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Flooding destroyed a bridge in Indiana. A high school football team rebuilt it.

Members of the Switzerland County High School football team in Indiana pose for a group photo. When flash flooding damaged a private bridge leading to the home of the grandparents of a teammate, they came together on Labor Day to repair it. (Todd Hagan)

Todd Hagan and his wife ventured outside their home in Switzerland County, Ind., once the seemingly endless torrential downpour subsided. They were stunned by what they saw.

The wooden bridge connecting one side of their driveway to the other — their only access to a main road — was destroyed by flash flooding that hit southeastern Indiana on Sept. 3.

Switzerland County was inundated with roughly eight inches of rain, damaging homes, roads, and killing one person.

“The water just destroyed this bridge,” said Hagan, 59, whose grandson lives with them. “I was blown away.”

Hagan felt lucky that it was only his bridge — which hovers over a creek — that was destroyed by the flooding, he said.

“We’re alive, and we’ll get through it,” he assured his wife Sarah.

But the couple felt somewhat stranded, as they had no way of getting their vehicle over the bridge and into town. Aside from a four-wheeler path on their property that leads to their neighbor’s house, they were stuck.

“Everybody knows everybody around here,” Hagan said of his hometown, adding that people quickly heard about his predicament. Ryan Jesop, his grandson’s football coach, was one of the first to reach out.

Jesop, an eighth-grade teacher at Switzerland County Middle School, decided to rally his football team to rebuild the bridge.

“As soon as I heard they needed help, I put out a call,” Jesop said, adding he estimated that if the couple fixed it themselves, it could take a month or more.

Since the bridge is on private property, the couple was responsible for repairing it on their own.

“This may be the most labor you guys ever do on Labor Day,” Jesop told his team.

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As Jesop anticipated, the players agreed to meet the following morning on Sept. 5, ready to rebuild the bridge. Many of the boys brought along their parents and siblings, as well as other members of the community, including a few Cub Scouts.

“Everybody showed up with good attitudes and were ready to help in any way that they could,” said Gabe Rose, 16, 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.’ ”

About 30 people congregated on their property before 9 a.m., “both of us were just speechless,” Hagan said. “Tears were coming out of our eyes.”

“I didn’t expect anything,” he continued. “The outreach of people was just mind-boggling.”

The base structure of the bridge is a steel frame supported by concrete pillars — neither of which were damaged by the flooding, Hagan said. The damaged wooden planks that covered the 60-foot bridge, however, needed to be replaced. It was no small job.

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Another coach at the school, Kevin Steuart, volunteered to pick up a load of fresh lumber — which Hagan had ordered in advance — and the football players brought tools and supplies from home. They immediately 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 added.

Meanwhile, the boys collected the damaged boards and threw them on Hagan’s trailer, which he used to haul the discarded wood to a burning pile.

Then, they sawed the fresh lumber to the proper size, and parents nailed the new pieces in place until the bridge was covered.

“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.”

The all-hands-on-deck effort made a seemingly strenuous task far more manageable.

“The next thing I know, the bridge was done,” Hagan said. “It was just amazing.”

A job that would have taken him and his wife several weeks to complete took less than three hours.

“I couldn’t be more thankful,” Hagan said.

The football players and their families said the deviation from typical Labor Day festivities turned out to be memorable — and fulfilling.

“It felt really rewarding,” said Gavin Reese, 18, a senior student. “We all came together to help a family in need.”

For Jesop and his team, the decision to help the Hagans was a no-brainer, he said, especially given the couple’s dedication to supporting others.

“They have always stepped up to volunteer,” said Jesop, explaining that amid a bus driver shortage, Hagan — who works at the local post office — got his license to drive a school bus in his spare time. The couple has also fostered close to 50 children in the past two years.

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“They’re amazing people,” Jesop said. “They’re the heroes, not the football players.”

In any case, Hagan — who wrote thank-you cards to the students and made a donation to the team — was touched that they were willing to put aside their plans to be there.

“I was very moved,” he said. “If somebody goes down, our community is there to pick them up.”

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