NARRAGANSETT - When Narragansett High School alumnus, Todd Meleney, embarked on his journey to donate more than $100,000 to the Narragansett High School gymnasium project more than two years ago, he didn’t see his request to honor his lifetime friend and fellow classmate, Chad O’Brien as an obstacle or deterrent to bringing a new and improved gymnasium to the children of the town.
Meleney, who graduated in 2006 with O’Brien, simply paired the needs of the school and its athletics department with his ability to provide funding through the O’B Surf Group. The charitable organization, formed by O’Brien’s friends and family, administers an endowment established in memory of O’Brien, whose life ended tragically just six months after his high school graduation.
“We had the ability to provide the funds through the scholarship fund,” said Meleney. “We sat down as a group with Chad’s grandparents and we decided we had the ability to do something big.”
O’Brien, who spent a considerabsle part of his high school career dedicating his time to establishing a high standard of academic and athletic excellence, was captain of the Narragansett High School track and football teams. Lettering in three sports, O’Brien also spent four years on the gymnasium basketball court. His love for basketball originated from his days shooting hoops with Meleney in their childhood neighborhood of Pettaquamscutt.
“We met when we were just little kids,” said Meleney. “We grew up together, riding bikes, going to Little Beach, riding the bus to school and shooting hoops.”
The Chad O’Brien Memorial Scholarship fund grew from the group’s desire to promote the sense of community and school that O’Brien held dear during his lifelong journey through the Narragansett school system.
“There was a group of us that got together with Chad’s grandparents every Monday night,” said Meleney. “We worked on the scholarship fund and established the group in his name. The surf group came from Chad’s other local love - surfing. It was his escape.”
O’Brien’s grandparents are South Kingstown police chief, Vincent Vespia, and his wife Judith, who have supported Meleney’s efforts to provide funding to Narragansett’s gymnasium project. O’Brien’s two brothers, Dylan and Tyler Gershkoff, are presently students at the high school.
The group established the scholarship through local fundraisers and surf competitions in O’Brien’s name. Raising more than $125,000, the group, whose efforts always revolved around providing for Narragansett’s youth, began awarding academic college scholarships in O’Brien’s name to student athletes. The criteria for a Chad O’Brien Memorial Scholarship were simple. To be considered, the student had to be a Narragansett High School senior attending a four-year college who had a financial need and was preferably a student athlete.
“We award two scholarships each year,” said Meleney. “There has been a decrease in applications, so we talked about doing something else. Donating the money for the gym floor made sense,” he said. “We have the money and we want to do this. We want to give the school the money for the gym, but we want to do it in Chad’s name - to carry on his memory.”
Meleney, who was captain of the basketball team in his junior and senior years, put in countless hours over two years, preparing formal proposals and presentations for school department officials, department heads and former town managers.
O’B Surf members also established criteria for the donation. They wanted Chad O’Brien’s name to be attached to the gift and memorialized in the gym. They also wanted a wood floor, a requirement that was not negotiable. The wood floor, said Meleney, is the best choice for the town, the students and residents who use it.
Meleney presented his plan, based on his research and expertise in the sporting arena, most recently to the school committee during several budget workshops at which the town’s gymnasium renovations were being formally discussed. O’Brien’s grandparents joined Meleney at the most recent meeting.
Meleney offered his background, a degree in sports management from Endicott College and work in sports promotion, interning with the New England Patriots, to establish his credibility. Members listened as he presented information, studies and sports injury statistics promoting the benefits of hard wood floors versus synthetic and rubber flooring products.
As vice president of Endless Wave, distributor of the Wax Buddy, a popular surfing and sports wax removal tool, Meleney works with major brand companies such as Quicksilver, Vans, Ron Jon, Burton and Swell, distributing Endless Wave products around the world. Based out of his office in Jamestown, the Narragansett High School alumnus gathered financial and statistical information to support the donation to the school.
Members of the public and the school’s physical education department also championed a wood floor, which would have to be considered by the architectural firm hired to provide design services for the gym and be included in the request for proposal (RFP) process.
“It’s not just about basketball,” Meleney said. “The gym is used for physical education - gym classes. It hosts wrestling, cheerleading, volleyball and basketball.”
Superintendent Katherine Sipala expressed appreciation of Meleney’s efforts on behalf of the school and Narragansett students, but was cautiously optimistic about O’B Surf’s proposal.
“It is a multi-pronged project, although I think the consensus is leaning towards a wood floor,” she said. “The RFP process has to be initiated and the floor included in the budget numbers. It has to be a project we can afford. We don’t know what will come out of the RFP process, but we have $308,000 budgeted for the gymnasium.”
In addition to the floor, the budget has to provide for other gym needs, including new access doors, backboards, scoreboards, the ropes challenge course and new bleachers.
“With the gift on the table and considered during the bid process, if we’re close - within reach, we may be able to do this,” Sipala said.
O’B Surf also offered to fund a mental health program at the school to provide education, counseling and support services for mental health issues.
“We have not determined a specific dollar amount, but the donation will be an open donation that puts faith in the school committee, the health and wellness teachers, and the advisors to target the most specific areas of need,” Meleney said. “These areas are likely to include bullying, depression, teen suicide, healthy relationships and friendships, among others. It is our vision that the donation will be used to bring subject matter experts and organizations into the school to discuss these issues and act as a sounding board for students and teachers. We realize that our donation will not change an entire mentality, but if it makes a difference in one student’s life, or perhaps saves one, then we have accomplished our goal.”