In a Kentucky city hit by a twister, a highschool soccer workforce brigs therapeutic

Practically a yr after a lethal twister ravaged Mayfield, Ky., its highschool soccer workforce is on the verge of a state championship.

Senior wide receiver and cornerback Novi Barnes hugs cheer mom Wendy Walker after she gave him a bucket of treats for the ride to Lexington for Friday's Kentucky 2A state championship game.
Senior extensive receiver and cornerback Novi Barnes hugs cheer mother Wendy Walker after she gave him a bucket of treats for the journey to Lexington for Friday’s Kentucky 2A state championship sport. (Austin Anthony/For The Washington Publish)


The soccer gamers milled about on the health club ground Thursday afternoon, some in sport coats, some in sweatpants, as band members fiddled with devices and cheerleaders riled up the scholar physique: “Beat Tigers,” “Beat Tigers.” It was one other pep rally at Mayfield Excessive, this one the formal send-off for a dynamo workforce that had been via seemingly the whole lot and emerged on the opposite facet with one closing problem: Friday’s Kentucky state championship sport.

“We need all y’all’s support there,” Sam Stone, a senior offensive lineman, informed his classmates within the bleachers. “We really appreciate the support you’ve given us this year. I just got one thing to say: It’s going to be a movie.”

Practically a yr earlier, that very same health club served as a group useful resource heart within the days after a twister plowed via the area, upending the city and uprooting households. Tables had been stuffed with donated diapers and meals, and the bleachers had been full of folded garments and jackets. “Like a mini-Walmart,” stated Joe Morris, the college’s longtime soccer coach.

Perspective: Fascinated by house, after the storm

Nobody will neglect these early days. Morris spent hours making an attempt to trace down his gamers, who had misplaced energy, cellphone service and in some circumstances their houses. He drove to at least one participant’s home solely to find it was gone.

“It was just, you know, not there,” he recalled in an interview this week. “I don’t really know how anybody survived in that house.”

Mayfield is a city of about 10,000 in Western Kentucky, nearer to Nashville or St. Louis than Louisville or Lexington. It was additionally floor zero for a lethal twister that blasted via the area final Dec. 10, decimating houses and companies, tearing on the material that held collectively a tightknit group.

“It was like a loud roar, the house rumbling and shaking,” Novi Barnes, a senior extensive receiver for the Cardinals, recalled this week. “You could feel all that. That’s when you knew it was serious.”

The dying toll throughout the area finally hit 80, together with two dozen from Mayfield and the encompassing county. The twister turned components of downtown Mayfield into messy piles of bricks and rubble. The roof was ripped off the courthouse, and the police and hearth stations had been destroyed. The candle manufacturing unit on the town was flattened, and lots of native companies had been misplaced.

A yr later, the city remains to be reeling however recovering. Whereas some landmarks, reminiscent of Carr’s Barn Bar-B-Q, have rebuilt and reopened, others, reminiscent of the favored Wilma’s Kountry Kitchen on twelfth Road, stay shuttered.

Towards this backdrop, Mayfield soccer gamers reported for spring apply this yr, their lives in numerous states of disarray however collectively in want of one thing else. One thing else to speak about, to consider, to bear the burden of shared feelings, frustrations, hopes.

“These kids, a lot of them were living in hotels, didn’t have power. Some of them, homes were lost, they had to relocate, living with family members. It’s definitely been a tough year,” Morris stated. “For our community, I think this team has brought a ray of sunshine, I guess, a smile to their faces. This is a blue-collar town. This town is tough. We’re going to bounce back, and I think this football team has helped [the town] heal a little bit.”

The workforce has been a powerhouse for many years, showing in 24 state championship video games since 1959. Morris’s father, Jack, was the college’s legendary coach for years, accounting for 4 of these titles. Joe Morris took over in 1999 and has by no means had a shedding document, successful six state titles in 23 seasons. In June, he was inducted into the Nationwide Excessive College Athletic Coaches Affiliation Corridor of Fame.

Even earlier than the twister tossed the city into upheaval, although, Morris knew he was approaching knowledgeable crossroads. He retired from instructing final December and wasn’t certain whether or not he would proceed as the college’s coach and athletic director. After the mud settled and the vacations handed, he took a few weeks and realized he didn’t have a lot of a selection. The workforce wanted him. The city wanted the workforce. And he wanted one thing.

“He’s got too much to give to the game,” stated Larry Joe Seay, a detailed buddy of Morris who owns Seay Motors auto dealership on the town. “That Morris name just means too much to Mayfield football, and we needed that stability right now.”

Morris knew he had a particular group returning, however nobody was fairly certain how the twister would impression the workforce on or off the sector. He contemplated how a lot to reference the twister on the apply area and within the locker room, finally deciding that soccer must be a refuge.

“What we needed was to get that off our mind,” Morris stated.

In order that they tried to deal with the season like another. They quietly mowed via opponents, and the entire city appeared to funnel into the 73-year-old Warfare Memorial Stadium on Friday nights. It may need been solely a three-hour blip, however there have been occasions that nobody in Mayfield was preoccupied with the devastation that was left within the twister’s wake.

“I think people were looking for normalcy,” Seay stated, “and normalcy for Mayfield football is winning.”

The city tried to concentrate on what that they had, not what that they had misplaced. They talked about upcoming video games in opposition to small-school rivals reminiscent of Paducah Tilghman and crosstown foe Graves County and in contrast Morris’s newest group with a few of his previous champions.

The Cardinals completed the season undefeated. It wasn’t till final week’s Class 2A semifinal sport in opposition to Lexington Christian, a 38-28 Mayfield win, that Morris bothered reminding his gamers what that they had already overcome.

“I said, this here, this ain’t adversity,” Morris recalled. “Adversity is what happened to us 51 weeks ago on December 10. That’s adversity. This is a football game. And adversity is going to hit us during football games. But it’s nothing like we all went through.”

He didn’t want to say the main points. How two of his gamers misplaced their houses. What number of spent days dwelling in lodge rooms. How some needed to quickly relocate to different cities, rooming with distant members of the family. Others left city for good.

The gamers had banded collectively within the weeks that adopted the twister, offering greater than leisure for his or her battered group. Jutarious “Juju” Starks, the Cardinals’ star operating again, was a kind of there within the health club, the mini-Walmart, pushing a buying cart loaded with meals and provides forwards and backwards to the parking zone the place individuals in want stored displaying up.

“I mean, every single person was affected somehow,” Morris stated. “So I think everybody became closer — the whole community came closer together — because we’ve got to fight through this and this is the only way we know to do it.”

After the pep rally Thursday, your complete workforce boarded a pair of buses to make the four-hour drive to Lexington, the place the Cardinals will face Beechwood, the two-time defending state champion, on Friday afternoon. A yr later, perspective has shifted for gamers and the larger group. Mayfield soccer is only a distraction. However what a much-needed distraction it turned out to be.

“It just made me think of life, like, don’t take nothing for granted because you never know what’s going to happen,” Barnes stated. “As I go into every football game, I just think, this could be my last one.”

Austin Anthony in Mayfield, Ky., contributed to this report.

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