A new coat of paint lifts school spirit

Sumter County Sheriff’s Office community outreach coordinator Beth Hunt paints the door frame of the football concession stand at Wildwood Middle High School.

The Wildwood Middle High School football concession stand is getting a face-lift. It had to keep up with its neighbors at the softball and baseball diamonds. Volunteers from the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office began a partnership with the Shane McGee Foundation last summer to make improvements to the athletic facilities at the school. Their efforts, collectively called the Shane McGee Project, began with renovating the softball and baseball concession areas last year. Now they’re trying to get the football concession stand ready for the school’s home opener against Walhalla High School from South Carolina on Friday.

Bob and Connie McGee,, of the Village of Pennecamp, lost their son, Shane, to a car crash when he was 13 years old. To try to make something positive come out of that tragedy, they created a charitable foundation in his name and have been giving back to communities in Florida ever since.

When they moved to The Villages, they reached out to Beth Hunt, the community outreach coordinator for the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office.

“When the McGees came to me, they asked me where their money would be the best spent,” she said. “I told them I’d tour the schools and take some pictures and go from there. Wildwood was my first school. I sent her some pictures and she didn’t want me to go any further. We started here.”

Hunt estimates that, since that time, SCSO deputies and employees, as well as WMHS students and faculty, have volunteered more than 250 hours.

Because Shane so loved sports, the McGees wanted their efforts to be focused on improving the athletic facilities, starting with the facilities that, as Hunt put it, needed the most tender-loving care: The baseball and softball concessions stands.

The paint was peeling, the floors were dirty and the kitchen equipment wasn’t in good condition. The areas around them were overgrown with weeds.

Funded by the McGees, volunteers weeded, pressure-washed and repainted the concession stands until they were as good as new. Both concession stands were outfitted with new refrigeration and cooking equipment. Most of the labor for the renovations has been provided by SCSO volunteers, much of it from the School Protection Division.

After cleaning up, repainting and putting new equipment into the concession areas last fall, Hunt and other volunteers from the sheriff’s office worked to elevate and resod the softball field to help with drainage.

Now, they’ve moved on to football.

While the football concession stand is in better shape than the baseball and softball stands were, it still needs work.

Despite the rain on Thursday, off-duty deputies came to the football field to start painting the inside of the stand. The rain had mostly stopped when football players came out, joining them in their efforts.

Senior Master Deputy Michael Callaway, the school protection deputy at WMHS, was one of the deputies there. He has personal reasons to appreciate what the McGees have done.

“They have a special place in my heart for this,” he said. “I graduated from this school. This is my fourth year as the school protection deputy. I want it to be nothing but the best for these kids. Their generosity has made that possible.”

And the kids have been affected by the project. Callaway sees and hears the impact that it’s had on them.

“Every one of them has noticed the difference,” he said. “This is theirs. They can hold their head up a little higher and be proud of what they’ve got.”

Wildwood has had a tough run of things in the past, said WMHS Athletic Director Ryan Harrison, but he believes that changes like this can be a turning point for the school and its students.

“Our kids just need a chance,” he said. “When they see that somebody is willing to invest in them that begins the process of a lifelong relationship that these kids won’t forget.”

It also shows students a side of law enforcement they may not have seen before as students and faculty members roll up their sleeves and help out with the work.

“It begins the process of community relations,” Harrison said. “The kids can see the positives of what these men and women do.”

For now, the McGees are happy to continue to devote themselves to helping Wildwood. Connie is confident that, moving forward, their partnership with the sheriff’s office will ensure that their foundation’s money is going to the right places.

“Beth finds the projects,” she said. “She really has her finger on the needs of the community. I just trust them to do what needs to be done.”

Staff writer Phill Stuart can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5332, or phillip.stuart@thevillagesmedia.com.