass. “He’s up until 3 a.m. doing meet sheets. That rubs off on the athletes.”

Follow Michael Muldoon on Twitter under the screen name @MullyET.