Neon green T-shirts filled the Valmeyer High School gym as teachers, students and the community rallied around a VHS graduate Thursday night before, during and after the high school volleyball game.
The “Dig for Derek” event was held as a fundraising effort for former student Derek Muellner.
This past spring, Muellner was in a work-related accident that left him in a coma for several weeks. He fell from a third story building while working at a construction site.
Valmeyer teacher Kelly Rowold led the effort to help Muellner out.
“After his accident, I had calls, emails and messages from teachers and community members to ask me what we need to do for Derek to get better,” Rowold recalled.
Rowold had Muellner as a student for four years at VHS, prompting the students and coaches from the volleyball team to approach Rowold.
“(They) asked me what I thought about doing a ‘Dig for Derek’ this year to help him out since he just got home from rehab for his traumatic brain injury,” Rowold said, adding that “last year (the volleyball team) helped out one of our own, Jessica Hicks, with supporting her with her battle with cancer. So this year we wanted to do the same for Derek even though he had graduated.”
The Valmeyer Pep Club, VHS Student Council and volleyball team decided to make “Dig for Derek” a part of this year’s homecoming game.
The volleyball girls, with help from the Valmeyer business Mac T’Time, designed and produced T-shirts to sell. Rowold and teachers from throughout the district organized a silent auction and other fundraisers.
In addition to shirt sales and the silent auction, the school hosted a beggars auction, 50/50 raffle and pizza sale before and during the volleyball game.
Interest in the event was bolstered by two teacher-led teams that played volleyball against each other before the junior varsity game and after the varsity contest.
According to Rowold, the competition came about “from two competitive male staff members and we just ran with it and our main goal was to make as much money as possible.”
Team Hawley, led by high school history teacher Robert “Bob” Hawley, faced off against Team Maus, featuring Rowold and high school English teacher Jon Maus.
The student section was boisterous in its support for Team Maus, although the smaller contingent supporting Team Hawley saw their team win both contests.
“Mr. Hawley is one of those teachers that talks the talk and gets the kids pumped up,” Rowold explained.
Between the JV and varsity games, Rowold and Muellner addressed the crowd to thank them for their support.
Rowold became emotional when speaking about how the community came together, not only for Muellner, but others who have needed help in the past.
“No one fights alone. I think that’s what’s so great about Valmeyer, this high school, this community, all the parents, the staff, everybody. Nobody has to do this alone,” Rowold said.
Muellner spoke after Rowold, expressing that he felt “very lucky to be part of this close-knit community.”
“Derek would do anything for anyone, so we just wanted to make sure he had a great welcome back homecoming where he could feel the love and know we are all behind him as he gets better each day,” Rowold said after the event.
Valmeyer head volleyball coach Karla Bivins agreed.
“I thought it was a well-received event,” she said. “The village of Valmeyer always comes together to help each other out. Whether folks donated a basket, bought 50/50 tickets, or offered words of encouragement to Derek, its great to see the community come together.”