PAWTUCKET — In Ray McGee, we have a lifelong and proud city native whose residence is located off Newport Avenue – more specifically, a mere stone’s throw away from McConnon Field in Slater Park.
“I’m still a city kid,” McGee proudly stated with a smile earlier this week.
McGee is Pawtucket through and through, and one of the few people around these parts who can claim significant ties to both the private and public school sector. His staunch private school upbringing included graduating from St. Raphael Academy in 1964, where he starred as a fullback on the football team. Later, McGee sent his two sons to Bishop Feehan, each earning the reputation as strong athletes for the Shamrocks.
For the past 40 years, McGee has devoted his life to the welfare of the youngsters of Pawtucket’s public schools. A retired history teacher, he coached sports at St. Raphael, Shea, and Tolman before settling into his present-day occupation as athletic director at Shea High, where he’s held down the fort for the past 16 years or so.
With McGee’s high school alma mater set to cross paths with the football team hailing from the athletic program he shepherds on Saturday afternoon at Pariseau Field, it seemed appropriate to delve into a subject matter that can spark fierce debate and draw lines in the sand that, depending on which side of the fence, one finds itself.
With the St. Raphael-Shea gridiron clash serving as the impetus for asking, McGee was posed with whether private and non-private schools co-exist in today’s society. Not harmonize, but exist side-by-side, the understanding that each one brings uniqueness to the table that contains plenty of merit, both in the short- and long-term.
With that, we step aside to let McGee – a far more qualified person to answer and debate such a heavy-loaded question – shed some light on said topic.
“I understand both, but I’ve become a public school guy and feel that the parochial schools have the advantage athletically because they can bring in kids from all over,” remarked McGee while sitting in his AD office, a secluded spot nestled in Shea High’s basement that with all the pictures and newspaper clippings serves as a tribute to the Raiders’ athletic lineage.
Shift in allegiances aside, McGee believes that the SRA-Shea meeting serves as prime catalyst to forge bonds that have a tendency to linger much longer, given the very nature of football.
“A lot of these guys that bang heads, whether it’s St. Ray’s and Tolman, or St. Ray’s and Shea, there’s a chance that one day they’ll sit down and reminisce,” McGee explained. “I’ve always said that you can sit next to a kid for four years in high school and play against another over the same period, and 20 years from now, the guys that were banging heads will be the closer of the two because they have something in common.”
Of course, staying connected in today’s ever-changing climate is even a tougher chore, particularly in communities like Pawtucket, where kids seem to come and go almost at will. One day, an adolescent might be walking the hallways in one high school. The next day, he or she is setting foot in a foreign corridor, seeking to adjust to life in a new school.
“Today, we have a population of either they’re going to stick around or go. The ones that do stick around, through, I think it’s important to have something down the road to talk about,” feels McGee. “They won’t be just kids from Tolman, Shea, or St. Ray’s. They’ll have something in common due to the bond that’s there; you’ve done something with somebody else that you respect.
“A lot of times that respect develops after your high school years.”
Given his firm ties to the community, McGee sees past where a kid attends high school in Pawtucket, realizing that it’s all about placing them on a track that allows them to unearth and maximize their potential.
“If I can help out the three schools (meaning Shea, St. Raphael, and Tolman), I will,” McGee wished to put on record. “Growing up in the neighborhood, you understand the importance of playing each other. I don’t think (such a sentiment) is as strong as it once was when I was young, but I still think that it’s important thing that these kids compete.
“When you think of Tolman, Shea, and St. Ray’s, you think of great rivalries; you’ve got the same kids living in the same city, meaning we’re drawing from the same talent pool,” McGee delved further. “The kids know each other, which presents a great rivalry.
“You like to see local rivalries because that’s where you draw the most interest and get people enthused,” stated McGee. “It’s important to get two city schools together where it’s going to be competitive.”
McGee let out a hearty laugh as he remarked, “I’ve got all the bases covered!” Truer words were never spoken, as come Saturday at the Shea-SRA tilt, you’ll be hard-pressed to bump into someone of McGee’s pedigree.
Yet he’s simply not just a parochial school graduate who has gone on to pour his heart and soul into the public school sector. He is Pawtucket to the very core, and someone who understands that in the bigger, more important picture, everyone – regardless whether you’re private or public – is in this together.