By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
Author’s Note: Grace Under Pressure is an ongoing series of posts honoring everyday people who courageously make positive differences in their own lives and consequently in the lives of others. It is my own personal affirmation that unexpected heroes live among us and that their service is quiet but unshakable proof that virtue really is its own reward – and ours, too.
“I heard a rumbling,” he says. “I just thought it was thunder and a few minutes — actually a few seconds later — it kept getting louder, and I looked out the front window of my house and I saw the tornado about 300 yards away from me. And I just ran into my basement.” And so began Illinois high schooler, Kevin Scott’s weather borne ordeal that left his home shattered and his dream of a state football championship in about the same shape. Kevin plays for Washington Community High School who had celebrated an undefeated season on Saturday and qualified for the playoffs starting next weekend. They were looking forward to a match against perennial football power Springfield’s Sacred Heart Griffin High School.
Scoot was alone Sunday when the tornado struck but he was not alone in his despair: “Football here is such a community thing,” Washington athletic director Herb Knoblauch said. “Players’ dads played here. For us to get over that hump and reach the semifinals was such a joy. People were so high from that game. People were so happy. Then, by 1 o’clock Sunday, it was the worst devastation that ever could happen. I can’t tell you the emotion.”
Now all of that seemed impossible with a town besieged by destruction so severe that school was cancelled and practice for football on indefinite hold until things could be sorted out. “Multiple players are displaced right now,” Knoblauch said. “They’re trying to gather their stuff. The game Saturday night was a mud bowl. They took their equipment, their jerseys, their spikes, they took it all home.” This isn’t Alabama where players every need from laundry to school work is “handled” by team paid handlers. In Washington, Illinois, players still wash their own uniforms. Some, like Kevin lost everything including their jerseys.
But in a stab to the heart at the jaded view of many about the narcissism so rampant at all levels of football, Sacred Heart Griffin resolved to be more than opponents to Washington Community. Sacred Heart-Griffin coach Ken Leonard decided a day away from Xs and Os wouldn’t hurt anyone and organized a relief effort for his putative foe. Moms of the Springfield players have spent all week arranging to get food for Washington players. They’re also sending six buses to Washington to pick up Panthers fans who may have lost their cars in the storm.
Sacred Heart football mom, Anne Dondanville, says part of football is to look out for each other and applauds Coach Leonard. “We definitely want to win, as do they,” Dondanville says. “But you know, there’s also human kindness and trying to set it up. If it would have happened to us, we’d hope that our opponent would try to make it as level a playing field as you possibly could under these circumstances.”
And Washington football mom, Amy Thompson, gets the message too. Explaining that her son shouldn’t feel guilty about going to practice even as his family and friends are digging through the debris of the tornado,” ‘Honey, the town needs this right now,'” she says. “‘We need to find a positive. And the positive is you guys. And I know that’s a lot to put on your young shoulders, but you guys need to go out there and fight the good fight.’ ”
A “good fight” indeed. And today when these two teams meet, the outcome won’t matter. All involved will get the rare privilege of watching a football game where there are no losers.
~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger