Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sports help tornado-torn Greensburg, Kan., recover

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Kiowa County High in Greensburg, Kan., had its first graduation in its new building May 14. The building has a high-level energy efficiency rating with modern locker rooms that serve as a literal haven for the school's sports teams — with walls of foot-thick reinforced concrete.

Four years ago, the town a little more than 100 miles west of Wichita was nearly eradicated by a tornado rated the maximum EF-5 with winds exceeding 200 mph. But the role high school sports played in its rebirth might be a lesson for those similarly affected by this spring's storms.

The tornado that hit May 4, 2007, leveled Greensburg High and killed nine residents. With 800 residents, Greensburg is roughly half the population it once was, but it is growing and there's hope where there was only desolation.

After two years of taking classes in trailers and attending "home" football and basketball games at Mullinville High, 10 miles away, students from Greensburg walked into the new Kiowa County schools building this fall, on the site of Greensburg High's old football field. The new building houses students, from preschool to high school seniors, hailing from Greensburg, Mullinville and Haviland. After the predictable wrangling over what the nickname should be, residents cheered on the Mavericks at a football field adjacent to the high school this fall for the first time since the tornado hit.

"That was very important," said Kiowa County athletics director Travis Powell. "We got to have real home football games, instead of having to drive 10 miles."

Powell said sports helped keep the community together through the rebuilding effort.

"There was a lot going on and families were displaced," Powell said. "Sports kind of gave them an outlet, a chance to get their mind off what happened and just compete."

This past winter, the girls volleyball team finished third in the state in Class 2A. The boys and girls track teams are among the favorites at the state 2A meet, which begins Thursday.

Wednesday, elementary students at the school held a field day while a concession booth was set up nearby to raise money for those affected by Sunday's tornado in Joplin, Mo.

"Our kids have done a good job of that this year," said Kiowa County Schools Superintendent Darin Hedrick. "The National Honor Society students, instead of taking their annual trip, canceled the trip and used all the proceeds to go to Oklahoma to a school that had a tornado. They've done a good job of giving back. A lot of people have helped us, and we see the need and the importance in paying it forward."


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