A new bridge: Businesses, church members join project at China Grove Middle School

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 23, 2022

CHINA GROVE — Jennifer Drye was excited a few weeks because she had China Grove Middle School’s first cross country meet just days ahead and the initial course was just about ready. Her  team had been practicing since a week before the beginning of the school year. She also had hopes for rebuilding an old bridge and opening up even more of the school property for additional cross country opportunities. Another goal was to partner with the South Rowan High School team and have them use the wooded trails too for their home course.

The 55-acre property got its beginning in 1914 as the Rowan Farm-Life School. The state legislature had approved funding for farm schools where many of the students would live on campus while raising and processing their own food. China Grove’s school, the second in the state, was such a success that in 1921 the regular China Grove High School merged with it and shared the farm campus which later became the middle school.

Drye, a second-year teacher at China Grove Middle, said, “Our cross country plans began last year when some parents and students brought the idea to Athletic Director Lisa Faggart. She and I talked, decided to take the leap and got higher than expected interest from the students. It was important to us to have a season, resulting in four total meets, one of them at home.”

As a high school freshman, Drye trained every afternoon by running a mile on the track. She increased her mileage in college and afterwards running became fun. She said, “Then I challenged myself to see how far I could go. 5K’s, 10K’s, half marathons led to a full marathon in 2018 at Disney World. I still enjoy running today and have loved using my knowledge to train my cross-country runners this season.”

That home meet hosted Kannapolis, Mooresville and Erwin. South Rowan’s coaches and team were on hand to volunteer. But something equally as big was taking shape with friends of the school. A plan was hatched to rebuild that bridge, replacing one that was last built around 2000 and had deteriorated so much that only the brave would venture across it. Past students remember that bridge replacing an early 1980’s version.

First on the wish list were three long poles of the thickness that would support a heavy bridge spanning about 25 feet. Duke Energy provided power poles and Training Supervisor Mark Beaver said, “Only good can come when the local community and business work together for the benefit of our schools and kids. It shows that we care about them, and our donation provides for the future of the cross-country trail and bridge. We hope they have continued success.”

Beaver, Matt Josey and Joe Jordan delivered the poles.

Next the old bridge needed to be removed before the massive poles could be placed correctly to span the creek and the 8-foot drop from trail level. Town of China Grove Public Works Director David Ketner and Assistant Director Rodney Wilhoit devised a plan to remove the old bridge once the old boards and rails were chain sawed apart. Wilhoit and Ryan Oliphant returned with a backhoe and loader and removed the old bridge.

Ketner next led the show when his crew was able to suspend each pole underneath a front-end loader and lay them across the creek span. Tommy Suther and Ted Misenheimer from China Grove First Baptist Church Men in Mission verified proper alignment and leveling of the poles.

Ketner said, “With China Grove at the threshold of a tremendous amount of growth, we were delighted to help in the construction of the bridge. We hope that it will be used for many years of physical fitness and outdoor educational opportunities.”

Remaining was the actual acquisition of the lumber needed and the construction of the bridge. First Baptist’s Jerry Lippard made a list of materials that was presented to Cozart Lumber owners Thad and Phillip Whicker. Thad said, “As lifetime residents of Rowan County, alumni of China Grove Middle School, business owners and parents of kids that attended school in Rowan County, Phillip and I understand the need for maintaining the assets that Rowan has to offer for our youth. We see providing materials for this bridge as an investment in the county that has done so much for our families. Our county is blessed to have people with the talent and time to put this bridge back together.”

The First Baptist crew returned last Saturday to put the flooring and handrails on the bridge and finished the project on Wednesday afternoon with Andy Coffer, Jimmy Carter and Trent Drye joining Suther, Misenheimer and Lippard. Pastor Drye said, “We know that God has placed us in this community to make a difference, to be His hands and His feet, and to advance the Gospel. To accomplish this, it is important to partner with the community God has placed us in. We are committed to serving and partnering with local schools, the town, businesses, and other ministries to advance the love of Christ.  When we all work together, God is glorified, and lives are changed.”

Faggart summed up the combined effort and what it means for her school, “Cross country has been a year in the making for me. As numbers have declined for football, I sought a way to keep athletes moving and in shape. Mrs. Drye is passionate about her own health, as well as the students. She pushes them with running and HIIT workouts which she does with them for encouragement. The South Rowan coaches helped us finalize the current course and maintenance will be key to its success. This combined community effort is not only for China Grove Middle, but I have hopes that the high schools and community can use it as well. Plans are to complete topnotch courses of 5K for high school and 3K for middle school. Our courses make for a safe place for running, walking and just enjoying being outside.”