HANCOCK COUNTY — Silver and gold coins plus real gem stones? Sounds like someone’s hidden treasure.

Somewhere on the grounds of the Eastern Hancock school district are several buried treasures boxes. Within each buried treasure box is a key. Those keys lead to surprises worth hundreds of dollars, including rare coins and jewelry.

The problem? Finding out exactly where the treasure boxes are buried. But, just like any good treasure hunt, there is always a map or, in this case, a book with clues to help.

“Buried treasure” is a term many associate with depictions of pirates and other criminals. However, this time, it involves teachers and staff from the Eastern Hancock Community School Corporation.

Two district athletic secretaries, Stacey Jones and Cory Rainbolt, took a challenge presented to them last year by Superintendent George Philhower to come up with something fun and adventurous to “surprise and delight” their fellow co-workers. Jones and Rainbolt came up with the plan to create a treasure hunt surrounding Eastern Hancock School District history.

“Our teachers are always thinking of fun ways to get kids excited about coming back to school every year, and we wanted to come up with something fun for our teachers and staff,” Rainbolt said.

Jones and Rainbolt said they came up with the idea for a treasure hunt after thinking about a show they’d watched on television called “Expedition Unknown.” In that program someone created a will with hidden treasures. The person left clues for all who were interested in a good game of hide and seek.

“Our ladies wanted to do an Eastern Hancock version of this,” Philhower said. “It’s a little over the top and you would not believe the extent they’ve gone to hiding some of the boxes, but I love the idea.”

Jones and Rainbolt took their time, starting the project in September of 2021 when they designed a treasure map — a book called the “Royal Secret.” The book talks about the five treasures and how they can be found by deciphering the clues in the poems inside the book and then looking at artwork from local artists. The book tells the treasurer hunters they must match one piece of artwork with one poem in order to be able to break the code and find the clues.

Jones and Rainbolt started collecting a couple thousand dollars of prizes last year, thanks to a sponsorship from Reynolds Farm Equipment. They then buried keys — each a different shape and color — in five different boxes. When a box is found, the treasure hunter must take the key to the superintendent to claim the prize that corresponds with the key.

The treasure hunt became active earlier this week. Jones and Rainbolt surprised teachers and staff with the treasure hunt opportunity when they handed out the books Monday morning during a back-to-school staff event.

“This has been in the works for such a long time. The prizes are really something and value anywhere from $200 to $350,” Jones said.

Jones’ son helped make the keys and boxes then she, her husband and Rainbolt buried the boxes one Sunday afternoon almost a year ago.

“We didn’t want people to see where things were buried so this took a lot of planning and patience before we could let everyone have fun looking for the treasures,” Johnson said. “We kept it all a secret until we released it this past Monday.”

The first treasure box was found by Eastern Hancock science teacher Karen Survant and her two youngest kids, Maddie, a sophomore, and Hunter, a freshman, Tuesday. They jumped right in and stayed late into Monday night, even using flashlights to look around the grounds. They then came back early Tuesday morning around 6 a.m. to continue the hunt before striking it rich, finding one of the boxes.

They were rewarded with a specially crafted silver dollar and real gems worth several hundred dollars, a true treasure, to go with this year’s school theme — treasure.

“Our prize was quite literally treasure, which who doesn’t want to find real treasure,” Survant said. “The kids and I plan on recruiting their dad and older sister to help with the search for the remainder of the treasure this weekend.”

A second box, the one largest in value with a gold coin worth $350, was found by library instructional assistant Deb Jackson on Wednesday. She dug up the box Thursday and took the key in the box to Philhower who handed over her treasure — the gold coin.

Philhower noted the whole idea has been a lot of fun and was a great way to help generate a little bit of excitement among the staff to kick off the school year.

“It’s one of the crazier things I’ve ever heard of, but I’m really glad they did it,” Philhower said.

As for what other treasures are in the remaining boxes? The ladies say treasurer hunters will have to locate the boxes to find out.

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