Originally published July 5, 2021 by the Akron Beacon Journal.
By Alan Ashworth
By late morning last Tuesday, the temperature had already climbed into the high 80s at Coventry High School.
But Devon McAfee and the students who had gathered for some community service work were undeterred.
In the front of the school, a handful of students cleared out a retention pond, preparing it for placement of a memorial next week with the names of former students.
Out back, a larger group cleared weeds and debris from another retention pond under McAfee’s guidance.
The students belong to a community service club formed by McAfee called Comet Unity. Another club — Comet Strong — challenges members to improve physical fitness. Both incorporate the district's comet theme, applied to athletics and district literature.
The clubs had a pre-pandemic iteration, which fizzled when the pandemic came, McAfee said. Superintendent Lisa Blough had asked McAfee before COVID-19 hit to establish the groups to get students involved.
McAfee said he was excited by the task.
"We have great kids, hard-working kids," he said. "If we can get more students involved, we can spread positivity."
Both groups were reconfigured after the pandemic left many students with little to do last summer. As he sees it, they’re part of Coventry Local School District’s resurgence after a long bout with fiscal restraints and a scandal involving a former football coach.
“We need some positivity,” McAfee said. “Now’s the time for us to create a new chapter. We went through some adverse moments, but it actually made us stronger.”
McAfee, who is head coach of the high school basketball team, is not short on enthusiasm.
Students and parents have responded well to the initiative, he said, with 15 to 20 students participating in the Unity club and 10 to 20 in the Strong. Students range from second graders to high school students.
The programs started in early June and will continue for another week.
Along the way, Unity students have helped beautify Firestone Metro Park by painting benches and landscaping, helped landscape and clean a local business and cleared debris from a creek at the Community Church of Portage Lakes.
Members of the strong club have worked with representatives from the U.S. Marines, Navy and Ohio Army National Guard.
McAfee said the Strong students have used a physical education program he learned about through his wife.
“I wondered if our fitness club could do this,” he said. “I tested it and every week, they’ve gotten stronger.”
During a session with the Marines, the students played dodge ball.
“He had a blast with the kids,” McAfee said.
He said he plans to wrap up the season with a dodge ball/kickball tournament and pizza.
Students at the Unity session on Tuesday said the program has been rewarding.
Chase Taylor, 14, said a session at Greenlawn Memorial Park became personal when he found the gravesite of his great-grandfather, “Digger” Odell.
“I didn’t know exactly where he was buried,” Chase said. “It was a little emotional.”
McAfee’s son Kamden said he enjoys helping people out.
“I like doing it because it’s a help to the community,” he said.
Brayden Clark said the projects have helped students involved “bond a little better.”
“You meet new people every single day,” he said.
Several members of the basketball team are part of the clubs and assistant basketball coach Dillon Angle, a former Coventry schools student, was lending a hand.
McAfee said the importance of the programs is creating a positive experience for students and the district.
“I wanted to show the students when we can all work together, we can accomplish anything,” he said. “My goal is to have it grow and grow and grow.”