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“The Cut” is a weekly reporters notebook-type essay by an Ideastream Public Media content creator, reflecting on the news and on life in Northeast Ohio. What exactly does “The Cut” mean? It's a throwback to the old days of using a razor blade to cut analog tape. In radio lingo, we refer to sound bites as “cuts.” So think of these behind-the-scene essays as “cuts” from Ideastream's producers.

My school, my band, our tears: Tragic bus crash hits close to home

The marching swing band marches in front of the school as a crowd watches at the dedication of the Tusky Valley Middle-High School on Aug. 31.
Leigh Barr
Ideastream Public Media
I was there when the marching swing band performed at the dedication ceremony of the new Tusky Valley Middle-High School on Aug. 31.

I have worked in news here in Northeast Ohio for more than 25 years. Never have I encountered a story that so deeply impacted me on such a personal and professional level.

I grew up in Tuscarawas County and graduated from Tusky Valley High School. This little piece of rural Ohio has always been home, even when I lived in various Cleveland suburbs to be closer to work.

Until Tuesday, my hometown and high school alma mater were not widely known. Many cannot pronounce Tuscarawas correctly. That all changed Tuesday morning on Interstate 70 near Columbus when a tractor-trailer, an SUV and a charter bus carrying the school’s marching band and chaperones were involved in a tragic crash.

Six are dead including three students and more than a dozen were injured. Tusky Valley is trending on X. What a heartbreaking and surreal day.

The news media describes this region as "small town" and "rural." That is true. But what that doesn’t capture is how deep the roots run for families here. My entire extended maternal family graduated from Tusky Valley. Many of us were in the band. I played the flute and still cherish those memories.

“On Tuesday, it felt like those were all of our kids.”

Tusky Valley’s marching swing band has always been a treasure of the community. I had the privilege to be part of the band under the great Frank Corbi.

Just a few short weeks ago I had the chance to watch the current band in a county-wide show. Though smaller than some of the bands, Tusky Valley’s marching band had a mighty and vibrant sound.

In a nod to the past, the band performed the “Saint Louis Blues” as its opener. It’s a tradition that harkens back decades and ties band members and families together through the years. I can't count the number of times I played it.

I caught up with the band director after the show at the opening of the new middle-high school. I gushed how proud I was of them and how many beautiful memories that show brought back for me. I don’t know how to reconcile that joy of yesterday with the tragedy of Tuesday.

Students hold hands walking in a row across a football field.
J. Nungesser
Ideastream Public Media
Members of the Tusky Valley high school band, arms and hands interlocked, as they marched across the field during a vigil for their classmates and teacher who died Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, when the bus they were riding in was hit by a semitruck on I-70 near Columbus.

This community is closely-knit. Everybody either knows someone personally or knows someone who knows that person. On Tuesday, it felt like those were all of our kids.

You see that interconnectedness in the generous outpouring of support from area organizations, businesses and other school districts all seeking to help in some small way. Social media brought an outpouring of prayers and good wishes, taking temporary pause from the usual vitriol.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring for this district or my hometown, but it’s the selfless outpouring of kindness and charity that I will take with me to sleep.

Bright lights on a dark day.

"The Cut" is featured in Ideastream Public Media's weekly newsletter, The Frequency Week in Review. To get The Frequency Week in Review, The Daily Frequency or any of our newsletters, sign up on Ideastream's newsletter subscription page.

Leigh Barr is a coordinating producer for the "Sound of Ideas" and the "Sound of Ideas Reporters Roundtable."