Hundreds of Long Islanders are mourning the loss of a beloved school security guard and youth basketball referee.
Friends say Dewitt McCall, 43, was big in more ways than one. The gregarious and good-natured Bay Shore resident stood well over 6 feet and could crack a joke or chat with whoever crossed his path, making him an instant friend for many.
“He was this man you would see and probably be intimidated by. But as soon as he opened his mouth, he became this larger-than-life teddy bear,” said Nicole Edmonds, a close friend. “He had nothing but a good soul and a good heart.”
McCall died April 14, said friends, who didn’t disclose the cause of death.
The loss has rippled throughout the South Shore, where he refereed youth basketball and worked security at local bars, and also throughout the Huntington school district, where he worked.
Now friends are holding fundraisers and memorial events across the Island to remember McCall, who was well-known in the South Shore nightlife scene as a bouncer. One event was scheduled for Saturday at The Pour House in West Babylon and another, with an auction and live music, Sunday night at The Sea Breeze in Babylon.
Plans are also being made for a memorial event on Fire Island, where he worked security for bars in the summer, Edmonds, 37, of Bay Shore, said. Services for McCall will be held in the Bronx, where he grew up, friends said.
“I can’t even wrap my head around the fact that this is real,” Edmonds said, adding that she had set up an online fundraiser for his family that had so far received nearly $10,000 in donations.
In the Huntington school district, administrators and families said they were still coming to terms with McCall’s death.
Administrators have been discussing how to honor McCall, said John Amato, principal of Finley Middle School, where McCall worked.
“He had a gift, and that was connecting with kids. He loved to talk to kids, even when they were angry or sad,” Amato said.
Glen Manaker of Huntington Station said McCall always went out of his way to check on his son Joey Manaker, 15, an eighth-grader at Finley who struggled with respiratory problems and whom McCall called “Little Man.”
Once, when Joey struggled to breathe in the hallway and fell to the floor, McCall ran through the halls to reach a phone and call an ambulance, Glen Manaker said.
“It didn’t turn out to be anything serious, but it points to how deeply Dewitt cared for the kids,” Manaker said.
McCall also was approaching his 20th year as a youth basketball referee for the St. John’s intramural basketball league in Sayville. McCall had a deep interest in sports, basketball in particular, said close friend Edward J.J. Jones, of Lindenhurst.
“He’s like my brother,” Jones, 39, said. “He was a real person and once you have that connection, you’re connected to him forever.”