This is a story about Arielle Massillon, the outstanding girls track and field athlete.
But that’s only because it’s springtime.
If it were autumn, this would be a story about Arielle Massillon, one of the best field hockey players in the state. Or during the winter a few years ago, this would’ve been a story about Arielle Massillon, one of the nation’s best young swimmers.
See, whatever the season, whatever the sport, Massillon not only is usually involved in it, she seems to have an uncanny ability to excel.
Right now, though, it’s track season, and the Providence Day senior is focused on putting the finishing touches on a running career that’s been strong enough to win league accolades and earn her a scholarship to Villanova University (Pa.). She wants several more school records, perhaps a few individual state titles and one precious team championship.
But considering her track record, on and off the fields of play, there’s a good chance Massillon could walk away with so much more.
“Arielle’s always been able to accomplish a lot,” said Providence Day track coach Carol Lawrence, who also happens to be Massillon’s mother.
“When she was younger, she taught golf and piano to the smaller kids. She got a purple belt in Tae Kwon Do, and she plays saxophone in the band now. She’s always done something. Whatever she set her mind to, she did it, and I just let her go about her business.
“This year was the first time she did track during the winter, and it’s already helped her for the spring season,” Lawrence continued. “In her first 200(-meter race), she ran (it in) 27.1 (seconds), which is where she was almost at the end of the season last year. I think she’ll be ready for a good season this year.”
At the very least, Massillon’s going to make it an interesting journey. She simply doesn’t know any other way.
Princess of the Queen City
Massillon was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and lived on Long Island until she was in fifth grade – a few years after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. At the time, her Jamaican-bred mother was working on Wall Street as an engineer and business analyst for JP Morgan Chase. But when the two jets plowed into the World Trade Center just two blocks from her job, Lawrence, a single parent, decided she wanted more out of life for herself and her daughter. So they packed up and moved to the Queen City.
Massillon had exhibited precociousness years earlier, and not just in sports.
“When she was 4, she started reading chapter books, laughing while she was reading,” Lawrence recalled. “She started first grade when she was 4½, and she was helping her teachers teach the class. Everybody just thought she was just leadership material.
“I remember when I used to take her to the pediatrician, she used to write out a list to take with her – it was a list of all her ailments and the questions she had about them. I wound up holding her back when she was in fourth grade. She was 8, and her friends were 11. I said, ‘You know what, you’re going to be at a point where you’re talking about the ‘Rugrats’ to your friends, and they’re going to look at you like you have two heads.’”
Lawrence shook her head.
“She already played the piano by then, but that’s when she started playing the saxophone so she could get something else going.”
A pattern was developing. One task never seemed to be enough for Massillon. She didn’t just enjoy doing multiple activities; she needed them.
“I get bored really easily,” Massillon said. “For me, I think it’s easier doing my schoolwork and focusing on my sports when I have a lot on my plate.
“There was a time when I didn’t really do much, and I feel like I struggled because there was nothing for me to do. I just had a bunch of time on my hands, so I just put things off. I feel like it’s easier for me when I have a schedule of things I have to do, because I know that, at a certain time, I have to go do this and this and this. It’s just easier for me to go through my day and check things off.”
About a year after the move from New York, in 2007, Massillon’s mother landed positions coaching track and teaching computer applications and web design at Providence Day. A short time later, Massillon transferred from South Charlotte Middle School to Providence Day as a seventh-grader, and she immediately began to reveal her myriad athletic gifts, setting the Chargers’ middle-school record for the 200 meters that spring.
In the fall of her freshman year, she played on the JV field hockey team, which was coached by her mother, a former college track all-American who also had been good enough at field hockey to represent New York City in the Empire State Games. Massillon said she wasn’t very good at first, but after joining a summer travel team, her game took off, and she went on to earn all-state honors the past two seasons.
Although she’s a defensive specialist, she made two game-winning shots during her Charger career and twice was a first-team selection to South Charlotte Weekly’s Field Hockey Super Team.
Massillon was on the Providence Day swim team during her ninth- and 10th-grade years and became a member of the school record-holding 200-yard freestyle relay team. She also reached the state finals in the 100 breaststroke and freestyle.
Some still believe swimming is Massillon’s best sport. A year-round swimmer since she was 6, she made the Junior Olympics as both a 10-and-under competitor (50 and 100 breastroke) and as an 11- and 12-year-old (in six events). But she gave up swimming after her sophomore year.
“I sort of got tired of it,” she said. “I knew there were some other things I wanted to do.”
Massillon shined on the track, of course. She’s nabbed all-conference accolades in the 100, 200 and 4×400 relay. She’s finished as high as second in the state in the 200, and she earned a trip to Australia for the Down Under Games, where she took second place in the 90-meter hurdles and was on a gold medal-winning 4×400 relay squad.
With several schools coveting her, she decided to join the program at Villanova, where she’ll join another former Charger sprinter, Varonica Johnson, on the Wildcats squad.
Of course, she’ll have her eyes on doing other things.
“I’m going to try out for the field hockey team, too,” Massillon said with a wide grin. “I think I can do it. I got scholarship offers for field hockey. But for me, academics are No. 1, and I want to study engineering. So I didn’t want to go to a liberal arts school for four years and still not have the requirements that I needed to become an engineer.
“When Villanova came along, it was perfect because it had engineering.”
But again, it’s track season now, and her emphasis is on improving her times in the 100 (12.54 seconds), 200 (26.51) and 400 (1 minute, 1 second). Having run track during the winter, she’s excited about how much better she’ll be this spring.
“In the past, I used to swim going into track season, and swimming shape definitely is different from being in track shape,” Massillon said. “I used to feel fat and chubby – very doughy. Now, doing winter track, I’m definitely more in shape going into spring track. I’ve been doing workouts this whole winter, so I was ready for the harder workouts (during spring track).
“I can’t wait. I really can’t.”
And as Massillon’s high school career winds down, her mother, often her harshest critic, is allowing herself a few precious moments to take in her daughter’s many achievements.
“A lot of times, I do (marvel) at what’s she’s done,” Lawrence said. “I have been very lucky. Knock on wood, she stays this way. She has big plans for herself. I feel really good about where she is and what she’s accomplished so far.
“A lot of people talk about single-parent kids and all those things, but she’s surpassing everything that the statistics say she couldn’t do.”