High school football usually offers an escape from the hardships of life. For the Luther Lions, every football practice is a reminder of those hardships after wildfires ravaged much of the small town of Luther northeast of Oklahoma City earlier this month.
The Lions are practicing on a half-charred practice field, according to a report in The Oklahoman (NewsOK.com), and taking gulps of air still stained with the smell of smoke. The fires consumed an estimated four square miles and 50 structures, including the home of one of the players.
While the scene is far from normal, getting back to the normalcy of high school football is part of the recovery process for many.
“I think the identity of any small town is the school. That’s what they have their pride in,” Luther head coach Shawn Meek told The Oklahoman.
“In order to recover from something like this, people have to get back to normal, get back to consistency, get back to something being regular. To small towns in August, that’s school and football.”
Not far from where the football team is running drills, burned grass leads up to backstop of the school’s softball field. The field was spared, but softball coach Casey Strahan lost his home to the blaze.
The football is doing more than just practicing to raise spirits. The players have also helped unload trucks of supplies at the donation center set up for victims in the town of about 1,200 people.
“We’ve had a lot of friends lose stuff,” quarterback Austin Weathers said, “and any way we’ve been able to help, we’ve tried our best.”
Football player Joey Prince also lost his home to the fire. He missed the first day of practice while staying out of town with his family.
“Half our field is black from the fire damage, but in a way, I think it brings our kids closer,” Meeks said to The Oklahoman. “That field is a reminder to keep Joey in their minds when he’s not here. Nothing good will come out of this – it’s a devastating occurrence. But I think it brings the kids closer. It brings the town closer together.
“The people in this town are tough. We’ll get back to normal again.”