MOORE, Okla. — Twenty-three years ago, Charles Redman and his wife got into a bathtub and covered up as a tornado clipped their apartment in Stillwater, Okla.
On Monday, Redman saw his second tornado. Saw it coming from miles away, actually. Saw it getting closer and closer. Only this time, he didn’t have an 8-months’ pregnant wife to take care of.
He had a room full of high school students.
The Southmoore High assistant football coach ordered his players, track athletes, soccer players and student managers, all at the school Monday afternoon, into the coaches’ dressing room, where he put as many cinderblock walls between them and one of the most destructive tornados in history.
And then he told the kids to put on football helmets.
“I was watching it,” Redman said of the tornado. “I watched it until I was getting hit with debris. We ran in as it was getting close and we said to put them in helmets. ‘Get your helmets,’ I said. We told the girls to do the same and they were running around getting them and I told them, ‘Put your heads down’ and it would all be over in a minute.
“Someone asked to say a prayer. We did.”
The National Weather Service said the path of Monday’s tornado was 17 miles long, 1.3 miles wide with winds more than 200 mph. It leveled the Moore community, a suburb of Oklahoma City just north of Norman and the University of Oklahoma.
Twenty-four players from the Southmoore football team, and an estimated 200 of the school’s students, lost their homes.
None lost their lives.
The tornado traveled about 200 yards north of the school on a day when the football team was supposed to be practicing. This is Oklahoma, and most of the time, football comes first. High school football is a huge deal and coaches maximize their practice time on and off the field as best as they can, often suiting up regardless of weather.
“If we can get a minute of practice in, I’d take it,” head coach Jeff Brickman said. “And I don’t worry a lot. But for some reason, I had a bad feeling that morning.”
With bad weather in the forecast, Brickman said the team wouldn’t even be going outside. So, instead of practicing, Brickman had his team inside, scattered among the classrooms watching practice film from last week.
And when the sirens went off, everyone covered up — Redman and the other coaches in the fieldhouse, and Brickman, alongside side his wife, Brandi, Southmoore’s cheerleading sponsor, and the other coaches in the school.
“It came right by the school,” Brickman said.
“We really thought it was going to hit us,” Redman said. “We kept watching it and watching it. It kept getting closer and closer, and we didn’t know. We watched it all the way until it must have been within a mile of us. It was small and it looked that way until it was closer and closer and then it just looked massive. I went outside when it passed by and I couldn’t see anything but tornado. I couldn’t see the sky or anything else.”
Now, instead of running the spread offense that produced Oklahoma QB Kendal Thompson, the team is putting together a booster club to gather money and donations for the players and families who lost their homes.
There won’t be any practices at Southmoore for a while. Things have changed.
“Twenty-three years ago, I was in the bathroom,” Redman said of that Stillwater tornado. It was a baby compared to this. This was a monster.
“I don’t want to see a third one.”
If you are interested in donating to the Southmoore families who were affected, go to www.gosabercats.com.