A group of local basketball players pose for a photo after handing out hot meals in the Shiloh Gardens neighborhood in Trotwood six days after the Miami Valley tornadoes. Back row (left to right): Jim Dabbelt, Rosie Westerbeck, Allie Downing, Meghan Downing, Maddie Downing, Haleigh Mayo-Behnken, Lauren Hapgood, Callie Hunt, Sam Chable, Nyla Hampton, Shannon Chable. Front row: Kennedy Pierce, Jason Pierce. Submitted photo

Local basketball players hand out hot meals to tornado victims

Jim Dabbelt, a local girls basketball expert, organizes relief effort

» STORIES OF SURVIVAL: Family appreciates ‘real beauty of living’ in Trotwood

The group handed out more than 100 hot lunches — hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, deli sandwiches, desserts, soft drinks, Gatorade and water — in a two-hour span on June 2.

“That first family we got to was sitting on their front porch with no electricity,” said Westerbeck, a first-team All-Ohio selection in 2017. “They hadn’t had hot food unless they went outside into the community for it. To be able to sit with your family at your house and have that hot food is better than anything.”

Jim Dabbelt, one of the leading experts on girls basketball in Ohio, organized the relief effort. He lives in Tipp City now but grew up in Shiloh Gardens. When he heard about the damage, he decided to use his connections in high school basketball to give back to the community.

“I wanted to do something to help,” Dabbelt said. “It’s kind of a reality check. A lot of people have great things going on in their lives. To see something like this, it really puts life in perspective. Once I found out Shiloh Gardens was one of the hardest hit areas, I drove through a couple days later and saw the damage and said, ‘This is where I’m going to help out.’”

» LATEST UPDATE: What you need to know about Miami Valley tornadoes

Dabbelt brought an all-star team with him. In addition to Westerbeck, who also runs the Red Wagon Campaign to benefit Dayton Children’s Hospital and the Children’s Miracle Network, there were:

• Allie Downing, a Tri-Village graduate who earned an all-state first-team honor in 2017 and now plays at Belmont Abbey College.

• Maddie Downing and Meghan Downing, Allie’s younger sisters, who are entering their senior and sophomore years, respectively, at Tri-Village.

• Haleigh Mayo-Behnken, a third-team Division II all-area selection as senior at Greenville who plans to play college basketball at Edison State Community College in Piqua.

• Lauren Hapgood, a 2019 Oakwood graduate who will continue her basketball career next season at Southwest Oklahoma State University, a Division II powerhouse.

• Callie Hunt, a junior at Edgewood.

• Sam Chable, a 2019 Centerville graduate and D-I third-team all-area selection who will play basketball at Ashland University next season. Her sister Shannon also helped.

• Nylah Hampton, a senior at Wayne.

» HELPING HANDS: Miami football players help with clean-up effort

The day began with Jim, his son Montana and Jason Pierce, the owner of JJ’s Lunchbox in Tipp City, meeting at 8 a.m. to cook for three hours. They packed the food into Pierce’s delivery van and met the players in Trotwood. They split into two groups for the walk around Shiloh Gardens and were thrilled by the reactions of the residents.

“We got to see a bunch of tragedy,” Maddie Downing said, “but we got to see the community pull together. The experience of that was amazing.”

“It was really hard to see the trees down and the houses fallen in,” Westerbeck said, “but it was beautiful to see the people still smiling.”

Dabbelt visited his old house, where he lives 40 years ago, and approached the homeowner, telling her the house had sentimental value to him.

“I immediately hit it off with her,” he said. “The house wasn’t hit that bad. Some windows were blown out. She said, ‘Walk around to the backyard.’ The road that was right behind us, the houses that backed up to our old backyard, were all leveled.”

» PHOTOS: What Trotwood neighborhood looks like 2 weeks after tornado

Dabbelt describes himself as a “weather guy.” Long before sports became his passion and he started the Dabbelt Report on JimDabbelt.com to compile his own all-area girls basketball teams and rank high school players, he followed the weather reports, fascinated by the science. Until this month, he had not seen anything like this so close to home.

“This is unbelievable,” he said. “To see it in person is so different than watching it on TV and seeing the videos. To see the people sitting on their porches, not knowing what to do next, a lot of the girls were stunned.”

The residents didn’t have to look at the group of women long to know they all had a common bond. Most of the players wore T-shirts representing their high schools or colleges.

“We all share a common interest and love for the sport of basketball,” Maddie Downing said, “and to pull together and use our love of basketball for a common purpose is amazing.”

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