FREDERICKTOWN – There was a volleyball game played in Fredericktown on Thursday night.
The Freddies battled rival Centerburg in the final home game of the season. There were bumps and spikes and thrilling sets, some points decided by inches. It was loud; the opposing bleachers thundering back and forth with each point.
GALLERY: Centerburg at Fredericktown
Fredericktown defeated Centerburg, 3-1, on Oct. 15, 2020. It was Senior Night for the Freddies, who honored Summer Weller and Zoe Newell. It was also a night to support Delaney Rothgeb, the Mount Vernon senior who remains in critical care following a car accident on Sept. 18; and Leah Staton, the Fredericktown senior who died tragically in a car crash Sept. 26.
But the most memorable moment came before the first serve. It commanded complete silence – a minute of unity before the action.
It held grief, and love, and hope, all at once.
Facing a gym full of parents, students and community members, Griffin Rothgeb took the mic.
Griffin is the older brother of Delaney, the senior at Mount Vernon High School who remains in critical care following a car accident on Sept. 18. Delaney played for Mount Vernon’s varsity volleyball team, and in the weeks since her accident, schools throughout central Ohio have worn ribbons and shirts to honor her fight.
Fredericktown and Centerburg joined the movement Thursday. Instead of their jerseys, they wore shirts with “Volley for Delaney” on the front (Fredericktown wore orange; Centerburg wore black).
There were signs posted on one end of the gym honoring Delaney and Leah Staton, the Fredericktown High School student who died in a car crash Sept. 26. Parents raffled off goodie baskets before the game and raised over $1,700 for the families.
As the warmup music faded, players from both teams formed a circle around the net. They linked arms in support of Delaney, posing for a picture that was later be shared with the family. All eyes then turned toward Griffin as he began to speak.
“From the bottom of my heart and my family’s heart, we just wanted to say thank you to all the Fredericktown families and the Centerburg families – all of you guys have been awesome. We truly appreciate all that you’ve done this entire time,” Griffin said, his voice beginning to tremble. “I know that my sister can feel the love tonight.”
The crowd gave Griffin a standing ovation, then participated in a moment of silence. Griffin made his way back to the home bleachers, where he watched the entire game alongside friends and family. A half-hour after his remarks, he still seemed blown away by the scene before him.
“We just truly feel the love and support of the entire county,” he said. “We know that my sister is very well-loved and cared for, and appreciated, and we appreciate all that everyone’s done for us.”
Griffin said it was his first time addressing a crowd. Despite the hardship his family has faced over the last month, the recent MVHS graduate said he felt compelled to share his gratitude.
“I can’t be there in the hospital (with Delaney) due to COVID restrictions,” Griffin said. “And since they were supporting my sister, I wanted to come out and support them.”
According to Griffin, the Rothgeb family remains positive about Delaney’s future. He said his sister is “making progress every day,” and that she’s currently working with several different therapy teams at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus.
“We have a plan in place,” he said. “We’re just taking it step by step, day by day.”
The idea to support the Rothgeb and Staton families came from Fredericktown’s coaching staff. Head coach Tami Vaughn and her daughter, assistant coach Cassandra Vaughn, brought the idea to the team recently and received a unanimous response.
“We said, ‘Hey, are you interested in doing something like this?’” Tami recalled. “And they were all for it.”
Fredericktown has participated in Volley for the Cure over the last two seasons, raising money for breast cancer research. It has also partnered with other local school districts for similar community-minded fundraisers.
Cassandra said the team’s coaching staff “saw a need” with the loss of Staton, a Fredericktown senior, and with Delaney still in critical condition. They felt compelled to help, and Centerburg’s coaching staff agreed.
“It’s something that we kind of do every year if we can,” Tami said. “And we have some connections – I don’t know Delaney personally, but I know a lot of people that do, and it just seemed like the right thing to do.
"My brother was involved in a very serious car accident when he was in high school, and I know it gets expensive driving back and forth to the hospital. We just wanted to help some people.”
Fredericktown won the volleyball game on Thursday, 3-1. The Freddies claimed the final two sets, 25-20 and 25-10, after Centerburg made things interesting early.
Kelsey Budd, who coached Fredericktown on Thursday (Vaughn had to stay home due to COVID-19 protocols), said the team felt motivated by the game’s meaning to close the deal late.
“Sometimes you feel the energy from the night. Tonight brought a lot of fans out to support Delaney and Leah’s families, and at the beginning of the night, they said, ‘We feel the energy,’” Budd said.
“And you know, we had some slumps, but I think that fourth set – once you get on a roll and you get the other team kind of off, and they start feeling frustrated, you take advantage of it. And that’s what we did.”
Fredericktown finished the regular season 9-9 overall (7-6 in the Knox-Morrow Athletic Conference), while Centerburg finished 7-12 (5-12). Both teams will begin tournament play on Oct. 24.
But the real victory Thursday had nothing to do with hustle or positioning or technique. Instead, it came in the silence before the game; in the shirts, signs and donations; in the group photo afterwards.
It came when Griffin found the strength to address the crowd – and when the crowd responded accordingly.
“It’s just great to live in a small community where we can count on each other,” Tami Vaughn said. “With all the other things going on right now, it’s amazing to see how the whole community came together.”