Pacer football team is in ‘Good Hands’ with state award for community service
Switzerland County Pacer varsity football coach Ryan Jesop and his staff spend a lot of time teaching their players that football is only a segment of life, and that each person has a responsibility to help others — even away from the football field.
That focus on the community bore fruit when the severe storm struck portions of Switzerland County over the Labor Day weekend in September — and that work has now been recognized by a state sports organization.
Coach Jesop and his team have been honored by the Indiana Football Coaches Association by including the Pacers in its 2022 “Good Works Team.”
The award honors players, groups and entire teams who each year have committed themselves to serving others. As determined by the Indiana Football Coaches Association, all of the nominees have “served in an extraordinary way and are tremendous representatives of the power of football to make a difference in our communities.”
“It’s something that they (the coaches association) puts out recognizing people who go above and beyond in their community,” Coach Jesop said. “We were nominated, and the winners were announced in the Indianapolis Star.”
Jesop said that the award recognizes the work that the football team, its parents, and supporters did to rebuild a bridge that had been destroyed during the Labor Day storm — stranding a family in their home.
“There’s a lot of little things that go on in the community where they ask for help for us to do certain things, and then there are times where we just identify a need and then work to meet that need,” Jesop said. “We’ve done it with the food bank. We’ve helped out with the Community Foundation in the past. Just some other things, which became more regular. With the flooding that went on, this one came about when I was talking with Chris Oatman, who has been a director and President of our YPAC organization.”
Jesop said that Oatman shared with him about the plight of a grandparent, supporter and YPAC board member, Sarah Thurman and her husband Todd Hagan had suffered a big loss in the storm.
“They had lost their bridge. It completely washed out their bridge, and they didn’t have access to get in and out of their property,” Jesop continued. “So Landon Penhall is their grandson, and he’s a freshman on the football team. He (Oatman) let me know that they were kind of stranded with not being able to get in and out. I think they were able to take a Jeep along four-wheeler trails and get out through the back country.”
Jesop said that he sent out a message to his team and supporters seeing if anyone was willing to help on Sunday of the long weekend. Since Monday was a holiday, he didn’t have practice scheduled, so it became a good opportunity to help those in need.
“I had some kids who were wanting to help in the community and they knew some people and they knew we weren’t practicing that Monday and we didn’t have school, and they were just wanting to help,” the coach continued. “So I sent out a message asking if anyone would be interested in helping get this bridge re-built. I had a lot of people reach out, and we all met at their property at 9 a.m. on Monday morning.”
Jesop said that the response was overwhelming, from players to parents to supporters and other residents.
“We had over 20 volunteers,” he said. “We had parents ask about heavy equipment, Scott Weaver brought his Bobcat. It was just amazing how everybody showed up to help out. We made sure that all of the kids stayed off of the bridge — they were on dry land the whole time.”
Jesop said what was created was an assembly line of boards coming off the damaged bridge and being taken to a wagon to new boards coming on. Parents stayed busy cutting and fastening new boards to the structure.
“Within three hours we took about a 20-yard bridge and took it apart down the metal frame and put new wood back on,” Jesop said. “We had another coach, Kevin Stewart, who spoke to Todd Hagan and he went and ordered all of the wood and supplies; and everyone brought their own tools, and we knocked it out in under three hours.”
The recognition is nice for his team, Coach Jesop said, but being ready to serve the community whenever there is a need is a lesson that he sees as just as important as blocking and passing.
“I just posted something to thank everybody, and it took off like wildfire,” Jesop said. “I did three television interviews about it, and then The Washington Post contacted me — which is the last thing that I would have ever thought. It went viral. I’ve gotten postcards from all over, from Texas to Washington and all over. Random people just sent postcards thanking us for stepping up and doing something beyond the field.”