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
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
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.”