BY RACHEL MELCER
The Cincinnati Enquirer
ANDERSON TOWNSHIP - With bags of groceries, clothes and a Christmas tree, Anderson High School football players carried the holiday spirit to a grief-stricken family Wednesday night.
They boarded a bus for Aurora, where Sherry and Jim Zeinner and their children moved after a Nov. 10 fire destroyed their Bear Branch, Ind., home. The couple's 15-year-old daughter, Jamie, died in the blaze.
Mrs. Zeinner said her family had almost lost the Christmas spirit. But they're heartened by the Anderson Redskins and others who have given their support.
"My husband and I, we're overwhelmed. Not only from the community here in Indiana, because we live here, but from the people who we didn't even know," she said. "It's pretty amazing to me. It has restored my faith in humanity."
Mrs. Zeinner's oldest son, Matt Watson, attended Anderson Township schools until the family moved to Indiana when he was in the second grade.
This year at Indiana State University, his roommate and football teammate, Christopher Ward, is an old friendfrom Anderson Township. Witnessing Matt's grief over his sister's death and the loss of their home, Christopher decided to help.
His mother, Liz Ward, and brother Patrick, a junior on the Redskins team, suggested the team food and clothing drive.
"I'm so proud of the Anderson football team. They pitched in and helped," Mrs. Ward said. "They are realizing the greatest gift of all is the fact that they're able to give."
Football coach Vince Suriano said the team simply decided to gather up groceries and other necessities, and did so.
"This way (the Zeinners) don't have to spend all their money on food. They can spend it on what they need to get their house back, and on doctor's bills and more important stuff like that," Patrick said.
Two of the Zeinners' children, 13-year-old Jacob and 11-year-old Joel, were burned. They recently moved from the hospital into an Aurora house owned by Mrs. Zeinner's sister. Their Christmas keepsakes were lost in the blaze.
"Originally, they didn't even want to have Christmas," Mrs. Zeinner said of the boys and her three other children living at home. "I started bringing little presents and things in to bait them . . . and, little by little, they've been getting back in the swing of it."
When the Redskins' bus pulled up to their temporary home Wednesday night, the Zeinners received a new tree, ornaments and lights - all from an anonymous donor.
Indiana State University donated money, and the football team - as well as the squad at rival Butler University in Indianapolis - sent clothing. Donations are being accepted at Winton Savings & Loan, 10575 Harrison Ave. in Harrison.
The Zeinners had no insurance. Fire investigators said the blaze was ignited by faulty copper wiring at their 100-year-old farmhouse.
Mr. Zeinner and five of his children were home, sleeping, when the fire began. Everyone escaped but Jamie, a sophomore and honor student at Rising Sun High School.
"I guess the only way I find any comfort is to realize that she was such a special person to everyone, God must have needed her up there with him," Mrs. Zeinner said. "There's nothing that anyone could ever say bad about her."
In a videotape of their last Christmas together, salvaged from the burned-out home, Jamie plays a starring role in the festivities. She hands out presents and makes everyone laugh.
"I don't know if we can ever put it back together the way it was, but because of the children, we're making a very, very good effort," Mrs. Zeinner said. "We've been helped so much by everybody's generosity," Mrs. Zeinner said.