Sarasota High School honors beloved teacher who died of COVID-19 with memorial, scholarship

Sarasota County

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – Sarasota High School lost a beloved and longtime educator earlier this year. Robert Shackelford or “Coach Shack” as many knew him, died after a month-long battle with COVID-19. Now, the school is making sure his legacy lives on.

Shackelford was a history teacher. He worked at Sarasota High School for 22 years. This school year would have been his last before retirement.

The 61-year-old is being remembered as a true patriot.

The school unveiled a permanent memorial in his honor Friday. There now is a plaque and photo of the longtime teacher in the school’s media center alongside a piece of artwork from his home. His family also donated wristbands that say “Shack Strong” and “Knowledge is Power.”

“It has been difficult this year. I remember walking on campus for the first time and knowing that he wasn’t going to be here. To have a little piece of him here is going to be reassuring and make us all very happy,” said Stella Karas.

Karas worked alongside Shackelford in the school’s history department for 18 years.

“He was such a presence on campus. He was a big guy and had a deep voice and would always get the kids’ attention and then was a great big teddy bear underneath,” said Karas. ” I didn’t know anyone that knew more about history, the world or U.S., and the guy visited every battlefield that he talked about.”

In addition to the permanent memorial, the school has established a scholarship in Shackelford’s memory.

The Robert J. Shackelford Patriot Scholarship will be awarded to “a student who embodies and is inspired by the ideals Mr. Shackelford held dearly and deemed fundamental to the United States of America.”

To apply for the scholarship, students must meet the following criteria:

  • Have a 3.7 unweighted G.P.A overall
  • Demonstrate excellence in four years of Social Studies Courses, which includes both participation and a numerical grade of an “A”
  • Write an essay not exceeding 500 words explaining how the applicant values, understands, and works toward implementing the following principles which were central to Mr. Shackelford’s beliefs:
    • The belief that the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights outlines God-given unalienable rights to protect us against tyrannical government and should not be infringed
    • The belief that the government functions at the consent of the governed.
    • The belief that free market entrepreneurial capitalism encourages individual initiative and incentive to produce a strong economy.
    • The belief in equality of opportunity to pursue happiness, not equality of outcomes.
    • The belief that government must be fiscally responsible and that excessive taxation and government waste are not conducive to economic growth.
    • The belief in securing an everlasting peace through a strong military and national defense.
    • The belief in American exceptionalism.
    • Understanding the truth of America’s history and its positive impact on the world.

“He believed that America was an amazing place and he really wanted to be known as a patriot. I am very proud that we are able to do this and I hope that we can get a lot of funding and be able to support kids that have the same mentality,” Karas said.

“This is such a worthy, noble thing to keep this man’s memory alive. He has done great things for so many students, impacted them in so many ways and a great way to just keep his memory alive,” said Sarasota High School Principal David Jones.

The school is asking for the community’s help to fund the scholarship. Anyone interested in donating can make a check payable to the SHS Foundation with the memo note “Shackelford Patriot Scholarship” or contact the Sarasota High School Foundation directly.

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