By Adam Ganucheau/NEMS Daily Journal
A Northeast Mississippi softball team traveled to Oklahoma for a softball tournament, but the players and their families will return with a humbling experience of service – and a firsthand experience of what it’s like to be in the midst of a deadly Midwest twister.
The Mississippi Krush 2000 softball team, a group of 12-year-old girls from Lee, Itawamba, Tishomingo and Pontotoc counties, along with their families, drove 10 hours to Norman, Okla., to play in the tournament and planned to volunteer Friday in nearby Moore, which was devastated in a May 20 tornado.
Instead, they sat for hours Friday in the protection of a Norman hotel basement as a second round of tornadoes ripped through the area, killing nine people, injuring dozens and destroying more property. The storms Friday knocked out power in Moore, producing some difficulty for the group’s plan to help.
“We tried to go help out on Friday, but the area experienced such another bad storm,” softball grandparent and Tupelo resident Eddie Sullivan said. “It seemed ironic that we were there to help out and then we were in the middle of more storms.”
The group planned six months ago to travel to Shawnee, Okla., for the OKC Challenge softball tournament. When the devastating EF-5 tornado hit Moore on May 20, parents and coaches of the team had a decision to make.
Instead of just driving to Oklahoma with the sole purpose of playing in the softball tournament, members of the team, parents and coaches decided that the trip could be much more beneficial for everyone.
“We had this trip planned for such a long time, and some of the parents thought that it would be great to go up and help out in any way we could in addition to playing the tournament,” Sullivan said. “We knew that the need was unbelievable, so we all wanted to go make a difference.”
The skies cleared Saturday and the group helped clear debris at multiple homes that were destroyed and helped pass out water to victims of the storm.
“I can’t even describe the devastation we saw,” softball parent and Belmont resident Tonya Rogers said. “The first thing we wanted to do was go to one of the schools that was destroyed. We got directions to get there, but nothing was recognizable. We never found it.”
Instead, they walked up to destroyed homes and asked the storm victims if they needed assistance.
Before departing to Oklahoma, the group contacted First Baptist Church of Moore and asked what they could do to help.
“We got in contact with Moore Baptist before we left and they told us that the best way they could use us was through donations,” Rogers said. “All of the girls (on the team) asked for donations from people through their churches, and we raised a little over $10,000 total that we gave to Moore Baptist.”
One of the local churches that helped sponsor the donations was West Jackson Street Baptist Church in Tupelo.
“We were already trying to figure out how to help out the victims, and Eddie Sullivan called and told us that the team was going up there,” West Jackson Baptist Pastor Keith Cochran said. “The congregational response was very good. We are taking another offering for the victims this Sunday, as well. It’s always great to help in any way we can.”
While assisting victims in Moore, the group even met storm victims that had ties to Tupelo.
“We helped out a couple from Moore that actually traveled to Tupelo seven years ago for a mission trip,” Sullivan said. “We met another man whose father was born in Tupelo.”
Rogers believes that those Tupelo connections made the trip hit close to home with the group.
“When you see 12-year-old girls in tears after helping people out, you know that something special is happening,” she said. “This is a trip that none of these girls will ever forget.”
The group attended Moore First Baptist Church’s service Sunday and were recognized for their service and donations. The softball team finished sixth out of 40 teams in their age bracket in the tournament and will return to Mississippi today.