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Playing for good causes

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CELEBRATING CHARITABLE WIN: Rossville powderpuff volleyball players and students pose for a photo after winning the inaugural boys event for charity. The students shouted “All for Thomas! All for Thomas!” as they joined in mass after the photo, recognizing chemistry teacher Brian Thomas who was killed in a car accident on Friday morning.
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SHOWING SUPPORT: Frankfort students and players on the bench show support for their team during Monday’s charity tournament.
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THOUGHTS FROM DELPHI: Rossville players and coaches pose for a photo before Monday’s tournament with a banner sent to them from Delphi High School recognizing Rossville teacher Brian Thomas who died in a car accident on Friday and expressing Delphi’s concerns for the Rossville community with his passing.
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LEARNING NEW TRICKS: County boys flexed some new muscles with a new sport during Monday’s charity volleyball tournament. Above, Clinton Central’s Logan Whiteman makes a pass during a match with Rossville.
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SPORTSMANSHIP: Clinton Prairie and Frankfort captains shake hands before their match in the powderpuff tourney on Monday.

By ANDREW KRULL - akrull@ftimes.com

The four county high schools teamed up on Monday for the first Powderpuff Boys Volleyball Tournament at Rossville with all involved seeing the event as a success both in turnout and for the charities benefiting from it.

It was likely fitting that Rossville won the inaugural tournament (beating Frankfort in the championship) as the idea sprang from the school and it also provided a respite for students dealing with the death of chemistry teacher Brian Thomas, who was involved in a fatal car accident south of Logansport early Friday morning.

“All for Thomas! All for Thomas!” Rossville players and students exclaimed soon after the trophy presentation, with students mobbing the players on the court as if they had won a sectional or state championship after the final match.

Rossville senior Jayden Brown started an in-school tournament last year after attending the FFA’s Washington Leadership Conference.

“They focused on possible needs in your community (at the conference) and we have food insecurity and that’s something I want to combat,” he said, deciding to try to meet that need while having some fun as well.

“Considering that Rossville doesn’t have football, we really enjoy our volleyball,” he added. “We were at the (girls) volleyball sectional and all of us guys were like, ‘man, that looks fun, I bet we could do that.’

“One thing led to another and I said ‘you know if I do it I can do it for a charity.’ I can give money back to Backpack Buddies which gives food to people that are food insecure in Rossville and then it just spiraled.

“Over the summer, I heard that other schools had it and I had some Prairie friends who also thought that would be really fun,” Brown continued. “One day in the summer, I just emailed my principal and asked ‘Is this something we can do? Can we make this happen?’ and I give full credit to my principal Mr. (Terry) Thompson for making all this possible as well as all the other principals.

“This is such an amazing event and I’m so thankful that it happened. … This is absolutely incredible. The amount of people that showed up and all the money is going for a good cause. Every school is getting 20 percent of the proceeds for their charity and another 20 percent is going to go to Brian Thomas’ family, who is the chemistry teacher at Rossville who recently passed on Friday.”

Although volleyball was the planned purpose of the night, Thomas’ death was present from the event’s opening as public-address announcer Kyle Etherington noted before the national anthem that, “This past week the Rossville Community lost a beloved teacher, colleague and friend” calling him a “much loved chemistry teacher and coach” at the school.

“In his career as an educator, the one constant for so many students was Mr. Thomas’ energetic commitment to his profession and to his students both inside and outside the classroom with his smile, sense of humor and memorable personal advice. … We all stand as one tonight during this time of grief and pain to express our support for his family and friends as they continue to find comfort in the days ahead.”

Etherington concluded the statement by asking for a moment of silence for Thomas. Other indicators of Thomas’ death were present during the evening with Rossville players posing with a banner sent to the school from Delphi High School that included Thomas photo and noted, “You are in our thoughts and prayers.” The banner was placed before the scoring table during the matches and several Rossville players wore Thomas’ name on the back of their powderpuff shirts for the tournament.

Although previously planned, the tournament served as a proper vehicle to honor Thomas with the proceeds going to different charities.

“When the principals met, we decided each one of us would decide which charities we would put our monies to,” Rossville principal Terry Thompson said. “So for example, Rossville we put ours to Backpack Buddies. … Backpack Buddies is for a group of kids that are under served here in K-12. We have a number of children that are in need.”

However, there is some competitive fire to the tournament as the winner receives 40 percent of proceeds with the other schools receiving 20 percent.

Brown and Thompson were of similar minds in relation to creating such an event with Thompson providing the administrative push to make Brown’s inspiration possible.

“I did this when I was a superintendent in another district,” Thompson noted. “I wanted to get something going when I met with all the principals to see if they would be interested. We’ll rotate it each year to a different school, but hopefully we can keep it going because like I said it’s for charity.”

The other schools principals credited Thompson for getting the ball rolling and thought the tourney not only provided a fun night out but unified the county.

“He sent all the county principals an email and said, ‘We’re wanting to do something county-wide for boys volleyball’ and they’d done something in their own school,” Clinton Prairie principal Kirsten Clark said. “We came over one afternoon and just went from there.”

“Terry Thompson reached out and said, ‘Let’s do something to build solidarity between the kids and the county and let’s do something that can help people in need,’” Clinton Central principal Brad Smith reiterated. “... Terry spearheaded this whole thing, but it was really nice that we quickly formulated the plan to do the powderpuff volleyball tournament and it’s gone really well.”

“It was a great idea for the entire county to come together,” Frankfort principal Cindy Long added. “We were all immediately on board and the kids were on board. The boys love volleyball and wanted to play volleyball.

“To have everybody come together and work together as a county to raise some money and have an opportunity to just have fun for an evening is a really great idea.”

Frankfort earmarked its proceeds from the event to support the Daniel Olivas family. “He is one of our students and he has sarcoma,” Long noted.

Clinton Central will put the money toward the Riley Children’s Hospital, which is a charity that faculty and students have provided funds for throughout the year.

“We just think that’s a great cause and it just reinforces with our kids that our small contributions individually and collectively can make a big difference in kids’ lives,” Smith said. “Our kids are really motivated by that and we’re proud of being a part of donating to that hospital.”

Clinton Prairie will donate the funds to the school’s education fund which provides grants for teachers, clubs and organizations. “They do a lot for us so we want to give back to them,” Clark said.

They also were enthused by the turnout on Monday.

“I was excited when I pulled into the parking lot and saw so many cars already. It’s pretty exciting,” Clark noted. “I’m super excited to be here with my friends. I taught and worked with both the Frankfort and Clinton Central principals and Terry’s a new friend at Rossville.”

“To have everybody come together and work together as a county to raise some money and have an opportunity to just have fun for an evening is a really great idea,” Long added. “We’re just appreciative of Rossville for hosting. We know we’re going to rotate this around and make it a yearly event for all four schools, so we’re really excited to start the tradition.”

“For the inaugural event, it’s gone off pretty well and it’s going to be nice for all four schools to spend time together and get to know each other better and build a bond outside of traditional academic and athletic endeavors,” Smith said. “It allows (students) to have a different experience with each other than what they normally have and it helps build relationships that I think will have positive effects in academic and athletic competition and as they get older in the community.”

The matches also provided an appreciation for how good the competitive girls teams are at the sport.

“It sure does, it sure does, and I think it’s given the boys an appreciation for that too,” Long agreed. “A lot of our kids that are playing on the team are athletes, but none of them play volleyball. It’s good for them to extend themselves in a different way and show their competitive spirit in perhaps not their most dominate sport.

“I think this is something that’s going to continue to grow as the years go by,” she added.