Olentangy Local School District Superintendent Mark Raiff got choked up at points as he read the U.S. Army Soldier's Creed in the auditorium at Orange High School.

" ... I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade ... "

Raiff told the 13 Orange students sitting at a table next to him that he was honored to share the stage with them and that incredible opportunities await them.

Orange High School's first military-signing ceremony, held April 24, was similar to the signing ceremonies that high schools hold for student-athletes to sign letters of intent for their chosen colleges. A recruiter from one of the military branches took the mic to talk about each student, and several of the recruiters commented that they were impressed with Orange for giving the recruits this recognition.

Olentangy Liberty High School held a similar event the next day for its military-bound seniors.

This Orange event was the brainchild of Orange Township resident and Army veteran Gregg Flowers, who said the Orange staff was responsive to his ideas.

"Many of you veterans sitting here today never got the respect you should when you came home," Flowers told the audience. "I wanted to make sure they got that respect before they even left Orange Township."

Bryce Koci's entire family was front and center in the audience to cheer him on.

"I'm proud that my son is among the first to be honored," said his father, Bob Koci.

Koci, 18, ships off in August for Army basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia. He has dreamed about serving since he was 8, he said.

Also going into the Army from Orange High School are Sarah Leskovich and Drew Row. Erin Barr will attend the Air Force Academy. Grant Batten and Michael Miller will be in the Air Force ROTC at Bowling Green State University. Jennifer Brann is going into the Air Force Reserve. Trenton Closson and Sebastian Guess are entering the Army National Guard. Destiny Lugo is going to the Marines. Navy-bound are Carson Briggs, Brayden Creasap and Austin Hall.

Liberty High School students enlisting include Jack Cobb (Air National Guard); Alejandro Escamilla (Marines); Mason Hart (Air Force ROTC); Matthew Halvorson (Army ROTC); Lillee Larosa (Army Reserves); Dmitri Minto (Marines); Christopher Osborne (Army ROTC); and Brian Yannone (Marines).

Although there was no signing-day ceremony, at least two students from Olentangy High School plan to serve in the armed forces after graduation, the district said. They are Kelly Griffith (Air Force) and Jett Mooney (Army).

The district also held military appreciation nights this year at high school football and basketball games.

All three Olentangy high schools will hold graduation ceremonies May 20.

Raiff was emotional during his speech partly because three of his four children are in the military: Two are active-duty officers; the other is an Ohio State University student in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps. His son on active duty with the Army Rangers probably will be deployed overseas, he said.

The Orange students received gifts from local groups and individuals, including special red, white and blue cords to wear at the high school's graduation ceremony. Then they all signed a ceremonial letter and received a standing ovation.

Some other central Ohio high schools also hold events recognizing military signings, but even before the signing events at Orange and Liberty high schools, the Olentangy district had a reputation as being military-friendly.

About six months ago, the Ohio Department of Education began handing out a Purple Star Designation to schools that take extra steps such as having a designated staff member who is trained to work with military families and students, and having a website page with resources for military families.

About 34,000 Ohio students have at least one parent who is serving on active or reserve duty, the department said.

Of the 52 Ohio schools that have been honored with a Purple Star Designation, four are in the Olentangy district: Hyatts Middle School, Liberty Middle School, Olentangy High School and Shanahan Middle School. Other schools honored in central Ohio are Hamilton Township High School near Obetz and Big Walnut Middle School in Sunbury.

To view Olentangy's military resources, visit olentangy.k12.oh.us/domain/1090.

sgilchrist@dispatch.com

@shangilchrist