Community support reinforces Raider mission

Photo by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Students and staff at Holland and Huntingburg elementary schools held pep rallies Thursday to cheer on the Southridge football team as they prepare for their Class 2A semistate game this weekend. Huntingburg Elementary first grade teacher Sara Prusz gave former student Grant Maxey a hug and wished him good luck in Saturday's game. "He was such a comedian," Prusz said. "I loved having him as a student, who couldn't love Grant?" The Raiders face Indianapolis Scecina at 2 p.m. at Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis.

By HENDRIX MAGLEY
hmagley@dcherald.com

HUNTINGBURG — Amid the celebration of a regional championship last week, Southridge football player Logan Seger — on crutches after taking a hit during the game — spotted a young fan running up to him at full speed.

The future Raider wanted some memorabilia from the current Raider.

“I didn’t even know this kid’s name, but he comes running up to me and he asked for one of my gloves,” Seger said with a laugh. “I had a bloody one and a clean one so I asked him which one he wanted. Luckily, he ended up choosing the clean one.”

Seger, a junior at Southridge, has attended games at Raider Field for as long as he can remember and said he behaved just as that kid who scored the clean glove. 

“I remember back before they had turf and the grass was all muddy, I remember as a kid taking a picture with all the guys on the team after the game,” Seger said. “Knowing kids look up to you while you’re playing is terrific. Just knowing that they’re expecting to do the same thing when they grow up kind of gives me chills.”

Jacob Wiegand/The Herald
Jill Harter and her daughter, Ashlie, decorated Southridge football senior Jayce Harter's school locker Sunday evening. Jill and Ashlie are Jayce's mother and younger sister.

The community support behind the Southridge athletic programs can be seen throughout the season but when a team such as this year’s football squad embarks on a deep postseason run, the support expands tenfold.

Teachers have shared their well wishes. Students who don’t play sports — even watch sports — have started asking questions in class about Saturday’s semistate opponent, Indianapolis Scecina. Raider coach Scott Buening says he’s even had more than a few Huntingburg residents whom he’s never talked to before stop him in public and tell him good luck.

“Sometimes in this day and age, I think we lose touch of how important culture is,” Buening said. “Whether it’s our band going to state or the run that we’re on right now, we need to celebrate these things that the kids are doing. It’s not just about putting a productive football team on the field, but it’s about helping these kids grow and learn how to face adversity and handle success. It really is a community effort.”

Buening has embraced the small-town culture of Dubois County as it reminds him of growing up outside of St. Paul, a small community of about 1,000 residents southeast of Indianapolis.

“Not to sound like John Cougar Mellencamp, but I grew up in a small town and I love small towns,” Buening said. “When me and my family chose to come to Southridge, it wasn’t just a football decision. Just the area, the culture and the way of life here was something we valued very much.”

Photo by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Huntingburg Elementary second-graders high-fived senior Grant Maxey as he and the rest of the Raider football team walked the perimeter of the gym during the pep rally Thursday.

Buening, who spent time as an assistant coach at East Central (not far from the Ohio border near Cincinnati) and head coach at Jennings County (also in the southeast part of the state) before joining the Raider staff in 2013, said the spirit in Huntingburg, Holland, St. Henry and the other surrounding towns reminds him of the culture he saw while at East Central, a football power that’s won 18 sectional titles and is playing in a Class 4A semistate game tonight.

From “Go Raiders!” messages displayed on cars and storefronts to the pep rallies at Huntingburg Memorial Gym the same night as the sectional and regional championships, the outpouring of community enthusiasm continues to amaze Buening.

“We always tell our kids to whom much is given, much is expected and I think our programs have represented our community well,” Buening said. “You look at the support they’ve given these kids and it’s a bit humbling because they’re just excited for the opportunity we have in front of us and what we’ve accomplished to this point. I appreciate that a lot and it makes it a lot more fun.” 

Raider offensive coordinator Brad Ohanian was the lead running back on the 2002 Southridge team that defeated Scecina in the semistate on their way to the state finals.

Jacob Wiegand/The Herald
Jennifer O'Brien of Holland cut out a picture of Southridge seniors Jayce Harter, right, and Colton O'Brien, her son, to place in a locker while she and other Southridge football mothers decorated the team's locker room Sunday evening in Huntingburg.

That team lost 36-30 to Fort Wayne Luers in the state finals at the since-demolished RCA Dome, but the memories from that run remind Ohanian of this season.

“As we’re making this run, I’m getting texts from buddies I played with and it just brings back really fond memories and you really start to reminisce,” Ohanian said. “Some of my earliest memories were spent at Raider Field with my dad (Phil). You see the kids playing football in the end zone during the games today and I did that same thing. As long as I can remember, Raider football has been a part of my life.”

One of those buddies that Ohanian has been in touch with is current Forest Park football coach Ross Fuhs. He was a standout lineman on the ’02 squad and like Ohanian, is a Huntingburg native.

Fuhs has been following the Raider run extensively and attended last week’s regional rout of Providence.

“I root like heck for these guys,” Fuhs said. “I tell them I root for them 364 days out of the year. When (Forest Park) plays them, we have to be enemies for a few hours. But other than that, I always root for these guys to do well.”

Jacob Wiegand/The Herald
Ashlie Harter of Huntingburg, 12, played with a balloon while helping her mother, Jill Harter, and other Southridge football mothers decorate the locker room Sunday evening in Huntingburg.

One of the things Fuhs remembers most about his playing days was how each season, the team came up with a motto as some sort of endpoint.

The ’02 team used “To The Dome” as their motto in reference to the RCA Dome. The Raider program has reached the state finals three times — 1982, 2002 and 2006 — but lost each time.

The motto for this year’s team? Be legendary.

“That’s been their thing all year,” Buening said. “The only way to be legendary here is to win a state championship because all of the other things have already been done before. I think that’s been a big driving force for them and it’s helped them to remain grounded and work as a motivating factor.”

Seger said his family has a tape of the broadcast of the 2006 state finals game (his older brother Brad was a lineman on the team).

Before this season began, Seger watched that game just to experience the state finals thrill.

“That’s definitely a little bit of motivation for me,” Seger said. “I know we’re going to be ready, I just want to get there and start warming up already.”

Photo by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Southridge head coach Scott Buening thanked the students for coming out to support the team during the pep rally at Huntingburg Elementary. The Raiders face Indianapolis Scecina in a Class 2A semistate football matchup at 2 p.m. Saturday at Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis.



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