Dana Rhea is in control, as much in control as a man can be over a bunch of girls.
During Monday’s EF-3 Tupelo tornado, the Nettleton softball coach was in a much different situation, with the girls closest to him. Rhea hovered over his three girls, 13, 9 and 4, and his wife in their bathtub as the twister swirled through his Tupelo neighborhood, right through his home near Hwy. 78.
“The whole sky was moving like it was alive,” Rhea said. “I ran in the house, already had the wife and kids in the tub and I just got down on top of my wife and kids and started praying.”
It was far away from today’s delayed Class 3A playoff opener at Booneville. The nightmare left a tree on his totaled truck, another on his roof, a limb through the ceiling some 10 feet from where he protected his family.
“There are families here that lost a lot more than we did. Mine’s fixable,” Rhea said. “I just thank God my family’s safe. You really don’t know how you’re going to respond in a situation where you could lose your life. That was pretty scary. All I could think about was my kids … we started praying, asking God to be with us and take care of us. He’s pretty awesome, because it could have been a lot worse.”
The neighborhood is a shell, not a treetop left, more trees down than up, only a handful of some 25 houses still with roofs.
Rhea’s home-away-from-home doesn’t have a roof. The softball field is comfortable and Rhea and his Lady Tigers have spent a lot of time on it, today at 5 p.m. starting a potential journey to a seventh straight state championship series, three titles. Monday was rough and the Rheas are thankful, but the coach in him expects nothing to roll over to the field.
“I would be very disappointed if they let this affect it,” Rhea said. “Yes, it has affected practice and they’re probably thinking about what’s going on here, but I don’t want it to affect anything. We’re not going to use that as an excuse. We’re going to play ball the first day we get to play ball, whether we get to practice or not. I expect them to play well. We’re going to go give our best.”