By C.V. Moore
A new Outdoors Club at Fayetteville High School has the potential to heal a historic rift between Fayette County’s outdoors community of transplants and its natives, say club leaders and a local civic group.
The Fayetteville Rotary Club recently donated $1,000 to the club in an attempt to offer kids a healthy outlet and expose them to all the outdoor activities the area has to offer.
“The Rotary Club is trying to make an overture to these (outdoor) communities that we support them, that we see value in what they are doing,” says Rotarian Phil Tissue.
The Outdoors Club, which began this year, is headed up by Fayetteville High School teachers Joe DeGaetano, Shane Groves, Shea Wells, and Keith Dougherty. They wanted to get local kids involved in the many outdoor sports in the area, after realizing that many weren’t.
“The kids who fish and four-wheel, they see kayaks on cars but most have never done it themselves,” says Wells.
Kids like club member Aaron Bradford, an eighth-grader who says he was practically “born in the outdoors.” Growing up, he’s always been out on the river. He hunts and fishes on it, but until now he’s never explored it in a kayak.
“There seems to be a cultural divide between students whose parents transplanted here and those whose parents have been here for generations. We wanted to bridge that gap,” says DeGaetano.
Wells says it’s “refreshing” to hear Tissue’s words and sees such cooperation happening more and more.
All four teachers are deeply involved in kayaking, rafting, rock climbing and mountain biking. Several have chosen to live in Fayette County for that reason, because it offers all four.
“We’re passionate about it and we wanted to share that with the student body,” says DeGaetano.
The teachers say it was also an attempt to build rapport in the classroom and get to know students better by spending time with them outside of class.
“One of the most important aspects to us is the mentoring. Knowing these four teachers, I know the participants will have someone to look up to,” says Rotary Club member Mike Smith.
Plus, they think it will offer the students a positive, healthy outlet that could lead to future opportunities.
One leader, Groves, grew up in Richwood and learned to kayak early in life. Since then he’s traveled the world on river trips as a sponsored kayaker.
“It’s been a vehicle for him to see the world and meet people from all walks of life. It has probably been as important as his formal education was,” says DeGaetano.
Smith says that with so many challenges in the school system, the Rotary wanted to add to the opportunities available and hopes the club will encourage kids to stay involved in school.
So far, the group has gone rock climbing, mountain biking, zip lining, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding. They also did a challenging aerial ropes course at Adventures on the Gorge, called Timber Trek.
“I was scared to death, but I faced that fear,” club member Alexis Palmer says of the Timber Trek experience.
Bradford likewise says he likes rock climbing because it “tests your abilities, what you can and can’t do.”
“You can see the confidence come out in them,” says DeGaetano.
The students have also heard presentations on rock climbing, basic bicycle tune-ups, and packing for outdoor activities.
Given the school’s proximity to so many outdoor recreation spots, the club is a natural fit, says DeGaetano.
“I don’t see why Fayetteville High School shouldn’t have an outdoor club that’s among the best in the nation,” he says. “There’s no reason why our kids shouldn’t be leaders in the outdoor industry by the time they graduate.”
Community support has been crucial for the club to be able to offer its activities to all students, regardless of income. Local outfitters and adventure resorts have assisted with transportation and offered a big break on activity prices. And the Rotary Club’s donation, which covered six weeks of expenses, has offset costs considerably.
Rotary Club President Tom Feazell says the club hopes to be a part of the organization into the future.
The Rotary Club has also pledged $500 to support the Fayetteville Arts Coalition. Club leaders say this is a similar attempt to “bridge the gap” between two distinct but increasingly harmonious communities in town. “It’s all about improving quality of life,” says Smith.
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