Nov. 4, 2011
Soccer players lend their hands to tornado cleanup effort in Joplin
Months from now, when the Northwest Missouri State University soccer team reflects on its trip to southern Missouri Oct. 27-29 and a tough two-game set to end the regular season, players will likely remember what they did on their off-day more than their time on the field.
Between games against Missouri Southern State University and Southwest Baptist University, the Bearcat soccer players spent Friday, Oct. 28, in Joplin, a city still picking up the pieces from the May 22 tornado that destroyed more than 7,500 homes and businesses and killed 160 people.
Northwest’s Director of Volunteer Programs Amy Nally and Head Soccer Coach Tracy Hoza arranged the project through the AmeriCorps national community service program and provided guidance, but Hoza insisted it was her student-athletes that pushed the idea.
“Since the beginning of the season, Coach has been talking about how we need to get more involved in the soccer side of life but also with the community,” said Jacque Dedovesh, a senior defender from Lee’s Summit. “The opportunity was shouting at us when we knew we were going to Joplin and all they’ve been through. It was just a great opportunity for us to get involved.”
Added Anna Calgaard, a sophomore midfielder from Omaha, Neb., “I think (the tornado) affected all of us, too. We know some of the teams we play down there and some of our players are from that area, so it affected all of us and we wanted to help.”
The team endured a tough 2-1 overtime loss to Missouri Southern Oct. 27, but the players from both schools were on the same team the next day as they took to the streets of Joplin, removing trash and debris that still littered the area.
“At first I thought, ‘We just lost, dang it.’ But it wasn’t as awkward as I was thinking it would be,” Hannah Silvey, a senior midfielder from Springville, Vt., said of partnering with the Missouri Southern players. “Everyone came together and we were laughing about stuff.”
As anyone who has visited Joplin since the tornado can attest, seeing the damage up close had a greater impact on the players than the images they had seen on TV. The players saw firsthand the remnants of trees standing like sticks in the ground and the now-abandoned St. John's Regional Medical Center building with its blown-out windows. One of the more emotional sights, players said, was their visit to “the memorial house.” The former home has furniture arranged on what’s left of its foundation, and scores of visitors have written encouraging messages to Joplin residents on the structure’s walls, floors and furniture.
“I knew that it was bad, but being there and seeing how big of an area the tornado hit was amazing,” Silvey said. “I wasn’t expecting to see such widespread damage. (The damaged Joplin High School) was the most eye-shocking thing I’ve seen. It shows they still need help.”
The team members also heard firsthand the stories of Joplin residents. One man explained how the tornado lifted his daughter’s garage and turned it 45 degrees before dropping it. At a dinner, a second grade girl with the maturity level of an adult explained how she was affected by the tornado. Missouri Southern players’ told stories of their homes, cars and other belongings being destroyed.
“They were really grateful that we were there and we were helping,” Dedovesh said. “We could have just played and left, but we were spending our day off, the day before a game, volunteering our time and help their town where they go to school.”
The manager of the team’s hotel, who guided the team on a tour through the tornado-stricken area, left his job as a nurse after the storm and devoted his summer to assisting with the relief efforts.
“You go down there and everybody just helps out,” Hoza said. “I was up at 6:45 that morning, went down and got a cup of coffee, and there were hundreds of people outside the hotel, getting ready to go volunteer. It was phenomenal.”
In an unexpected twist during their trip, the Bearcat team made a good impression on a certain television crew that also was spending some time in Joplin.
During the team’s tour, Silvey, admittedly a little star-struck, spotted two women in blue shirts walking through a blocked-off area of the street. She immediately knew what that meant: “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”
Then, the players noticed a camera crew filming a demolished house.
“We’re like, ‘Whoah, it’s Ty!’ and everyone was screaming at the top of their lungs like little teenagers,” Silvey said, referring to Ty Pennington, the show’s host.
The television crew allowed the team to watch their production, and the crew members later called on the team and its bus driver, Kevin McMahon, when they ran into complications with their flight plans Saturday morning. McMahon transported the television crew to the airport.
“They were appreciative of us doing what we were doing,” Hoza said. “They wanted to come over and meet us, and they thought really highly of the girls for what they were doing.”
For the players, the weekend, which will live in their memories for some time, helped them gain new perspectives on life.
“It’s about not taking for granted the bed you sleep in, the people around you, the food you get to eat, the experiences you have,” Dedovesh said.
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Northwest Missouri State University
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