Archdeacon: 'Keep Going’ - from Currin tragedy, a rallying cry emerges

Many houses on the University of Dayton campus display decorated sheets as a tribute to student Michael Currin, who dies Sept. 21. Police say he fell from the bed of a pickup truck and died several days later from his injuries. MARSHALL GORBY/STAFF

Those two words from 10 years ago are just as powerful now and even more far-reaching.

Once, they lifted a grieving young boy. Now, they are something grieving communities – from Moeller High School in Cincinnati to the University of Dayton – are reaching to for support.

“Last year Michael told the story to our school,” said Carl Kremer, Moeller’s principal and its longtime basketball coach.

ExplorePHOTOS: UD houses pay tribute to student Michael Currin

Michael Currin – the UD freshman and Flyers' basketball hopeful who died so tragically early this week – shared with his schoolmates the final moments from a decade past that he’d had with his father, Joe Currin, himself a Flyers basketball player and UD law school grad.

It happened July 18, 2010, when Joe, his wife Callie, also a UD grad, and their four young children were in Venice, Fla., for a family reunion, where the centerpieces were Joe’s dad and mom, Jim and Judy Currin.

Jim had been a star football player for the Flyers in the early 1950s and was enshrined in the UD Athletic Hall of Fame.

Michael Currin with his mom Callie. CONTRIBUTED

Recounting the tale in a video interview with Barrett Cohen, Moeller’s alumni director, Michael told how the family took part in a fun run in Venice and, though he was just eight, he had run the whole way alongside his 38-year-old father.

Michael remembered looking over at his dad as they neared the finished line: “He was more on the street and I was more on the sidewalk…The last thing he ever said to me was 'keep going!”

Excited to make his dad proud, Michael surged ahead.

“Joe knew something was wrong,” said Kremer, who coached both Michael and Joe at Moeller. “He was starting to have a heart attack and he wanted Michael to keep going.”

After he crossed the finished line, Michael’s exuberance soon turned to concern.

“He never crossed and it was like a sense of…I don’t even know how to describe it ... a sense of loss,” he told Cohen. “I felt empty. It was a really, really strange, eerie feeling, I knew something was up.”

ExploreFamily friend remembers Michael Currin

An hour later he said he and his siblings were brought into a room with their mom and told the truth.

“He’d passed away,” Michael said. “That was the hardest day of my life.”

He kept hearing his dad’s last words to him: “Keep going!...Keep going!”

But rather than a millstone of sorrow, they became a touchstone of strength.

They buoyed him through All Saints Elementary School and into Moeller, where he became a top student and an accomplished, two-sport athlete, part of the Crusaders' 2019 state championship basketball team as a junior and then the starting point guard on an equally-talented team whose bid for a repeat title last March was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Centerville's Drew Thompson puts up a shot defended by Archbishop Moeller's Michael Currin March 11, 2020 in their Division I Regional boys basketball semifinal at Xavier University's Cintas Center. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

But what stands out most about Michael was his character, Kremer said: He was good-hearted, compassionate, always willing to give to others.

“The main reason I chose Moeller was that I wanted to follow my dad’s footsteps and become a Man of Moeller just like he was,” Michael said.

And for much the same reason he came to UD this year, even though his academic resume and the scholarship opportunities that came with it brought offers from many schools, including Notre Dame.

“The tradition of Dayton meant a lot to him and his family,” said Kremer.

His grandfather and dad both had found athletic success at UD, and he hoped to do the same.

“I’d been in talks with the basketball coaches a UD about him being a preferred walk-on,” Kremer said. "He had had an incredible basketball career for us. He wasn’t your prototype Division I athlete, but he was such a good player and would have been a terrific walk-on for UD.

“But we were unable to get that settled because of COVID. They weren’t sure what they were going to do, but it was something Michael still hoped for.”

That dream – and every other – was cut short early last Sunday morning when he was found lying severely injured in the street where Pursell Avenue comes into Wayne Avenue in East Dayton, nearly a mile from his Marycrest dorm room.

That night he had been with other students from Moeller and the Cincinnati area. As investigators have learned, some of them wanted pizza, which they planned to get from the Wayne Avenue Cousin Vinny’s, which stays open until 4 a.m.

Currin volunteered to pick up the food and is said to have gone off alone

Investigators – who are still piecing together what exactly happened – said he got a ride in the bed of a pick-up truck. Somehow he fell out of the truck and suffered a traumatic brain injury when he hit the road.

The people inside the pick-up didn’t stop or call for help. A woman on her way to work spotted Michael lying in the roadway at 3:30 am.

He was found some 10 blocks in the wrong direction on Wayne from the route you’d take between campus and the pizza place. Homicide detectives have joined the investigation and Wednesday it was announced the truck and some of its occupants had been identified.

Currin was taken to Miami Valley Hospital and pronounced dead on Monday.

Always the giver, his organs and tissue were donated to help others. His mother and his three younger siblings – sister Anna and brothers John and Drew – joined the hospital’s surgical team to make the final “honor walk” to the operating room as one of Michael’s favorite songs, “Up” by Thomas Rhett, was played.

Doctors said his organs could save up to eight other people, and his skin could go to 125 people.

For many though, that final act of giving is eclipsed by the profound sense of loss.

Not only did this bring back memories of the sudden death of his young father, but it’s been amplified by the sorrow that came just four months ago when his grandfather – Big Jim, as many knew him – died at age 90.

And now Monday, Michael will be buried in a private service, although a live stream will be available on the Moeller website. Sunday, family and friends of Michael will be received from 3 to 6 p.m. at Moeller.

“There’s been just all kinds of pain with their family,” Kremer said quietly. "This has been extremely painful for everybody really. It’s because he was such a uniquely great kid.

“Unfortunately, there’s no magic thing we can do to get through this.”

To help with that, people have clung to those two words that so carried Michael.

“Keep Going 25” – a reference to Michael’s basketball jersey number – is painted on a white sheet draped over the Crusader statue at the school. It’s become a popular hashtag phase and it is printed on t-shirts designed by Moeller soccer coach Michael Welker.

The Crusader statute at Moeller High School with the rallying cry honoring Michael Currin. CONTRIBUTED

The shirts are being sold as a fundraiser in Michael’s name, and in just one day nearly $20,000 was collected. Now there’s talk those powerful two words may end up on the Crusaders' basketball warm-ups this coming season.

“That’s become the rallying cry for all of us,” Kremer said. "We’re struggling, but somehow we’ll get through it. We’ll draw on those two words:

“Keep going!”

‘I’ve never been around a better kid’

Kremer – who grew up in Troy and graduated from Miami East High School – has coached at Moeller 34 years. As the head coach, his teams have compiled a 546-146 record, made seven trips to the state’s Division I Final Four and won four state crowns.

Joe Currin was on his first team.

After that, Joe headed to the Air Force Academy, spent a semester at the prep school there and, in Kremer’s words "decided that wasn’t for him… After Christmas, he joined Huggs (Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins) as a walk-on at UC.

“The next year he went to where he should have all along. He went to UD.”

Joe’s dad, Jim, had lettered three years with Flyers football. He was Chuck Noll’s roommate and his football equal.

A 6-foot-1, 215-pound end, he was the MVP of the 1951 team, voted to the All Catholic All-America team, starred in the New Year’s Day Salad Bowl game against Houston in Phoenix – the only Division I bowl bid UD ever received – and his nine TD receptions that season still rank fourth all-time in the Flyers' record books.

Jim Currin was Joe Currin's father and Michael Currin's grandfather. Jim is a member of the University of Dayton Hall of Fame. CONTRIBUTED

After the season, the Baltimore Colts made Jim a 16th-round pick in the NFL draft. But an Army draft notice ended his pro career, and a year later he married Judy, a union that would last 64 years and produce 10 children.

Joe was the youngest and at UD – “against all odds” Flyers teammate Andy Gaydosh said Thursday – “he had pretty successful career.”

He joined Jim O’Brien’s team as a 6-foot-5 walk-on for the 1992-93 season, played in every game, eventually became a starter and averaged six points a contest.

The following season O’Brien put him on scholarship, but cautioned it could be for just a year. Although he played in all but two games, Joe never started and his playing time and production were limited.

After winning just 10 of 57 games those two seasons, O’Brien was fired and his replacement, Oliver Purnell, didn’t renew Joe’s scholarship.

Joe Currin, Michael's father, was a walk-on basketball player at the University of Dayton who became a starter. University of Dayton photo

Joe didn’t play his final year at UD, but was part of a new team.

“He and Callie (Moody) were college sweethearts,” said Chip Hare, the 6-foot-10 star of the Flyers back then, who became a 1,323 point scorer and is now the athletics director of Piqua Schools.

“We all spent a lot of time together. Joe was a great guy. You trusted him on and off the court. And from everything I’ve heard, his son was the same. He seemed to be following in his father’s footsteps.”

Gaydosh, now a prominent Realtor in the Miami Valley, felt the same: “Joe was a phenomenal human being and Michael seemed to be just as impressive.”

Kremer knew Michael well and said Joe’s old teammates are right:

“He made everyone around him feel better. He challenged people to live better. I’ve been in the business a lot of years, and I’ve never been around a better kid.”

‘He did so much at Moeller’

Missy Mikula’s son went to grade school and high school with Michael, and they both played on the Crusaders' golf team.

On Tuesday, she launched a GoFundMe page with hopes of raising $2,000 to give to Miami Valley Crime Stoppers as a reward to help get information on who was responsible for Michael’s death.

She was stunned by the response.

In less than 48 hours, $62,140 was raised and now, with investigators making headway, she’s disabled the fund. She plans to donate $5,000 to Crime Stoppers and the rest will go to the Michael Currin ’20 Memorial Fund, which is continuing to take donations at www.moeller.org/currin.

Everybody wants to do something because of the type person Michael was, Kremer said:

"So many kids are posting things on social media about him,, and some are just so beautiful. He was just the nicest, sweetest kid.

"He did so much at Moeller. He was president of the National Honor Society. He was a top student, was in all the organizations, was one of the captains of the basketball team, was a good golfer and, yet, more than all of that, what really stands out is how he treated people.

Michael Currin. Photo courtesy of Barret Cohen/Moeller

"Kids are telling stories. The say, ‘I was a nobody, but Michael Currin treated me like I was important.’ You hear that over and over.

“In my 37 years of education, he’s one of the most mature kids I’ve ever been around.”

Kremer believes much of that goes back to the death of his dad:

"Even though he was just eight, Michael was the oldest and thought he had to step up and be the man of the family. Everyone told him it wasn’t his role, but he still tried to take it on.

“When it was time for college, I knew he wouldn’t go far. He wanted to stay close to his family.”

Although he had followed the initial reports of Michael’s death, Hare didn’t find out until Thursday morning that he was the son of his former teammate.

“That really hit me and today’s been really rough,” he said. "I remember going to Joe’s funeral and seeing Callie and the four kids walking behind the casket. It just broke my heart.

“Now comes this. I think of Callie losing a husband, now a son. You try to imagine it, but you truly can’t. You want to do something, but you don’t quite know what.”

Somehow, it has to go back to those two words:

“Keep going!”

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