The inaugural Ring of Honor ceremony was held on January 10, 2023 at Timber Ridge School (TRS) in Cross Junction, Virginia. The Ring of Honor was created as a way to permanently recognize and honor student alumni, current and former staff, coaches, athletic directors, and members of the community for their personal success and contributions to Timber Ridge School, not only through the athletic program. Student alumni (2010), Kevin Johnson, pitched the idea to Derek Unger, CEO, as his “way of giving back”. A committee was formed to develop the nomination process, define categories, make the selections and plan the ceremony. For the inaugural Ring of Honor, nine individuals were chosen to be inducted in one of three categories.
Supporter: Someone who contributed to the overall success of all Timber Ridge School programs through donations of their time and/or finances.
- Robert Gordanier (deceased)
- Mort Künstler and Künstler Enterprises
- Ron McDole
Staff/Coach: Someone who coached a minimum of one sport for at least three years; demonstrated a high level of sportsmanship and leadership; and modeled the importance of character in each athlete.
- Jim Barretta
- Christine Taylor
- Vic Williams
Student Alumni: A former student who completed program goals and/or was discharged in good standing; participated in one interscholastic sport; demonstrated excellence while competing ; acted as a positive role model demonstrating leadership qualities; maintained a high level of sportsmanship; and after being discharged, exemplified a high level of citizenship and values consistent with Timber Ridge school as demonstrated by his current life experiences.
- Ron Estep (1989)
- Kevin Johnson (2010)
- Ron Poulin (1975)
The ceremony was attended by current and former students and staff, and family and friends of the inductees. Following the ceremony was a reception and a Titans home basketball game.
As CEO and master of ceremonies, Derek Unger explained that the TRS athletic program “allows our young men to develop a rapport and camaraderie that our students may not experience in the public school environment”. TRS was first established in 1971 as a non-profit residential treatment center and school and three years later the sports program was launched with generous donations. The first football season was in 1974 coached by inductee, Jim Barretta. Since then, basketball, wrestling, softball, soccer, and track were added.
Trending shorter stays, beginning in 2012, have had a huge impact on the athletic program and the pandemic in 2020 stopped all athletic events, but TRS is making a comeback this year with current athletic director, Dustin Long. “Sports at Timber Ridge has always been more than just competing in a sport,” retired athletic director Chris Taylor said in her acceptance remarks. “Sports were a way to help the young men learn how to get up after getting knocked down; about leadership, working with others and building the athlete’s character.”
The Ring of Honor ceremony was much more than just a ceremony where nice presentations were made and inductees received a Ring of Honor medal and certificate. Each inductee’s acceptance remarks included advice and well wishes for current students. These will have lasting impact. Mort Künstler’s daughter, Jane Künstler accepted the award stating that Mort earned his success through relationships and telling the student that being “kind, honest, and respectful helps build relationships”. She also stated, “You, too, can do something you love (like Mort) and use it to help others”.
Former students spoke about the significant impact that Timber Ridge School had on the path of their lives. Their messages were touching and inspiring – don’t give up on yourself, be open to letting others help you, enjoy sports, meet all kinds of people, and build relationships and a support network for yourself. Kevin Johnsons’ message to current students was to “have dreams, set goals, never give up and believe in yourself – TRS is not just a school but a home and I am forever grateful.”
The ceremony concluded with the student alumni inductees revealing three banners hung for each category listing each honoree. Not only were banners hung in the gymnasium as a physical reminder of these inductees and the event, but the effects of the inaugural event and words spoken will resonate in our current students, and for some, will have a significant impact on their progress towards their individual treatment goals and their future outlook. The 2024 Ring of Honor nomination period will open in July 2023.