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Published: Saturday, July 27, 2019 @ 4:30 PM
TROTWOOD — The ultra-successful Trotwood-Madison High School football team is the area’s poster program in which tradition doesn’t graduate. Its success in representing the Greater Western Ohio Conference at the highest state level the last decade surpasses even Wayne.
However, the Rams face their greatest challenge this coming season. And it has nothing to do with a final GWOC school year or a major football schedule upgrade.
Trotwood was one of several Dayton metropolitan communities that was hit hard by 19 documented tornadoes that swept through the Miami Valley on Memorial Day. The tornadoes also hammered parts of Brookville, Butler Twp., Clayton, north Dayton, Harrison Twp., Riverside and Vandalia.
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According to the National Weather Service in Wilmington, Trotwood was slammed with an EF4 tornado, the most devastating. Major Trotwood apartment complexes were heavily damaged. Fifty-nine Trotwood homes were leveled or condemned. There were minor injuries; no one died.
That displaced scores of Trotwood families and students, ranging from its early learning center to high school seniors.
“Hopefully, once we start school we’ll know where we’re at with the kids,” said Trotwood head football coach Jeff Graham.
The high school football preseason – and for most programs 2-a-day practice – begins Thursday, Aug. 1. That’s also the preseason start date for all other fall high school sports: girls volleyball, girls and boys cross country, girls and boys soccer, girls and boys golf, girls tennis and field hockey.
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The Trotwood football program has taken a significant participation hit. The Rams are established Division III state football and D-II boys state basketball powers. Its football team played in eight consecutive state semifinals from 2010-17 and won state championships in 2011 and ’17.
The boys basketball team won a D-II state title last March, its third straight state final four.
Trotwood has achieved – and maintained – that success despite a steady drop in student enrollment.
Of the 20 GWOC members schools – now 10 with the new Miami Valley League beginning this fall – Trotwood also was consistently the smallest in student enrollment. The most recent Trotwood numbers grades 9-12 provided to the OHSAA are 321 boys and 311 girls.
Then the tornadoes hit.
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Football programs stay busy throughout the summer. There are 10 summer coaching days allowed by the Ohio High School Athletic Association. Seven-on-7 passing “camps” are popular. Conditioning and weight lifting are anchored through June and July. These aren’t mandatory events, but all returning players know not to miss.
Usually, the Rams have 50-60 participants at every summer football event, said Graham. This summer, those numbers have dropped to 30-40.
It’s unknown how much of that decrease can be attributed to Trotwood families that were displaced elsewhere. What is known is Westbrooke Village Apartments in Trotwood was condemned. The Lofts at Willow Creek, another popular Trotwood apartment complex, was ravaged from tornado damage.
Both those housing units were home to many Trotwood students. No more.
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Trotwood athletic director Frank Russo estimated 360 Trotwood students, from grades K-12, were displaced. Many of those were returning Rams athletes, “which is a concern,” Russo said. “We won’t really know until we get to mandatory practice how much of an impact it’s had.”
Its population base already in decline, Trotwood-Madison City Schools switched to open enrollment for the 2018-19 school year. It’s unknown how many Trotwood students already enrolled in the district now reside elsewhere as a result of switching their residence because of tornado damage.
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The OHSAA instituted a waiver for displaced students in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. If approved, that allows a student to attend another school district, circumventing existing eligibility and transfer bylaws.
“This affidavit was developed to provide residency and transfer eligibility for students who have been displaced due to a catastrophic natural event,” said Deborah Moore, the OHSAA’s Senior Director of Compliance and Sports Medicine.
Mike McCray has been promoted to Trotwood-Madison high school principal. He’s a longtime key Rams’ figurehead in all sports, especially football.
“We have to look at the positives, too,” said McCray, whose son, Mike McCray Jr., was a standout on the 2011 state title team and is a graduate assistant with University of Michigan football. “No schools were hit and we don’t have to worry about where we’re going to play. It’s time for us to move forward, get back in school and get their lives back on track.”
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The Rams’ summer team bonding took a new spin in the wake of tornado cleanup. Team members, joined by coaches, met daily and went where needed most.
Graham said many Rams players are now also skilled in using power tools and tree and limb cutting. They cleaned yards and delivered food and water. It was the same for Wayne, Springfield and many on Dayton City League football teams. Wayne grads Marcus Freeman and Mike Mickens, now on the University of Cincinnati football staff, brought 25 current Bearcats to Trotwood in a unified cleanup effort with the Rams.
“It wasn’t about who you were or who you represented,” Graham said. “It was about doing what was right for our community. We decided to do everything we could to get everyone’s lives back in some kind of order.”
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That order begins in earnest for the Rams football team on Thursday. Their season opener is Friday, Aug. 30, against visiting Cincinnati Winton Woods, itself a D-II power that lost in the state semifinals last season.
McCray liked what he’s seen in the Rams.
“It was an opportunity for them to grow as a person,” he said. “You see a tragedy, but it’s also an opportunity for you to step up and be part of your community. The support you get on Friday night (football), now you get an opportunity to give it back in another way.”
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