Furman’s women’s basketball helps in Alabama

Furman forward Martha Robinson thought she was prepared for what

she might see in tornado-ravaged Alabama. She was wrong.

Robinson had watched video of devastation from April’s string of

deadly Southern tornadoes, the houses in rubble, the residents

struggling to recover. She and a group from the Furman’s basketball

team discovered first-hand the tragic scope of loss on a mission

trip to Tuscaloosa last month.

”I feel like our eyes were opened a little bit,” Robinson told

The Associated Press by phone. ”All the material things can leave

in a second.”

Robinson and teammates Teshia Griswold and Brigid Morrissey

joined assistant coaches Garry Horton and Julia Huddleston and

director of basketball operations Jermaine Brown on the visit from

June 23-26. Furman’s representatives joined with a group from

Clemson’s FreeWay Church to assist the United Way in continuing

cleanup.

Horton was put in charge of team outreach and community service

by coach Jackie Carson and when Huddleston learned from a friend in

Clemson about plans to help Tuscaloosa, signed on quickly.

”Our whole goal was to go and give back,” Horton said.

It’s an area that desperately needs it. Officials say more than

60 tornadoes struck the state on April 27 and killed at least 240

people. Scores more were injured and saw their lives torn apart

through damage to homes, cars and possessions.

Robinson’s first true view of the destruction came their first

night there when the random nature of tornado damage became

apparent. ”It’s so eerie,” she said. ”One side of the street is

completely destroyed, the other side, we’re going to McDonald’s to

get something to eat.”

The next day, the group went to a damaged home site with the

mission to clear the ground of debris so owners could start the

process of rebuilding. Robinson saw parts of a family’s life,

crinkled photos of an 11th-grade boy from 1975 and a 12th-grade

girl from 1976. ”It must have been a grandparents house,” she

said. ”This was someone’s life that was totally destroyed.”

The players and coaches worked at a distribution center where

storm victims received donated supplies like soap, socks and

shampoo. They unloaded boxes and then helped people gather items on

pre-approved lists.

Horton, in his second season on Furman’s staff, was struck by

the positive outlooks from those who’s lives were forever changed

by the tornadoes. ”It was remarkable, man, to listen to people’s

stories,” he said. ”They had completely lost everything and had

smiles on their faces. That was our purpose for doing this.”

Robinson found working in the warehouse more difficult than the

previous day’s cleanup, reluctant to tell people they couldn’t have

an essential because it was not on their list. ”You can’t have

baby items, by you can have shoes or socks,” the 19-year-old said.

”That was hard.”

Horton did not want the trip to fade from the group’s memories,

so he had their write journals to reflect on what they’d done. He’s

also working to get a video diary of the visit on the team page of

their athletic Web site.

Robinson said the trip forged bonds among those involved.

Griswold was a junior college transfer from Georgia who Robinson

and Morrissey did not know that well before this experience.

Griswold wrote that that ”she didn’t want to leave home. She

didn’t want to be here,”’ Robinson said. ”Now she feels like

we’re her new family.”

Horton thinks the work put into helping Alabama will benefit the

Paladins this fall. He said those who took part hope they can bring

the sense of community to others who couldn’t go. Robinson’s felt

that struggle, too, talking with teammates who didn’t take part and

realizing she’ll never fully get them to understand what she saw on

the ground. ”It’s going to be hard to bring all that back to

school,” she said.

Robinson’s spirit to volunteer is strong. She’s from Hindsville,

Ark., about two hours or so from Joplin, Mo., site of even more

destructive tornadoes. She’s talked with her family about aiding

the recovery effort there on her summer break. And she won’t soon

forget the images of loss in Alabama.

”There’s so much that needs to be done,” she said. ”You

wonder how much our one little group did.”