WESTLAKE — It wasn’t just Westlake High School students rejoicing last month when school was called off for two days due to the bone-chilling arrival of a Polar Vortex. Athletic Director Tony Cipollone and Westlake Demons Athletic Boosters president Gina Redinger both couldn’t believe their luck.

That Wednesday and Thursday in January just happened to be the days the two had picked for the labor-intensive delivery and potentially disruptive installation of the school’s new “Hall of Pride,” a $58,000 project years in the making.

“We had already set those two days for the installation,” said Redinger, sitting with Cipollone at a table set up in the center of the entryway to the gymnasium. It was a perfect spot, the two said, to talk about the energy and community effort needed to make the Hall of Pride a reality. “We had heavy equipment, cranes, deliveries all day. And we were able to do it without working around students and closing off the hallway, like we had discussed we might have to do!”

“It took us about 10 hours on the Wednesday and again with Thursday. We finished about 9:30 Thursday night,” Redinger said.

The Hall, spearheaded and funded by the boosters, was geared to finally honor the school’s athletes and alumni. The “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds” of plaques, trophies and nameplates had been sitting in storage since the opening of the new high school building in 2013. The 265,000-square-foot building, funded by an $84 million bond issue for capital improvements, replaced the old high school (which until 1960 was called Dover High School) on the same Hilliard Boulevard site. Only the performing arts center, TV station and an auxiliary gym remained.

The awards represented nearly 100 years of accomplishments by athletes and distinguished alumni. Current students didn’t realize their own rich history, Redinger said.

The road to the installation and the floor-to-ceiling displays in the light-filled hallways and large room outside the gym was long. “I have a board (behind my desk) with projects,” said Cipollone. “I always had it there to get the trophies out of storage and get them displayed. Something was always more pressing.”

When Redinger, the parent of two WHS alumnae and one current sophomore, became booster president nearly two years ago, she prioritized the project. The hurdles were daunting. “In the transfer to the new building, a lot of the trophies got broken,” she said. “A lot of them had been broken already, and the storage hadn’t helped.”

First, Cipollone needed to decide which trophies would be displayed. “We decided to (display) the trophies representing the highest level of winning” in the Southwestern Conference, he said.

Once those were set aside, volunteers got busy going through yearbooks and “taking pictures of pictures” to put on new Ohio-shaped plaques with current athletes. Those were destined for the wall opposite the doors to the gym, as well as the hallway leading from the gym to the school’s rotunda area that houses the cafeteria.

Alumni Coordinator Megan Moutoux and volunteer Tim Bihn were vital to the planning and preparation of the Hall of Pride, agreed Redinger and Cipollone. “We called Tim ‘Tinkering Tim,’” Redinger said. Arriving at school with his tool box, Bihn carefully repaired and polished hundreds of trophies, finding stray arms, legs, heads and baseball bats at the bottom of the packing boxes, and putting them back in their proper place.

“He did such a good job you can’t even tell where the repairs are,” Redinger said.

The glass cabinets and the new plagues were made by the Columbus-based company School Pride, which also handled installation. The budget for the Hall of Pride had been set at $60,000 by the boosters. “We came in at $58,000,” Redinger said. The money was raised through the normal booster fundraisers, such as Night at the Races. A lot of the funding came from the growing number of people joining the boosters, she said.

“Annual memberships range between $25 and $500,” he said. “We have Corporate Champion Members for local businesses for $1,000. Our first official membership drive was in 2013 and we had about 85 members join. Right now, in the 2018-19 school year, we are 300 members strong.”

The oldest trophy displayed is a darkened silver urn with two handles, engraved with the words “Presented by The Community to Dover High School Foot Ball Team Champions, Class A, County High School League, 1925.”

Now that the project is done, Cipollone and Redinger hope the items will be inspirational for current students and those coming in to the school as future students and parents. “We have such a great athletic history and we are so proud of the athletes and our distinguished alumni,” said Redinger.

The best part? For both Cipollone and Redinger it was the reaction of students returning to the now-decorated school the day after the two-day installation.

“I still get chills” thinking about that day, Redinger said. It was like the history of the school suddenly became a reality as they realized, probably for the first time, the hundreds of talented WHS students who preceded them.

Contact this reporter at editor@westlifenews.com or at 440-871-5797.

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