After a bit of a hiatus from writing these columns, mainly due to an increased workload with sports coverage, it’s time to get back in the habit of doing these.
The past month has been a blur it seems, between district baseball or soccer or tennis or golf or track and then you mix in sectionals and state meets, my little Ford Fiesta is racking up miles.
It is fun to cover the end of the season for each sport and in most years it culminates with state track. I have been writing for a number of years and I’d say at least ¾ of those years have ended in Jefferson City for state track.
For years it used to be one of the last sporting events of the year, the same week as the baseball finals. With the addition of more classes to baseball and soccer, that is no longer the case.
This year my last sporting event to cover was again track, but this was a year like never before with a change of locations from the usual capital city locale.
The events of last Wednesday, May 22 not only changed where the Class 3-5 track meets were held, it also provided a flashback of events years ago.
As some know, I grew up in Southwest Missouri and only left that corner of the world after getting the chance to be a writer at the St. Joseph News-Press and work with a boss named Ross Martin. A few of you may have heard of him.
I got hired in October of 2010 and a few months later, the town I lived in — Joplin — was hit by a tornado. That was a storm that sticks in my memory vividly.
I remember everything that led up to that day. I was at Kauffman Stadium watching the Royals play the Cardinals. Ned Yost got tossed from the game for arguing a call that was wrong in the pre-replay days, while catcher Matt Treanor also got the heave-ho.
The Royals lost that game, a common occurrence in those days.
I was in the car when I got a phone call that I will never forget but at the time, it was one I dismissed as curious and confusing. My youngest brother, Clint, called and all I heard on the other end was ‘help, please help’ repeated twice.
Then a click as the call ended. I was half confused but knowing my jokester of a brother I didn’t know what to make of it.
I called back twice and it went to voicemail.
Finally, I called my mom to ask if she had heard from him and told her what he said.
My mom then said ‘oh my’ in a tone that told the seriousness of what may have had happened.
She told me there were bad storms and they had heard Joplin High School may have gotten damaged.
How little did we both know what truly happened across town that day.
I was eating after the game when I got a call back from my mom that it was a tornado that hit and most of Joplin was gone. She hadn’t been able to hear from either one of my brothers.
I got in the car and drove from Kansas City to Joplin and got there in the dark of the night. It was even darker with no city lights and chaos abound.
I remember making a post on Facebook asking if anyone had heard from my brothers. We don’t always get along but the memory of thinking the absolute worst happened made me sick to my stomach.
Both of my brothers were ultimately OK but didn’t come out unscathed.
The older of my two younger brothers lived only blocks from the hospital and his house had some damage. My youngest brother, the one that called during the tornado but I didn’t know it at the time, lived in the second story of an apartment complex and ended up in his neighbor’s kitchen on the first floor.
We spent the next morning walking around his complex and walking up the steps to try to salvage what we could. We weren’t able to save much and my brother spent the next few weeks living with friends until he and his wife got something more permanent.
I remember walking up the stairwell to his ‘apartment’ trying to navigate jagged wood, steel and tatters of insulation.
I stood on the top step and looked around and saw the shear magnitude of the path. To the west was the remains of Joplin High School. To the east was the business district that was destroyed — Walmart and Home Depot to name a few.
I remember heading to my old neighborhood to see if I could help any of them. The house I lived in before I left was gone via a fire caused by an exploded gas line that occurred in the tornado. My old neighbor’s car was charred and the house had only pieces of wood remaining.
My old house was the same. The concrete porch remained but not much else.
It was surreal. Still is eight years later.
I can close my eyes and see photos of St. John’s Mercy Hospital in tatters. I can see the cross that survived the 150-plus miles per hour wind at the Catholic church that was just two houses to the south of my previous house. I had many friends and family that were impacted.
My youngest brother carries not only emotional scars, but has one that goes across his back.
So, when the anniversary of the tornado hits, we usually always text.
I hadn’t yet talked to him last Wednesday when I saw Carl Junction had the possibility of tornadoes and by the time I connected with him, one hit.
In a very weird twist, my brother moved from Joplin to Carl Junction — where we all went to school — within the past few months. When I heard where the tornado had hit in the town that borders the Kansas state line, my heart sank.
It hit in the exact area of town he lived now.
He fortunately got lucky this time and the storm missed him. Two blocks away, a high school classmate and his wife survived the storm in the basement but came upstairs to half of their house being gone.
While talking with him that night, he said something that sure rings true.
“Mother Nature sure has a sick sense of humor,” he said when mentioning this tornado happened on the 8th anniversary of the other one he and many others went through.
It sure does.
I feel lucky that no one in my old hometown was killed in this one and all the things that were lost can be replaced.
But between the flooding, tornadoes and more flooding across the state, maybe Mother Nature can give us a break soon.