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An Average Runner, A Stand-Out Spirit

West Springfield Honors Runner Who Died in Virginia Tech Shootings

The honor of naming a field after a student or faculty member is often reserved for the most elite athletes, coaches or faculty members, but some names have little to do with tremendous athletic success.

Last week, West Springfield gave that honor to a runner who, as described by her parents and coaches, was simply average.

Track and cross country runner Leslie Sherman didn't win an individual state title for West Springfield High School. She never qualified for regional or state competitions or received offers to run at prestigious invitational meets.

On April 16, 2007, Sherman, a history and international studies major, died along with 31 other Virginia Tech students during the deadliest peacetime shooting by a single gunman in American history.

At West Springfield, Sherman "was not the winner or the loser, she was a mid-pack player," said her mother, Holly Sherman. "Her goals were to improve on her performances and to cheer on others. She was No. 1 in spirit."

Holly Sherman said her daughter's team spirit even won praise from coaches at a sport banquet.

"I hated [banquets] because they dragged on for hours," she said. "They were talking about a player who had more spirit than all of the players. Then, I realized they were talking about my daughter."

Leslie Sherman was also heralded for the amount of time she put into working on her running, even after she had left West Springfield to attend Virginia Tech.

On a team visit to Virginia Tech after Sherman had graduated, cross-country coach Duke Baird said he saw her running on a road, practicing for an upcoming marathon.

"I drove right by her and yelled something like 'Too slow!'" he said. "She turned around and recognized my voice. She smiled and we went on our ways. That was the last time I saw her alive."

In school, Holly Sherman said her daughter loved history and languages. "That's where she was, in her French class, when the gunman came and took their lives," she said.

Three years later, on the third anniversary of the shootings, West Springfield conducted a ceremony in Leslie Sherman’s honor and named the school's track after her.

"We want people to look at the name and ask about her," said West Springfield Director of Student Activities Andy Muir. "We want students to look her up, see who she was."

During the ceremony, the family had a chance to speak and tell the West Springfield student body about their daughter.

"It was a very hard ceremony to get through because so many nice things were said and nice reminders," Sherman said. "But I can't imagine that there would have been anything more appropriate on that day."

Leslie Sherman was remembered by friends and family as someone who enthusiastically supported others, endorsed charitable causes and put others’ needs before her own.

"A year or two before she died, she grew her hair very long for the sole purpose of being able to get it cut for the Locks of Love program," Holly Sherman said. "She had hair everywhere, but wanted to donate it to cancer patients who needed wigs."

Baird said that Leslie Sherman was not a glory-seeking runner, but one who was just happy to be part of the team and an athletic family.

"She would be very surprised of the honor," Baird said. "But I look at it as motivation for our average kid, athletically speaking, who isn't the best runner or sports athlete."

And even the school's top athletes can draw inspiration from the track’s namesake whose sunny attitude never faltered — win or lose.

"She always had a huge smile on her face, no matter what the circumstances were," Baird said. "Good race, bad race, you couldn't tell if she had a bad day."