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East Palestine athletics inching closer to normalcy

EAST PALESTINE — East Palestine schools athletic director Dwayne Pavkovich knows this winter and spring will be a lot different than last year.

Following the Feb. 3, 2023, Norfolk Southern train derailment in town, Pavkovich, like many area leaders, was set into motion on a non-stop frantic pace that lasted months in dealing with the chaos of the uncertainty foisted upon nearly everyone in the area surrounding the accident.

His job now is more closely related to what a normal athletic director’s daily duties would be but he also understands the wounds are not healed and might not be for some time.

He points to the fact that people from communities outside of Columbiana and Mahoning counties are still hesitant to this day to commit to club team events such as J.O. volleyball and basketball tournaments in East Palestine.

“We just recently had to cancel our first J.O. volleyball tournament of the year because of lack of interest,” Pavkovich said. “We are also not seeing the interest in our track meets that we had before the train derailment. Unfortunately there is still some residual fear from the events that happened last that is still pretty strong in some people.”

While the stigma is likely to exist for a while, he says the students of the district are in good shape as there have not been any schedule disruptions this school year in the normal scholastic athletic schedules.

That was not the case in the immediate aftermath of the derailment.

A girls basketball tournament game that was scheduled to take place in East Palestine was not played because Bristol refused to come to East Palestine. A similar scenario played out in nearby Crestview Local schools when Beachwood refused to play a girls tournament game at Crestview due to parental fear over environmental contamination in the area.

School and government leaders including Pavkovich were able to ease local concerns over coming to East Palestine to play athletic events with a series of meetings in spring of 2023.

As the school district turned the page on the 2022-2023 school year at the close of spring, it became apparent that there would be benefits coming to the young athletes of East Palestine in the form of money and future projects.

Pavkovich said the athletic department received $60K from professional golfer Annika Sorenstam’s charity event, $50K from The Road to Recovery, $75K from Dick’s Sporting Goods and $50K from Norfolk Southern in addition to many smaller gestures.

“We’re still dealing with corporations,” Pavkovich said. “There’s a lot going on with companies we work with, such as BSN. They donated a third basketball uniform. We also had special football helmets donated. We’re working with a lot of community and individual donations that were made that truthfully off the top of my head I can’t think of.”

Pavkovich understands the seriousness of the situation that ultimately led the athletic programs of the town to swell with resources.

“We’re not trying to act like we won the lottery and we’re broke after one year,” Pavkovich said.

The purchases the school district will be making with those funds will only be used to enhance the student’s experience according to Pavkovich. The money won’t be involved in the operating budget.

For now the major purchases the district made are a shooting machine for the basketball teams and a new blocking sled for the football team along with equipment to “help with fundamentals and techniques.”

Pavkovich admits he’s more excited about things happening behind the scenes in the school district that he says will have a greater impact.

“I can’t speak on right now because it hasn’t been made public yet,” Pavkovich said. “But something that will greatly help our schools and our student experience in general is in the works.”

Pavkovich said that renovations coming to city park and the money flowing into the youth programs should help in the long-run too.

“We’re all Bulldogs,” Pavkovich said. “I mean we’ve really worked very strongly in my time here with our youth sports programs. You know, making sure we’re all pulled in the same direction. Whether it’s (East Palestine Youth Sports Association) or say Little Bulldogs or Rotary soccer. A benefit for them is a benefit for us and a benefit for us is a benefit for them. We are 100% working in unison on trying to create the best environment and opportunity for our kids.”

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