“I probably drove my dad crazy because I’ve been really nervous about it,” said Shelgren, 18, whose mother, Robin, and sister, Mackenzie, were able to attend. “I knew I had a chance, but there were definitely other talented guys that could have gotten it. I was pretty anxious waiting for the news.”
The 5-foot-11, 147-pound Shelgren won the Division I state meet this past season with a course-record time of 15:15.82, breaking the tape 22.12 seconds ahead of his next-closest competitor and leading the Eagles to a 10th-place finish as a team. Shelgren also won the Foot Locker Northeast Regional championships at New York’s famously grueling Van Cortlandt Park, clocking a 15:32.80.
“To be one of 51 winners in cross country nationwide is an amazing accomplishment,” said St. John’s Headmaster Dr. Edward Hardiman. “What’s exciting for us at St. John’s is that one of the core values of our school community is fostering habits of excellence across all disciplines and endeavors. We’re especially proud that Gatorade has chosen to honor you for embodying those traits.”
When he arrived at the Prep from Glen Urquhart, Shelgren already had connections to the St. John’s community. He is first cousins with the athletically gifted Coppola brothers: Derek ’08, Brandon ’11, Tyler ’11 and Jared ’11. But it didn’t take him long to start scripting a legacy of his own. Shelgren went undefeated as a freshman in Catholic Conference cross country competition. As a sophomore, he finished sixth at the prestigious Manhattan Invitational and was named Catholic Conference MVP. That spring, he ripped off the second-best two-mile time in school history (9:10.43) in taking silver at the Eastern Division 1 Outdoor Championships.
“We knew right away that he had a chance to be very good,” says John Boyle, who has coached cross country at St. John’s since 1969. “As this 2017 season went along, our collective expectations began to be that he might do better than just qualify for nationals by finishing in the top 10 at the Foot Locker Northeast Regional championships. Of course, it all came together and he won that race. He’s the best runner I’ve ever had here and he’s exceeded everything anyone’s done.”
Shelgren’s win at Van Cortlandt qualified him for December’s national Foot Locker Cross Country Championships in San Diego, where he finished 39th. The Eagles standout, who will compete for the University of North Carolina beginning this fall, also clocked the fastest 5K of his career this past season in winning the Division 1 title at the MIAA Eastern State Championships with a time of 15:14.75. Shelgren will run both cross country and track as a scholarship athlete in college.
Following his trophy-presentation ceremony, the future Tarheel remained in awe at the fact his name now graces a list of Gatorade honorees that amounts to a who’s-who of American sport.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “To be on there with names like Randy Moss, Julio Jones, Abby Wambach, Jon Lester and Shalane Flanagan, I mean, people buy their uniform jerseys just to wear around. I never thought I’d be recognized with something like this at that level.”
The Gatorade award recognizes outstanding athletic excellence coupled with a high standard of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the race course. Shelgren is now a finalist for the prestigious Gatorade National Runner of the Year award to be announced later this month. He is the sixth St. John’s Prep athlete to receive statewide Gatorade honors since the program’s inception in 1985. As one of 607 annual state winners across 12 sports, Shelgren will now be asked to choose a local or national non-profit youth sports organization to receive a $1,000 grant from Gatorade via the Player of the Year Play It Forward program.
Only 173 Massachusetts Boys have earned State Player of the Year honors across the program’s 12 sports. St. John’s five previous winners in the 33-year history of the program are Alex Moore, Football (2012-13), Pat Connaughton, Basketball (2010-11), Ben Slingerland, Soccer (2006-07), Matt Antonelli, Football (2002-03) and Brian St. Pierre, Football (1997-98). Antonelli (baseball) and St. Pierre (football) are now coaches at the Prep.
Since 1985, more than 170 million teens have participated in competitive athletic seasons across Gatorade’s 12 award-eligible sports. In that span, Gatorade has honored just 309 national players of the year and just over 15,500 state player of the year winners.