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Nature trail at GW honors '09 grad

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Three summers ago, Willy Shuman had just graduated from George Washington High School and was looking forward to joining the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, where he planned to play tennis and study law.

Shuman was killed in a car crash only four days before he was scheduled to leave for the Air Force. His friend, the driver of the vehicle, had been drinking and drove into a rock wall on Oakhurst Drive, sending the vehicle into Davis Creek.

"Willy loved life -- every single minute of it. I never met anyone who enjoyed life more than him," his mother, Jane Shuman, said this week as she stood in front of a sign for the new nature trail being built at George Washington High School.

The sign over the trail bears her son's initials: W.A.S. Those initials have taken on new meaning for the community: Wear A Seatbelt.

Jane Shuman travels the state to tell Willy's story and promotes outreach programs to fight drinking and driving. The Shuman family also created the Willy Foundation, which reflects his drive and leadership by supporting like-minded teens to realize their own dreams and ambitions.

"He was only in the car for 90 seconds without a seatbelt. He always wore one -- but not that night," Jane Shuman said. "Now, he's not able to make a difference in the world, but I would like to do that in his name."

The Willy Foundation has helped fund the one-mile nature trail behind George Washington High School, which will be open to the public and also offer the school's athletic teams extra practice space.

Members of the school's Junior ROTC have spent their summer uprooting trees, laying gravel and making plans for the project under supervision of their instructor, Col. Monty Warner.

"You'd think you were in the middle of the Kanawha State Forrest when you're on that trail. There are all sorts of wildlife and trees right behind our school and you'd never know it," Warner said.

"The county owns 30 acres here, and we use very little of it. This opens the beautiful nature we have right in our backyard to our community and our school."

A $10,000 grant from the state Legislature helped pay for the improvements, and Coal River Energy donated equipment and labor.

Jane Shuman said she hopes the trail will keep her son's memory alive, but she's most excited about seeing his name attached to something that can bring peace to others.

"I always hope people are thinking about Willy, but mainly I hope they're getting some pleasure out of the trail -- it's a peaceful place. It's about communing with nature where you can be with yourself and your thoughts," she said.

GW student Grant Lares, who has similar goals and aspirations as Willy Shuman, said the trail represents what the JROTC experience is all about.

"ROTC isn't just about drill and practices, it's about leadership and teamwork, and this project shows that. We all came together to make this work so that we could beautify our area and honor a former student," he said.

Student Zaviae Walker was working hard putting the finishing touches on the trail Tuesday and said he became involved in ROTC because of his experience at the Willy Shuman Leadership Club.

The club pairs area eighth-graders with high school seniors to promote positive behavior and help teens find their place.

"For me, it made me want to prove to myself, and everyone else, that I could be a good student and good person," Walker said. "Now, I always instantly offer to help out with any project. I volunteered for this before I even knew what it was."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.

 


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