Where the heck is Bradford?

Right now, up in northern Ohio and other places in our great state, I bet that question was being asked by a lot of people. Who is this Bradford Railroader team? Where is their school? Where the heck is Darke County? Are they really in Ohio?

Well, If they didn’t know before, they know now! The Bradford Lady Railroaders, from Darke County just won the State Softball Championship, and they did it in style! Bradford has had three teams total reach the state semifinals, the football team in 1982, the 2018 softball team, and now the 2021 Lady roaders. This is its first State Championship in any sport, and dang it…We all can’t be prouder of them!

Bradford is a small school in a village of about 2100 people. State Route 721 runs through the middle of town, and just north of town is a very nice school built about 20 years ago. The entire school has less than 500 students total, and the town itself has very little industry in it.

There is nothing that is particularly outstanding about this former railroad hub. It is your typical small town, but its people are friendly and are proud of their town, and its railroad history. The great thing about Bradford and its softball team this year is this a real Cinderella story we all hear about.

We should have seen this coming. Coach Shon Shaffer arrived eight years ago and like every coach, wanted to build a program first, then a culture. I asked Coach when he felt like he was turning the corner at Bradford, and without hesitation he said “four years ago, I started thinking ‘Wow, we could be pretty good’!”

I also asked him how long he wanted to be at Bradford, and he said “As long as they’ll have me!” (I think he is pretty safe for a while!) In 2018, the Lady ‘Roaders made it to the State semi-finals. Covid 19 brought a halt to everything the next year and a half but 2021 was the culmination of this plan for coach Shaffer.

In talking to several of the young ladies, Zoe Brewer, Izzy Hamilton, Emma Canan, Rylee Canan, Skipp Miller, and Maggie Manuel, what strikes you about them is they all seem like normal teenage girls; quiet (around people they don’t really know, like me!), reserved and glad to be out for the summer.

You also get the sense from the juniors and sophomores that they know they have to work hard this off- season to continue their success. I asked them about having a superstar like Skipp Miller,(just before Skipp showed up) and did they take inspiration from her work ethic?

Of course they did, but they also mentioned very quickly that the seniors, all 5 of them, provided great leadership!

This current group of young ladies have now set a standard for others to emulate. They have started something big for their school and I wondered if they had thought about that. They all seemed to think that next year they would be “pretty good” and they only lose 5 seniors, so they are still young.

This year has brought that winning mindset to the ladies, and you can tell it. They are looking forward to the next season, and yes they want to continue the winning tradition, and winning is contagious!

Coaches, administrators, teachers, students, parents and townspeople all want to be proud of their school. A school’s athletic teams seem to set a tone for that atmosphere. Every coach wants to be around long enough to build his program into a culture, but it takes the pride, determination, and skill of the athletes to make it work.

Bradford has turned a corner. This once non-descript small school in southwest Ohio is now in the spotlight. People around the State now know who they are. They are State Champions…and they want more.

The Bradford Lady ‘Roaders are Champions in more ways than just softball, they are setting an example of what it takes to be successful in life, too. As Vince Lombardi once stated “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary!”

This group of young ladies get that…they have worked hard and set a good example for the future Lady ‘Roaders and others to follow. Hopefully, once they get out of school, and go to college, trade school, or just go to work, hopefully, they will return and help Coach Shaffer continue to build that winning culture, and make Darke County and Bradford better places to live.

Congratulations coach and Ladies, Darke County could not be prouder of you, and we wish you much continued success! That’s the way I see it, from the sidelines.


By Michael Stegall

From the Sidelines

Contributing columnist Mike Stegall a 27 year former OHSAA high school football official and current Darke County Commissioner