Antwerp’s boys basketball team did more than play a state basketball game last Saturday. They joined the chorus of Paulding County youth in issuing a challenge to all of us, and the future of the area depends on whether or not we rise to meet that challenge.

One doesn’t have to look around much to see the success of local kids. In Antwerp, the cheerleading squad has qualified for state four years in a row and finished this year as runners-up. Brooke and Hannah Molitor both competed in the state gymnastics meet last year as freshmen, and Hannah returned in the all-around as a sophomore. The school boosts an award-winning yearbook, and digital journalism students are producing state-of-the-art newscasts each week.

Which brings us to the boys basketball team. Sure the team advanced to state for the first time in school history. Of course, they won more games in a season than any other squad. It’s true senior Jagger Landers did break the program’s all-time scoring record. He also won both GMC and Paulding County boys’ player of the year. All that was accomplished, and all of it is remarkable in its own right.

Yet the most remarkable accomplishment the team achieved? Despite being just teenagers, the boys offered a master class in leadership and community development to anyone who followed their success. Guided by head coach Doug Billman and his assistants, the team reinforced all the virtues this county was built on and that we presently cherish; that hard work and dedication, coupled with resilience in the face of adversity, are the true paths to success. They reminded us success will attract followers and rally communities together towards common goals. One only needed to look around the north half of the University of Dayton Arena or read the thousands of comments on social media from past and current county residents to see just how much community building the team did during its historical run. The boys led by their example.

Such success isn’t limited to Antwerp though. Paulding boosts an FFA program that routinely sends students to state and national FFA competitions, while Wayne Trace’s concert choir and band will also compete at state, as soon as they finish performing at Universal Studios. Raiders’ senior wrestlers Hunter Long and Jarrett Hornish both won state titles during their careers, and Corbin Kimmel became the first freshman in school history to reach the podium. Based on what these and other youth are accomplishing now, one can assume the county’s future is in good hands.

But is it?

It’s clear the Janae Peases’ and Luke Krouses’ of the county are destined for greatness. That’s plainly obvious. But where will they achieve it? Paulding County? Somewhere else? And this is where that challenge comes in. How will we address the challenges that currently prevent our youth from remaining local?

We need to offer more housing, both single family homes and multi-family dwellings. Businesses and residents need improvements to infrastructure, such as broadband and water and sewer lines, if the county is to grow economically. We need more workers so employers feel comfortable moving here and trusting jobs can be filled.

To be clear, community leaders are working hard on these issues. County Commissioner Mike Weible, PCED Director Tim Copsey and township trustees are partnering to expand broadband access to areas without any. Communities such as Payne, Antwerp and Paulding, are coming together to explore options for water regionalization. Elected officials, business and civic leaders, too numerous to name, are working tirelessly on improving life in the county.

Yet, the challenge remains: are we doing everything we need to do to ensure we provide the opportunities our youth need to stay in Paulding County post-graduation? When we rise to that challenge, we will truly be Paulding County strong.