Oklahoma team opens football practice on field charred by wildfires

Cameron Smith

A drought throughout Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle set the stage for dramatic droughts that led to wildfires which have scorched much of the Sooner state. As it happens, those fires have coincided with the start of football practice for high schools across the state, leaving school football programs caught between preparing for the forthcoming season and scrambling to live life as they know it.

That dichotomy was never more evident than at Luther (Okla.) High, where the Luther Lions opened practice on fields that were literally charred by the fast-spreading wildfires.

As Luther coaches and players told the Oklahoman, a return to the football field was a return to normal, providing a reprieve from the day-in, day-out trauma that has come with the wildfires across the state.

"With school being back in on Thursday, and football getting going, we'll get back to normal again," first-year Luther head coach Shawn Meek said. "I think the identity of any small town is the school. That's what they have their pride in.

"In order to recover from something like this, people have to get back to normal, get back to consistency, get back to something being regular. To small towns in August, that's school and football."

As the Oklahoman made clear, even if football practice provided a mental escape from the fires, there was no escaping the impact of the natural disaster. Trees within 20 yards of the edge of the field -- easily within distance of an overthrow from a passing drill -- stood like matchsticks, torched by the passing fires. The edges of the field on which the team practiced itself were blackened, as if someone had held an impromptu barbecue and left the residue all over the grass.

Meanwhile, when players aren't practicing, they're trying to help their neighbors get back to normal. Luther quarterback Austin Weathers told the Oklahoman that he and his teammates were working at the town's donation center in the off hours in the days before school opened on Thursday.

At the same time, the players try to keep one teammate in mind: Joey Prince, whose entire house was burned down in the passing blaze.

"Half our field is black from the fire damage, but in a way, I think it brings our kids closer," Meek told the Oklahoma. "That field is a reminder to keep Joey in their minds when he's not here. Nothing good will come out of this — it's a devastating occurrence. But I think it brings the kids closer together. It brings the town closer together.

"The people in this town are tough. We'll get back to normal again."

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