NEWTOWN, Ohio — Nearly three months after a fire destroyed nearly all of the Miami Valley Christian Academy High School's sports equipment, head football coach Russ Theisens is focused on faith instead of bitterness.
"We're just kind of looking at this and seeing this as a turning point for the program," Theisens said. "God's always had us. He always will. We've looked at this as a way to turn the corner and say, 'Hey let's start building new traditions. Let's remember the legacy of those who came before us but continue to build our own traditions and use this as a way to turn the corner and rise up from this.'"
A fire during Memorial Day weekend destroyed two large trailers, known as portable classrooms. Those buildings stored nearly all of MVCA's sports equipment, including hundreds of uniforms from youth to high school levels.
Everything from helmets to coaches' headsets to several other items had to be replaced.
The fire impacted every MVCA team -- from fall to the spring sports season.
The weight room, locker rooms and coaches meeting rooms were also left in ruins, leaving school officials to decide how to address short- and long-term solutions in regard to storage space.
"You don't realize what you have there until all of a sudden it's gone and then you've got to start from scratch," MVCA athletic director Matt Blandin said. "The community has stepped in and helped fill in those gaps to help us to be able to replace those items."
MVCA is grateful for the generosity of the school families, community members and other Cincinnati-area high schools for their support since late spring.
"The things that you kind of take for granted having a squad, having a team -- when you miss those things you really miss them, and (assistant coach) Sean (McCormick) and our other coaches have been really seeking help and other schools have really been pouring into us from the community," Theisens said. "It's been awesome, just the community gathering around our situation and helping us out."
Edgewood, Goshen and Hughes are among the football programs who have assisted MVCA with such items as hand shields, tackle dummies, cones and footballs this summer.
"It's about the players needing what they need to get through practice," Edgewood coach Scott Clemmons said. "You never want to see a program go through what they had to with losing everything in that fire. For those young people not to have the stuff they need to get through practice, to get through their summer workouts. Everybody bands together and helps each other out."
Goshen coach Greg Miller didn't think twice about helping MVCA when he received a coaches' association email from MVCA assistant coach Sean McCormick.
"We dug in our storage closet and we said, 'Hey, are we using these hand shields?' And the answer was we are not, and they still had some life left in them, so we felt like it was the right thing to do to support a local football program and some other coaches that we've networked with," Miller said. "I ran them down and met Sean at a gas station. They're theirs now."
MVCA senior tight end/linebacker Ethan Farmer said the donations were a crucial aspect for the team to practice and to have hope for a season.
"We're very grateful for it," Farmer said. "If they're going to help us get back on our feet, then I'll consider them family as well."
MVCA, a Division VII football program, has a renewed sense of confidence about the potential for this season as it enters the first game Aug. 20 against Millersport. The game kicks off at 7 p.m.
MVCA, which has 20 players on its roster, is starting its 12th year of varsity football. The team is determined to help bolster the school spirit on and off the field after the adversity from this past spring.
Theisens has noticed the captains such as Farmer taking an extra leadership role on the campus.
"I feel the momentum growing in the program this season, unlike anything I felt before being with the program," Theisens said. "This is kind of one of those blessings in disguise. This is one of those program-defining moments. I'm really proud of our guys for seeing it the way that they have, for relying on the faith that we have and moving forward with it."
After MVCA's 2020 season was shortened because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Farmer wondered this spring if the fire would adversely impact this year, too.
But, he said, the challenge of moving forward past the fire and receiving the support from others has strengthened the team's resolve to represent the school in the best way possible.
"Our intensity is up. We're ready to play this year," Farmer said. "The past two years have been a little rocky, but it's a new year this year, and I think we're going to be able to just come back from what's happened. We've been blessed with new equipment and we couldn't be more thankful for that."