Tornado Recovery in Athens

After a direct hit from the September 16th, 2010 tornado, Athens High School rebounds with a mammoth construction project that's now finished!

It was a day that saw destruction, death and chaos in a narrow strip across SE Ohio and into West Virginia.

The string of tornadoes that raked the Mid-Ohio Valley killed one, but also destroyed homes, buildings and lots of vegetation.

In Athens county, not only were homes destroyed, trees topped, businesses wiped out, but a direct hit on the Athens High School in The Plains (a neighboring community) destroyed their athletic field, denuded all the trees, and rolled one-ton air conditioners off the roof of the one story ranch-style school building.

The band room suffered major cracks in the walls, ceiling tiles blown out, and water leaks.  The press box at the stadium was folded back and dropped on the visiting team lockers and concession stand, destroying them all.  Amazingly, of the dozens of soccer kids and parents taking shelter in the concession stand, only one or two were hurt.  A TV monitor ripped right off the shelf , dropped onto a woman and pinning her in the wreckage, surrounded by also sorts of candy bars, hot dog buns, and Pepsi cups.

The field was trashed, the scoreboard folded over, and the light poles toppled.

In a word, nothing short of a major rebuild and redesign would possibly bring the athletic program back.

And that's just what the community did.  Mounting a donation campaign, the Rotary Club and others arranged to sell memorial bricks carved with names, company logos and personal messages of support. There was a tier system of brick sizes and corporate sponsorship to raise the 1-million-plus funds necessary to bring the facility back to state of the art.

Our family did our part.  Though my two kids were not at school after hours on that Thursday, they COULD have been.  And, to commemorate the event, and lend a hand, I ordered a brick carved with their names to remember their school and involvement in the marching band.

The problem is that only two lines of eleven letters were allowed on the order form.  Unfortunately, our last name has 10 letters, and the two kids' names TOGETHER total 11 letters.  I wrote a note on the order form, stressing that they needed to triple check the spelling of all names, and asking if an ampersand ("&") could be inserted between the names so they might be readable.

I was sure something would wrong, and both of the kids names would be misspelled or run together.

Last week, when the band prepared to practice on the brand new, newly opened athletic field prior to a band competition, I had my chance to go look for the brick.  I was directed where the memorial wall was, and that no one else had been able to find the brick, let alone, go looking for it during game time.

I walked up to the huge display of the letters "A H S" that had carved bricks all around it, and immediately began looking.  The very second brick my eye was drawn to was our brick..... PERFECTLY SPELLED, PERFECTLY SPACED.

The Powers That Be had taken pity on our long names and worked their magic to make it work for us.  I can't tell you how pleased I was. 

Not only had the field been finished in time for school to start, but also to host all football games and those of traveling area teams.  Not a lavish construction, all necessary functions are there...lights, gridiron, concessions, locker rooms... have been planned for and built.  There are a lot of other creature comforts that are needed.  I understand a second concession stand, and some interior work in the locker room and press box still need funding to complete, but the major construction of the shell is there.

And I think that's a sign that the Athens community has risen again.

I encourage you to stop by, maybe for a home football game or competition, and look at the fine construction that the Rotary club has been responsible for getting started.

It makes me proud to live in Athens, and I feel even more a part of the community after more than 22 years there.

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