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Months after tornado, Mississippi town returns to football

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

On Saturday and Sunday, Hurricane Irene rolled through the Atlantic seaboard, flattening parts of North Carolina, downing trees and causing electrical outages in New York and postponing sporting events all over the place. Needless to say, it was a serious storm.

Still, as bad as some of the damage from Irene may have been, it had nothing on what hit Smithville, Miss., on April 27. That's when an EF-5 tornado tore through the town, demolishing houses and structures throughout the rural community … including the Smithville (Miss.) High football stadium.

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Smithville football stadium

Smithville football stadium

Incredibly, the Smithville Seminoles are back in their own home confines for the 2011 football season, thanks in large part to an incredible outpouring of public support and significant repair efforts from the entire Smithville community of 900 residents.

As documented in detail by the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Smithville kicked off its 2011 campaign on Friday night against conference rival Hatley (Miss.) High. The Friday football game provided the first opportunity for the entire town to gather together at a single communal site since the devastating tornado, which killed 16 people, with the entire town coming out in support in a form of public catharsis.

"Smithville has always been about football, since the beginning," town resident Vivian Grier told the Daily Journal at the season opener. "Seeing football in Smithville, it is a new life."

That the first game to take place on the school's renovated home facility featured Hatley was also touching, in a strange twist of fate. Shortly after the tornado, Smithville's baseball team needed to find a new home field to compete in the 2011 baseball state playoffs. With nowhere else to turn, neighboring Hatley stepped forward to offer up its own home field for Smithville's use.

On Friday, Hatley edged its recovering rival, 7-6, but that hardly took away from a memorable night on which the "Star-Spangled Banner" was sung beneath a flag that had previously flown above the U.S. Capitol; both teams celebrated a small town's resilience in the face of weather's most dedicated efforts to destroy it, and a part of Mississippi finally got back the sense of normalcy it felt it may have lost forever on a stormy day in April.

"We want to send a message that we're on the rebound," Smithville Mayor Gregg Kennedy, who officially made getting the 2011 football season kicked off on schedule his No. 2 priority after the tornado last spring, told the Daily Journal. "Nothing can lick us. We will come back bigger and better than ever."

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