Saturday, December 7, 2013
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WELL DONE: Dick McGee, of Fairfield, former Colby College and Lawrence High School football coach, is largely credited with helping start up the Fairfield PAL leagues.
Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans
Before the man could settle in, he was approached by McGee. You’ve had a few too many, Joseph recalled McGee saying, you can’t be here.
Dick McGee solved problems. If you could help it, you didn’t give him another one to tackle. You found a moment of clarity and listened. The man turned around and walked out without question.
McGee and Fred Gould, then Fairfield’s chief of police, started PAL in 1959 as a way to give bored kids something to do. Over the years, McGee would deflect the credit for PAL’s formation to Gould.
“He always said it was Gould,” Perkins said. “Gould wanted help getting the kids off the streets, and he came to my father.”
PAL started with the basics. Football and baseball and basketball. It grew to include girls sports, and grew more to include soccer, softball, ice hockey, field hockey, lacrosse. According to Rocky Buck, the current president of the PAL board, 1,400 children participated in the organization’s activities in 2012.
Buck was quick to point out that the number counts some children more than one time, if they participated in more than one activity.
The bigger point is that the thing McGee and Gould created just to give Fairfield kids something to do evolved into a source of pride for these four towns.
“I think there’s a sense of duty there. I think he understood he had the skills to be a leader and guiding force,” Rodrigue said.
Rodrigue’s relationship with McGee is not uncommon, and goes back more than 40 years, to Rodrigue’s days as an athlete in PAL programs. Now active in running PAL’s football league, Rodrigue was 9 or 10 years old when he learned of McGee’s patience.
At the time, the PAL athletes would sell tags. These were ordinary tags you could use if you had a lawn sale, or wanted to label the stuff in your garage. Kids would stand outside Keyes Fiber, now Hutamaki, selling handfuls of tags to the mill workers as they came and went. Many Fairfield households ended up with desk drawers full of tags. You bought them less to use and more to support the teams.
Rodrigue sold enough tags to earn a baseball bat. For two weeks, Rodrigue went to McGee’s house every day, hoping the bat had arrived. Each day he was greeted in the same friendly way.
“It’s not here yet, Bruce. I’ll call you and let you know,” McGee said, over and over to the anxious Rodrigue.
Rodrigue remembered that patience, that kindness, and when it was his turn to coach and run the league, he emulated McGee.
“He provided an incredible example,” Rodrigue said. “With Dick, it’s always been about the kids.”
The McGee home was the town square of Fairfield sports. Mike, McGee’s son, said the home was known as the Black Hole because of its tendency to draw everybody in. It’s where coaches and umpires went to get equipment or ask questions. It’s where athletes and parents dropped off tag money.
The home was McGee’s PAL office, and he shared it with his wife, Shirley, who ran the town’s summer programs. Mike remembers his parents rolling coin after coin, tallying all the tag money.
Shirley died seven years ago this December.
“It was something they did together,” Perkins said.
PAL wasn’t just Dick and Shirley’s thing, it was something that drew in the entire McGee family. The children played on teams and took part in the summer program. Mike McGee ran the girls basketball program and was the baseball commissioner before his three decade career as a basketball coach at Lawrence High.
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