Ask anyone from the area and they will likely agree: There is something special about the Derry Area School District community.
“We’re just very humble people,” said Sarah Mikeska, a Derry Area graduate who is the current Derry Area School District Foundation president and a Grandview Elementary School teacher. “I see my parents, my friends’ parents and everybody work very hard, and what we’re given is what we’ve earned so far. And I think everybody in this community knows what a great school district we have — the teachers here really shape the students and they want to give back.”
Now, alumni will have a chance to give back through a new initiative — aimed at channeling Derry Area pride and the district’s proud past into a brighter future — called the Trojan’s Spear. The group, which will operate as a subgroup of the foundation, will focus its efforts to support the four A’s of the school district: academics, arts, agriculture and athletics.
As part of the Trojan’s Spear, five separate programs — an alumni association, an annual fund, capital campaigns, scholarships and a Hall of Fame — have been created to “build camaraderie, increase pride and generate financial support for numerous upcoming projects,” according to a news release on the initiative.
Key to the initiative’s long-term success is involvement and all Derry Area alumni are invited to register online at thespear.dasd.us to become part of the new Trojan Alumni community. Brett Miller, the district’s director of athletics, said plans are in place to issue a quarterly electronic newsletter that features students of the month, an alumni spotlight, recognition of annual donors, athletic and academic honors and more.
“We want to give (alumni) some highlights of the district so they’re still connected to us,” he said. “It’s a way to build a relationship with them.”
Miller said the framework of what became the Trojan’s Spear was formed two years ago when Derry Area honored its 1985 football team.
“I was listening to their stories, their reminiscing and how much the school building has and hasn’t changed,” Miller said of the gridiron reunion.
The idea, Miller said, began with a lettermen’s club and an athletic alumni association but soon grew into a district-wide alumni association after a conversation with the school board. Also that year, the foundation received a $50,000 donation from a private donor to be utilized as seed money for a large project.
“We had these two initiatives traveling side by side before they collided into one with this group that we called the Trojan’s Spear,” he said.
As for the name, Miller said Trojan’s Spear began as “just a creative, interesting and exciting name we put on the alumni association and capital campaign group, and that grew into something even bigger.” The initiative is also using “POREIA PROS TA EMPROS” as a slogan on its social media page.
The annual fund is intended to grow the initiative and help provide funding for Derry Area to be, as the news release describes, on the “cutting edge of education and to have the ability to pivot quickly as educational trends and technology becomes available.” Alumni can contribute to the fund annually through a donation level of their choice: The Trojan’s Spear Society, $2,500 and above; The Victory Gold Club, $1,500 to $2,499; The Royal Blue Club, $500 to $1,499; The Lettermen’s Club, $100 to $499, and The Friends of Derry Area Club, $99 or fewer.
“The annual fund is exactly what it sounds like,” Miller said. “It’s an annual drive for donations from alumni and donors to build up a pot of money to improve the school district from a faculty and staff perspective, to infrastructure, to aesthetics, to equipment, to technology. If there’s something our teachers want to do, we can tap into the annual fund and share that with our alumni.”
Per the news release, the group is “engaged in a feasibility study to determine the viability of launching a capital campaign that supports and enhances the the four A’s of the school district.” Additionally, a special committee within the initiative has been developed to generate funding for scholarships in the four categories; Miller said scholarships amounts will be determined by the amount of funding the Trojan’s Spear generates.
Derry Area’s inaugural Hall of Fame class, meanwhile, will be selected by a designated committee and honored in fall 2021. The Hall of Fame will include several categories — athletics, academics, fine arts, humanitarian and lifetime achievement — and honorees will be comprised of alumni who “have made a valuable contribution to society in his/her personal or professional life” and who have “brought distinction, honor and excellence to the Derry Area through various achievements and accomplishments.”
Those involved with the initiative are set to contact donors. Miller said 20 to 25 people are helping push the Trojan’s Spear forward, and added that the initiative has received positive feedback from alumni after it was announced during a recent Derry Area football game. A alumni kickoff event slated for Friday, Oct. 16, was postponed and is in the process of being rescheduled.
Derry Area School Board president David Krinock said alumni who have signed up to the Trojan’s Spear span multiple generations.
“It spans a lot of years, and it covers a wide spectrum,” he said.
The goal by the end of November, Miller said, is to have about 1,000 people signed up to an alumni directory.
“I really think we can hit that number,” he said. “The more people that are signed up for the directory, the more we can communicate what our efforts and goals are, and the more successful this program will be.”
From there, Miller hopes that number will continue to grow. Those involved with the initiative, he noted, estimated there are more than 12,000 Derry Area alumni that could potentially be part of the Trojan’s Spear.
Among the initiative’s key contributors is Joseph Murin, a 1967 Derry Area graduate and Bradenville native with more than 40 years of experience in the mortgage, banking and financial service industries. The current chairman of JJAM Financial LLC, he previously served as president of the Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae) under the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, and has held CEO positions for a number of financial organizations.
“There’s people who graduated before me and people who graduated after me who never really felt part of the system, other than the fact they went there,” said Murin, who will serve as Trojan’s Spear president and plans to reach out to alumni and assist with the capital campaign. “This (initiative) is going to be kind of the glue to bring grads together for a common cause and a common goal ... you can pull people together, and I think that’s the most important thing right now.”
Murin said his upbringing in the Derry Area community — through his parents, his education and his involvement in athletics, including helping the late William “Doc” Livingston start the Derry Area wrestling program during Murin’s junior year — played a large role in his future professional successes.
“Everybody has a foundation — you get that from your family and you get that from your school,” he said. “Fortunately, I had a great town I grew up in and a great school system that gave me the ability to do the things I’ve been able to accomplish. And that holds true of so many kids who went through the Derry school system. We’re just so happy to have this alumni program and we think we can bring people together and continue that Derry pride.”
“We have a great group of people who have really spent so much time and effort to pull this together,” he continued. “And this is another spoke on the hub that is going to bring so much benefit to the school system on an ongoing basis.”
Krinock praised Miller’s extensive efforts to help push the initiative forward, which also included combing through old yearbooks for photos that were used as part of a short video created by Derry Area graduates Dan and John Flickinger to preview the Trojan’s Spear.
Miller added that the Trojan’s Spear — with increased exposure and a deeper alumni network over time — will pay dividends for future generations of Derry Area students.
“We want to be able to call Derry the best school district in the state,” he said. “We know we already have the best staff in the state, but we want the facilities and equipment to be the best. When families are looking at what school district to move into, we want them to look at Derry. It’s kind of a snowball effect: If you start to improve those things now, it will (pay dividends) 10, 15, 20 years down the road. I know it’s not a short turnaround, but you have to think short-term and long-term about what you’re trying to improve.”
However, what doesn’t need improving is the pride so many have for the school district and the Derry community. And it’s even rubbed off over the years on Miller, a Mount Pleasant native who was hired as Trojans’ athletic director in 2013.
“It’s a good place,” he said. “We had a superintendent years ago that said Derry is one of the best kept secrets in Pennsylvania. I didn’t know what he meant by that because I wasn’t here long enough to really know people, but after eight years in Derry, I get it now.”
And that deep pride is something Mikeska knows firsthand, as a parent of students who attend the district, as a Derry Area alumni and as a current Derry Area teacher.
“For personal reasons, I have overwhelming pride for our school district and our community, and this is very exciting for me that I get to be a part of it,” she said of the Trojan’s Spear.
“I just want to give my children and other children the experiences they deserve that sometimes the school district isn’t able to fund because we don’t have a very big tax base. But what we do have is a lot of people with a lot of pride from Derry, all over the world, that can help support us and give our children some wonderful things that just aren’t feasible with the budget. That’s what I’m most excited about.”