About 30 seconds before he was to run the 200-meter dash, Austin Rohe’s friends told him he’d just won a car or a $25,500 scholarship.

The Richmond High School senior was one of 120 students being recognized at Wayne County Area Chamber of Commerce’s Senior Celebration for near-perfect school attendance this year. Rohe hasn’t missed a day.  

However, the baseball and track athlete already juggling two spring sports couldn’t attend the April 25 giveaway at First Bank Kuhlman Center. Afterward, friends stopped by the track meet to tell him he’d won his choice of a Honda HRV, Chevy Trailblazer or an equivalent scholarship.

Rohe first thought they were joking, but some text messages made the news seem real.  

He chose the scholarship, which will help him study mechanical engineering at Purdue University. He’s already gaining practical experience through an internship at Ahaus Tool & Engineering toward his dream of working with rockets at NASA.

Rohe’s mom, Patricia Rohe, cried almost immediately after learning the good news, but he didn’t see the instant reaction of his dad, Ed Rohe, because he was working.

Rohe said he believes the program is motivational because he’s heard a lot about it throughout his high school career. It was discussed at home too, because older brother Ryan won a backpack in 2020.

School is Cool is a good reminder for students to “think ‘I really need to show up to school and apply myself,’ and good things will come, not just winning awards, but with what naturally comes with hard work,” Rohe said.

This year, more than $287,000 in scholarships and prizes were awarded. All students received $1,000 scholarships from both Indiana University East and Ivy Tech Richmond.

“Adding these scholarships to the lineup has been another layer of validation that showing up every day counts,” said WCACC President and CEO Melissa Vance in a release. “Being present helps students succeed in school, employees succeed at work, and it helps us all succeed in life.”

Wetzel Auto and First Bank Richmond are key sponsors for School is Cool, which also receives support from about 200 more WCACC members. Wetzel has donated a total of $268,000 over the program’s 13 years.

Garry Kleer, First Bank Richmond’s chairman and CEO, helped fellow chamber board members start School is Cool in 2009.  

“We knew we needed to reach kids at a young age with the message that attendance matters,” Kleer said in the release. “Hopefully, as these kids grow up learning that determination, it will become a lifelong habit.”

Seniors chose their lucky prize number and awaited the drawing while enjoying new amenities including a photo booth, music, pizza, games and Eastern Indiana Works’ virtual reality goggles that helped them try out various careers and workforce activities.

Each won a prize worth at least $50, including AirPods, North Face backpacks, gift cards, speakers and TVs. Runner-up Myah Quinn of Northeastern received a $500 Best Buy gift card.

One elementary pupil’s name is drawn for a bike, and a middle schooler receives an electric scooter. All six high schools receive concert tickets for winners in grades 9-11.

Attendance honorees

These seniors earned recognition through Wayne County Area Chamber of Commerce’s School is Cool program.

Centerville: Elijah Bellew, Hunter Bennett, Grant Burdette, Madison Burdette, Sydney Burley, Phoebe Chasteen, Emma Cooper, Alissa Corder, Aiden Crowe, David Current, Lillyan Dickerson, Alec Erbse, Cole Farlow, Samuel Gibbons, Carter Heaston, Brianna Holliday, Wyatt Hoos, Cole Jordan, Emily Kaucher, Mia Lickfelt, Jackson Marker, Collin Martin, Ava Miles-Cooper, Aubrey Morgan, Lydia Pentecost, Clayre Rader, Kendyl Rader, Bryce Reagan, Drake Shadle, Hannah Stapleton, Drew Stelle, Zoey Stephenson, Emma Straszheim, Gabrielle Todd, Michael Whipple, Malorie Woodruff, Kaiden Woods

Hagerstown: Alex Beckman, Caleb Claywell, Wyatt Cross, Eli Debruler, Aiden Jackson, Carter Jenkins, Mason Romack, Brendin Sonntag, Ashlyn Smith, Chase Sutherland, Ethan Werking, Carson Wyatt

Lincoln: Kaila Arthur, Zach Bates, Austin Brooks, Mallory Burns, Zariah Davis, Adam Keiser, Ellie Mettler, Marshall Pate-Moistner, Eli Robinson, Karly Smith, Kaden Southerland, Gavin Trent, Chandler Wilson, Carter Wright

Northeastern: Conner Austerman, Alexia Bird, Deonte Brown, Blayne Bry, Alexis Caldwell, Marissa Cates, Chase Cates, Zoe Cline, Jonathan Evans, Brandon Frame, Thomas Gard, Charlotte Green, Aaron Griffith, Craig Griffith, Caleb Harmon, Maxxwell Johnting, Grant Luebbe, Kamryn McFarland, Michael Mead, Keaton Mikesell, Mason Mull, Ethan Neeley, Alexander Parker, Myah Quinn, Corbin Retz, Carson Terrell, Brooklyn Wheeler, Isaac White, Baylee Wissler, Alicia Woodall, Cadence Wright

Richmond: Jackson Amos, Anthony Aquino, Mallory Cook, Jackson Cornett, Tu’Shawn Farris, Alan Hernandez Dorantes, Luke Hilbert, Aaron Lady, Cayden Lindahl, Jacob Martin, Ashutosh Mishra, Paighton Morken, Alexandra Parker, Krisha Patel, Austin Rohe, Grace Thalls, Kira Walker, Nevaeh Wool

Seton: Ella Berger, Kara Berger, Piper Clarke, Kyndal Davis, Jack Martin, Josey Meeks, Nick Radar, Zach Teng

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A version of this article appeared in the May 3 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.