Over the course of the last half-century, the Wheelersburg Pirates’ sports programs have taken home their fair share of SOC titles — to the point where not winning one on a yearly basis is a disappointment.
However, it’s becoming evident that the Wheelersburg athletic program, as a whole, has developed new goals that have evolved into much more than just obtaining SOC titles or making runs to region.
So if one has seen clothing apparel that says “When you play Wheelersburg, you play the whole town,” it truly is evident in the way that the Southern Ohio community of approximately 6,500 residents handles its business. Just ask Rob Woodward and Teresa Ruby — they’ll tell you firsthand.
“Athletics go hand-in-hand with academics,” Woodward said. “You go back to the administrators and teachers at Wheelersburg. Everybody works so hard to demand excellence out of our student-athletes, both in the classroom and on the athletic field. It’s just a sense of holding players and students accountable for their actions in the classroom and on the field, and we have a great set of coaches across all of the sports that demand that excellence. The community supports that.”
“You have kids who are committed and dedicated who put in a lot of work to reach the highest levels,” Ruby said. “I feel honored to work with such a great group of coaches who also put in a lot of time and effort with the kids. There’s just a lot of commitment to excellence at Wheelersburg with the type of kids that are there, and with the type of school system that supports it.”
While the entire Wheelersburg school system has been lauded throughout its history for its attention to detail in the academic and athletic disciplines, the Pirates have truly taken their success to another level since 2010. Wheelersburg baseball started what has become a runaway freight train by making the first of what ended up being six consecutive trips to the OHSAA Final Four, a streak that ran through the 2015 season. In 2012 and 2013, Michael Estep’s club got the ball rolling by winning back-to-back state championships — by one run apiece over Lima Central Catholic and Bloom-Carroll — to get the attention of those across the state, as guys like Derek Moore, Wade Martin, Camron Parsley, and Garrett Carmichael, among others, came to the forefront.
“Preparation leads to success,” Woodward said. “There is a confidence that comes with that. Our students have it. We try to harness that, enhance that, and push that.”
As the baseball program established itself as a perennial powerhouse in the Division III ranks, the softball program — led by Ruby — began making its ascent up the ladder. Wheelersburg had just one OHSAA Final Four appearance (2004) before Ruby’s hiring, but have already made three consecutive OHSAA Final Four appearances — and back-to-back state championship game appearances — in her four seasons as head coach. In 2016, Wheelersburg, behind an extremely talented group that included Michal Cunningham, Faith Howard, and Kalle Coleman — all Division I signees in the sport — broke through by defeating Canfield South Range, 8-3, for the program’s first-ever state crown.
Ruby, however, knows that the support wouldn’t be possible without the very community that backs the kids.
“You can’t find a community more supportive and more invested in the success of their kids than the Wheelersburg community,” Ruby said. “It’s just phenomenal. If you need something, they give time, they’re supportive, and they definitely show up.”
However, the baseball and the softball programs weren’t the only ones to break through. Ellie Ruby, who has proven to be one of the best three-sport athletes to ever come out of the school, won the Division II long jump title. And Drew Jackson added a state appearance in tennis to boot. Then, in 2017, Wheelersburg dovetailed its softball success with a fantastic run by Maddie Gill and Kaitlyn Sommer, who were the youngest doubles team to qualify for state in the Division II ranks.
Little did everybody know, however, that more was yet to come — including the 2017 Wheelersburg football program’s exhilarating run to a state title. After putting up nine running clock victories in 10 affairs during the regular season, the Pirates showed the entire state their grit and their mental toughness by coming back from three second-half deficits in its final four playoff affairs en route to one of the more thrilling playoff runs one could ever dream of witnessing as a football diehard, let alone a football fan of a singular team.
“When you walk through the hallways and see the signs and the posters that are hung up, as well as the level of spirit that’s generated from a morale standpoint, you just feel it yourself,” Woodward said. “Everybody listens to one another, communicates well with one another, and works well with one another in trying to show the best Pirate Pride that we can at all levels.”
With 11 appearances in the state semifinals over the past seven years and five state championships across four sports, it’s certainly an arguable point that the 2010s will go down as arguably the best decade in school history from an athletic standpoint.
However, it’s also known that once the mountaintop has been reached, it will take as much work, if not even moreso, to maintain it. And that work is what has made the Wheelersburg athletic program the face of the county over the course of the decade.
“We want everybody to push through those barriers, and develop a growth mindset where people can reach farther, reach higher, and reach past where you believed that you could,” Woodward said of the #ReachHigher theme that was adopted by the football program.
“It’s a commitment that’s truly greater than yourself,” Ruby said. “There’s a strong commitment to playing for each other, and that can carry you a long way. It’s exciting to coach kids that are passionate and put in the time not only away from the field, but when we practice. The kids work hard, they have fun, and they’re good to one another. It’s a coach’s dream.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT