Several communities in West Virginia were devastated during the 1,000 Year Flood that hit June 2016. Many families lost everything – their homes, their belongings, their livelihoods. Some of those communities even lost their school buildings.
The West Virginia Department of Education reported 27 public school buildings suffered flood damage, and five were closed.
The school board in Nicholas County plans to consolidate several schools including Richwood Middle and Richwood High School. The plan has been met with passionate opposition from residents.
Despite the debate about consolidation, the 2017 school year came and went. West Virginia Public Broadcasting recently visited the town of Richwood to see what this past year was like for both students and the community.
For the 2016-2017 school year, the students at Richwood Middle and High School attended classes at temporary locations.
Richwood High students spent the year at former Beaver Elementary School in Craigsville - almost a 30-minute drive away.
Recent graduate Kendra Amick says it was disheartening to learn she wouldn’t be in her old building for her senior year.
“It was hard," Amick said, "I mean, when they told me over the summer that the school was flooded and that we weren’t going to be going back there, it was really heartbreaking, and I don’t think any of us really believed it, but being thrown in Beaver was kind of rough. The teachers made sure that it was more like a home environment, but I know all of us would just much rather be back up at Richwood and where we all belong.”
Despite the change of location, Amick remained committed to her high school band, also known as the Lumberjack Express. The band had to scavenge for places to practice throughout the year. But when it came time for the annual festivals and parades, there was no doubt the community could rely on the Lumberjack Express to show up.
Amick performed in the marching band for the last time during this year’s spring concert.
“The community of Richwood really loves the band," Amick noted, "That’s one of the cornerstones of our town is seeing us march down every fall in orange, and we always have an annual Christmas concert as well as a spring concert, so to get the community back together, rain or shine today, it’s really nice to see everyone come out, get to hear the band, and have a little bit of hope."
The Lumberjack Express is a staple of the town, says Richwood Middle School Principal Gene Collins.
“It’s not just the high school’s band, it is the community’s band," he said.
Collins says the Lumberjack Express played a big role in helping students and the community to cope with the change. While traditions had to be compromised and the stability of the community was disrupted, the Lumberjack Express provided a familiar tone that helped the town hold onto its identity … and perhaps hold onto the spirit of Richwood.
“Everything we do, we have a huge turnout," Collins said, "We have so much support. People are trying to make sure that we survive, and let’s face it, in the mountains, that’s what everything is about. It is about survival. They want the best for their kids, but we’re also fighting for our culture to survive."
That community spirit and school pride shined bright across the state this past year. In fact, Herbert Hoover High School was another building that was closed after the flood. Despite not having a home gym, the Huskies made it to the state high school basketball tournament for the first time ever.