Over two decades, Rodney Shelby has become a familiar face around the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District. Regardless of temperature or season, he can be spotted painting and prepping athletic fields, shoveling snow, trimming hedges — always with a smile on his face and an easygoing demeanor.
Keeping the school’s grounds in tip-top shape? That’s just part of his job, he assured during a recent interview at Mattituck High School.
But after work, he heads to Greenport, where he volunteers as an assistant varsity basketball coach. And seven months out of the year, he volunteers his time coaching the Boulevard Boyz, an Amateur Athletic Union youth basketball program that has swept up three consecutive national titles.
“He’s donated hours and hours and hours of his time not just to one town, but all of the North Fork,” said Ev Corwin, who coaches varsity basketball in Greenport.
“[Rodney] teaches them commitment, sportsmanship. The kids look up to him, they respect him,” said Robert Bopp, a Southold Town police officer and friend of Rodney’s.
For his dedication to Mattituck schools and basketball on the North Fork, Rodney Shelby is The Suffolk Times’ Public Servant of the Year for 2018.
In October, Mr. Shelby began his 20th year working for the district. “I didn’t know if I really wanted to do custodial work, but when I came, it was a good place to work. I got along with everybody, so it made it easier for me to work and stick with it,” he said. “It seems like just yesterday I started. Twenty years went by real quick.”
Colleagues see Mr. Shelby as someone who not only does the job well, but is fun to be around for 40 hours every week. “He’s joyful, he’s fun to be around, he’s charismatic. Rod definitely goes the extra mile,” said Greggory Wormuth, director of health, physical education and athletics and supervisor of security and grounds at Mattituck-Cutchogue schools.
Mr. Shelby’s favorite part of the job is interacting with students, whether he’s just saying hello or chatting about the latest game. “I wouldn’t say that Rod just comes here and does the job of groundsman,” Mr. Wormuth said. “He’s engaged in the school and has an interest in the kids, and the school at large.”
Even students have noticed Mr. Shelby’s dedication. In 2010, the class dedicated the yearbook to him — an honor usually reserved for faculty and administrators. “It was a shock. It was a nice surprise,” Mr. Shelby said.
“I believe he is the only person from buildings and grounds that was ever nominated for that,” said school maintenance and crew leader Thomas Kelly. Though new to the district, both he and Superintendent Jill Gierasch have seen in a short amount of time how Mr. Shelby goes the extra mile.
On a cold, windy December day, Ms. Gierasch observed Mr. Shelby at work at the Cutchogue West administrative offices. “He could have rushed, but saw the cleanup through until every leaf was picked up” and ready for new plantings in the spring, Ms. Gierasch said. “It makes me proud that we have someone so dedicated as part of our facilities team.”
Under Mr. Shelby’s leadership, the Boulevard Boyz have helped transform small-town ball.
He started the team over a decade ago, drawing players from across the North Fork and beyond.
“To have kids from different backgrounds come together on the same team — it’s a good thing,” Mr. Shelby said. “Parents that would never interact with each other, because of basketball and traveling. You’ve got to be responsible for all the kids; it’s not just your kid that you have to worry about. It brings everybody together.”
As a coach, Mr. Shelby instills sportsmanship, competition, work ethic and commitment in each of his players. “It’s so much more than just being there to coach,” Mr. Corwin said. “He’s been a mentor to kids that really need one.”
“It turned our program into something bigger,” Mr. Corwin said of giving kids the opportunity to play in the offseason. “I lean on him a lot, I trust his judgment” as an assistant coach.
Mr. Corwin first met Mr. Shelby, 50, while they were students at Greenport High School. Mr. Shelby played point guard and was close to “legendary” coach Richard “Dude” Manwaring, he recalled.
“He always had a coaching mind, even when he played,” he said, adding that Mr. Shelby is a “calming influence” during high-stress games.
As a police officer, Mr. Bopp said his job requires him to be attentive to and observant of the people around him. “Youth have the utmost respect for Rodney. He obviously leaves a deep impact on their lives,” he said.
Mr. Shelby isn’t showing any signs of slowing down, and is already looking ahead to the next season for the Boulevard Boyz.
“Hopefully, God willing, I’m gonna keep on coaching. I love coaching,” he said.
Photo caption: Rodney Shelby serves as an assistant coach for the Greenport boys basketball team. (Joe Werkmeister, file photo)
2017: William Price
2016: Jim Grathwohl
2015: Jack Martilotta
2014: Ted Webb
2013: Heather Lanza
2012: Ed Romaine
2011: Greenport and Southold Highway Department Crews
2010: Leslie Weisman
2009: Betty Neville
2008: Thomas Crowley
2007: Philip Beltz
2006: Jesse Wilson
2005: Martin Flatley
2004: Mattituck-Cutchogue School Board
2003: Ben Orlowski Jr.
2002: Jack Sherwood
2001: Dave Abatelli
2000: Melissa Spiro
1999: Valerie Scopaz
1998: Jamie Mills
1997: Karen McLaughlin
1996: Lisa Israel
1995: John Costello
1994: Ray Jacobs
1993: Judy Terry
1992: William Pell
1991: Beth Wilson
1990: Antonia Booth
1989: Frank Murphy
1988: Venetia McKeighan
1987: Paul Stoutenburgh