'If somebody goes down, our community is there to pick them up,' said Todd Hagan, for whom the bridge was the only access to the main road.
When Todd Hagan and his wife stepped out of their home in Switzerland County, Indiana, after what seemed like an endless torrential downpour, they were stunned by the sight awaiting them. The flash flooding that wreaked havoc across southeastern Indiana on September 3 had completely destroyed the wooden bridge that was their only access to the main road. "The water just destroyed this bridge," Hagan told The Washington Post. "I was blown away." Although they were virtually stranded, with no way of getting their vehicle over the bridge and into town, the 59-year-old felt lucky that it was only his bridge that was damaged.
"We're alive, and we'll get through it," he assured his wife Sarah. Hagan's words proved prophetic as community members soon arrived to help after hearing about his predicament. Ryan Jesop, Hagan's grandson's football coach, was one of the first to reach out. "As soon as I heard they needed help, I put out a call," said Jesop, an eighth-grade teacher at Switzerland County Middle School. Realizing that it would take more than a month for the couple to fix the bridge themselves, he rallied his football team to help them. The players agreed to meet the following morning on September 5 and many of them brought along their parents, siblings and other members of the community.
"Everybody showed up with good attitudes and were ready to help in any way that they could," said 16-year-old Gabe Rose, who showed up with his father. "My dad pretty much said, 'Well, if I'm going to take you there, I might as well stick around and help.'" When around 30 people congregated on their property before 9 a.m. that day, "both of us were just speechless," Hagan said. "Tears were coming out of our eyes. I didn't expect anything. The outreach of people was just mind-boggling."
Fortunately, the steel frame base structure of the bridge or the supporting pillars weren't damaged by the flooding. However, the wooden planks that covered the 60-foot bridge needed to be replaced and it was no easy task. Kevin Steuart, another coach at the school, volunteered to pick up a load of fresh lumber that Hagan had ordered in advance, and the volunteers quickly got to work, forming an assembly line of sorts. "We had to tear it all down and get all the debris off," Hagan said. "It was like a factory."
"The adults were the only ones allowed on the bridge to take apart the old boards," Jesop explained. In the meantime, the boys collected the damaged boards and threw them on Hagan's trailer to be hauled to a burning pile. "I think everybody was pretty surprised by how well we worked together," said Rose, a sophomore student. "There was a team atmosphere with our parents, and it felt like it brought us together even more." Thanks to the all-hands-on-deck effort, the seemingly strenuous task was finished in less than three hours. "The next thing I know, the bridge was done," Hagan said. "It was just amazing. I couldn't be more thankful."
"It felt really rewarding," said 18-year-old Gavin Reese, a senior at Switzerland County Middle School. "We all came together to help a family in need." The decision to help the Hagans was a no-brainer for him and his team, said Jesop. "They have always stepped up to volunteer," said Jesop, sharing that Hagan—who works at the local post office—got his license to drive a school bus in his spare time amid a bus driver shortage. The couple has also fostered close to 50 children over the past two years.
"They're amazing people," Jesop said. "They're the heroes, not the football players." Hagan expressed his gratitude to the students by writing them thank-you cards and making a donation to the team. "I was very moved," he said. "If somebody goes down, our community is there to pick them up."