The greatest villain on television has become a real-life hero in Manatee County.
Former Sarasota resident Jane Lynch plays Sue Sylvester on Fox’s hit musical dramedy “Glee.”
Her hilarious portrayal of a pitiless cheerleading squad coach has won the actress an Emmy Award and Golden Globe.
But Lynch became an even bigger star to local students in February.
She and wife Lara Embry gave $15,000 in money and equipment to Manatee County’s first rowing team.
Embry’s rowing partner is Trish Jackson, the founder and coach of the Palmetto High School Rowing Club.
The crew will again benefit from the actress’ generosity next month.
The first Chopper Dropper Fundraiser will be held May 14 at Rive Isle Golf & Nautical Estates in Parrish. Organizers plan for it to become an annual event.
For a mere $50, attendees will have a chance to win a $25,000 grand prize for picking the ball -- dropped from a helicopter -- landing closest to the pin.
There will also be a silent auction for signed “Glee” memorabilia.
Plus, that same $50 donation to benefit the PHS rowing team includes a brunch reception to honor and meet Lynch.
“I’ll tell them how much fun it is to shame and humiliate people for a paycheck,” said Lynch, with her trademark laugh, when she called Monday from the Los Angeles home she shares with Embry.
Talking PHS rowing, though, Lynch couldn’t have sounded more serious or informed.
She knew that April 2 the PHS club’s boys team finished second at the Florida Scholastic Rowing Association’s West District Championship.
And that the girls were poised to place first or second as well except for an unfortunate oar accident.
PHS returns to Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota for the 46th FSRA State Championship on Saturday.
“We love Trish and they did so well in their first regatta boat race, taking a silver medal their first year when these other teams have been around for generations,” Lynch said. “We’re just so thrilled and jazzed about their success.”
Speaking of thrills (and perhaps a bit of pandemonium), May 13, Lynch will attend a pep rally at Palmetto High.
While “Glee” viewers span generations, it’s must-watch TV for high schoolers.
The musical focuses on a high school glee club while adroitly dealing with sexuality and social issues.
In a period when bullying remains rampant, the popular program serves as an important advertisement for acceptance.
Lynch wishes she would’ve been able to watch a show like “Glee” during her tough, teen years.
“It would’ve made all the difference,” she said.
“I was closeted from my parents until I was 31 years old.”
“I was afraid,” she said. “Afraid people would not love me. Had a show like ‘Glee’ been around, it would have helped me feel more accepted and be able to live an awesome life where my sexuality was only one aspect.
“I’m right handed and also a lesbian,” Lynch continued with a laugh. “If I have any flaws, and believe me, I do, they have nothing to do with my sexual orientation.”
She has played memorable roles in films such as “Best in Show,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Role Models” and “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” as well as on TV as Charlie’s snarky therapist on “Two and a Half Men.”
But it’s “Glee” that generates the most fan feedback.
“People with tears in their eyes come up and tell me how hard it was growing up and how great it is what the show is doing for people today,” Lynch said.
“Kids of all stripes who feel different than everybody else tell me how the show helps them. The world can be cruel. If ‘Glee’ can do just that one thing, that’s really great.”
Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at (941) 745-7057. Visit his blog at Bradenton.com/blogs.