Last week, violently powerful tornadoes demolished large swaths of the American South, leaving trails of devastation in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia, among other areas. That destruction often included schools and, in a number of cases, the athletic facilities for those schools. Across the South, many teams that were affected are still scrambling to find ways to continue playing, or calling off the remainder of their athletic seasons.
According to Gene Phelps of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, one school in Mississippi went to extraordinary lengths to keep playing, even though it can no longer play at home, or even wear its own uniforms. For the Smithville (Miss.) High baseball program, just competing days after watching its town be demolished by an EF-5 tornado has become a victory of sorts in itself.
"It hasn't set in yet," Smithville first baseman Zach Stephenson told the Daily Journal. "I don't know when it's going to hit me. It's really been amazing the way people have helped out."
On Saturday, Smithville opened its first-round playoff series against Greenville (Miss.) St. Joseph High on the home field of one of its traditional rivals because Smithville's baseball facility was demolished by the tornadoes. The game at Hatley (Miss.) High saw Smithville players wear new, donated uniforms and used gloves, cleats and batting gloves that were contributed by other area programs which weren't affected by the hazardous weather.
"People around here try to take care of each other," Hatley coach Mark Guntharp, who is from one of a handful of the schools which reached out to help Smithville, told the Daily Journal. "On the field yeah, you're big rivals and everything, but that's on the field. When the game's over with, good people take care of good people."
In the end, an emotional Smithville program couldn't quite pull off a series-starting win, falling 9-7 to St. Joseph. Yet the Seminoles still held their heads high for competing so soon after suffering at the hands of a transcendent regional tragedy.
"It's unbelievable," Smithville coach Jordan Summerford told the Daily Journal. "My truck's full of cleats and batting gloves that were donated. All this support means the world to us. All we had to do was ask for it. It's awesome the way North Mississippi has come together to help us.
"At the beginning I was holding back the tears. So were some of the kids. Once we got in the flow of the game, we settled in and played well."