It was a blockbuster crowd in Bear Country on Aug. 5 as more than 4,000 people packed the new Olentangy Berlin High School for their first look inside.

Throngs of people in blue T-shirts bearing slogans such as "Claws up" and "Hibernation is over" funneled through the front doors of Olentangy's fourth high school at 3140 Berlin Station Road after a parade marched around the building and district and elected officials gave opening remarks.

Principal Todd Spinner said he is "more excited than ever" for classes to resume and put into practice what he and his staff have been working on for months.

An 8-foot-tall bear statue and the school's "Bear Family" belief statement are hard to miss upon entering the building.

Among its values, the statement emphasizes diversity, trust, positivity and respect. Those sentiments are echoed throughout the stairwells and locker bays.

"Our belief statement is in every single classroom in the building," Spinner said. "I want to see students filling up these great hallways and doing the great things that are the reason why we're here."

The school will open for classes Aug. 15 with grades 9-11.

Most of Berlin's students previously attended Olentangy High School, 675 Lewis Center Road. Officials redistricted in 2017.

A clean slate

Clad in a homemade "Mom of Bears" T-shirt, Melissa Pettograsso said she is looking forward to supporting her two sons, sophomore Nicholas Pettograsso and junior Aidan Pettograsso, both of whom will play football in the fall.

"We couldn't be more excited about the opportunity to be here," she said. "It's not every day you get to open up a new school and be part of that culture. The football program that they're building is great -- my kids have never been so excited to go back to school."

Incoming junior Sydney Dittmar was among the 55 students chosen to be members of the Claw Team, a group of student ambassadors.

Dittmar, a varsity cheerleader, said she looks forward to being a part of many firsts.

"I'm just really happy to be here and to get to experience the first football Friday night as an Olentangy Berlin varsity cheerleader because no one else will be able to say that," she said.

Claw Team members were among the first students to see the building, because they had to learn their way around before they could serve as tour guides during the Aug. 5 opening event, Dittmar said.

The 307,000-square-foot high school's floor plan is similar to that of Liberty and Orange high schools.

Her favorite part of the new building?

"I think the media center and the collaboration spaces are amazing," Dittmar said. "We have those 60-inch TVs that are touch screens so you can work on them, and the library has a ton of books and other things you can use to research."

Alexis Kaminski was among the 78 new staff members hired this summer. She will teach Advanced Placement physics and physical science and said she feels "blessed."

"Every single classroom you go in, you're going to see top-of-the-line equipment. They've given us the best and that's going to help us facilitate maximum learning."

Kaminski's classroom has an interactive whiteboard and more collaborative space -- gone are the typical rows of lab tables -- to help mimic a real-life environment.

"This is set up so that students can really work as a group," she said. "We want them in group settings, working together as scientists would actually work."

Connecting to the past

Graduates from Berlin's namesake, the Berlin Township School, helped lead the Pledge of Allegiance during this week's opening ceremonies.

The former school was one of several scattered throughout the county that were consolidated to form the Olentangy Local School District in 1952.

It opened in 1915 with just 40 students, who had to take classes on Saturday due to the late start. By comparison, Berlin will welcome about 917 students when classes resume.

Historical items from the original school -- books and an original mailbox among them -- were on display inside the new $69 million building.

The school's fight song and alma mater were written by band director Michael Reeves and choir director Thai Sribanditmongkol, respectively. They contain elements from the original school songs, but have been updated to reflect its new traditions.

Many of the widest eyes in the crowd belonged to Olentangy's youngest students -- those future Bears who caught their first glimpse of the big leagues.

Spinner said he is grateful for the support of the community, but not surprised.

"To have all of those folks is something I didn't even question. They've been here all the way," Spinner said. "That's what makes Olentangy special -- for over 4,000 people to come out to a ribbon cutting -- that's unbelievable, but that's Olentangy."

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