BACK ON TRACK: EAST PALESTINE SCHOOL DISTRICT RECEIVES 75FOR75 SPORTS MATTER GRANT

October 23, 2023

Written by Hilary Totin

“We became little Chernobyl.”

That’s how residents in the small community of East Palestine, Ohio felt following the February 2023 freight train derailment that spewed hazardous chemicals into the air. The derailment impacted all aspects of life in East Palestine, including school sports.

The weekend after the derailment, the East Palestine School District was scheduled to host a playoff game for its girls’ high school basketball team, but the opposing team decided to forfeit instead of travel to East Palestine.

“We got tagged as Toxic Town U.S.A.,” said Dwayne Pavkovich, assistant principal and athletic director at East Palestine High School. “People didn’t want to come here.”

The ongoing concerns about air quality and water safety doomed spring sporting events. East Palestine’s annual track invitationals had a 50% drop in participation; all volleyball, basketball and wrestling tournaments were canceled. The lost revenue from ticket sales, concessions and 50/50 raffles put the athletic department’s budget down $70,000.

Signs of support for East Palestine throughout the community.

Pavkovich knew if the school couldn’t find a way to come up with the money, some sports teams would not be able to play in the 2023-2024 school year. He reached out to DICK’S Sporting Goods for help. Pavkovich said he was hoping for $10,000, but Community Marketing Manager Jim Famularo knew their need was greater.

“There was a chance these student athletes would have another sports season canceled due to something far out of their control,” said Famularo. “We saw an opportunity to support these kids and make sure they could play.”

“The student athletes and coaches of East Palestine were resilient and determined to not be victims of the catastrophe that happened in their backyard,” said Director of Sports Matter and Community Relations Kristen Garmey. “The DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation wanted to help these athletes thrive.”

East Palestine volleyball players read letter announcing 75for75 Sports Matter Grant during school pep assembly.

During a school pep assembly on Sept. 15, the East Palestine Athletic Department was presented with a 75for75 Sports Matter Grant.

“You guys stepped up for our kids,” Pavkovich said.

East Palestine High School football players practicing for game day.

The $75,000 helped ensure all of East Palestine’s fall sports went on as normal, something Pavkovich said is vital for the entire community.

“Sports is a fundamental part of East Palestine’s DNA,” Pavkovich said. “We’re gaining momentum and things are going in the right direction again.”