Tide sports teams continue to play after tornado

Jason Galloway

Alabama baseball coach Mitch Gaspard has always told his players that they’re playing for more than themselves.

Now, they believe it. When his team plays the first UA sporting event in Tuscaloosa since the tornado Friday, their effort will be for more than just those in the dugout.

“We still want to play for all the people in Tuscaloosa and give them something to cheer about,” junior outfielder Taylor Dugas said. “There’s a lot of people that lost everything. We want to play for them.”

This weekend series against LSU in Tuscaloosa will not be the first action the baseball team has seen since the storm, however. The Crimson Tide played at Mississippi State last weekend, just three days after the disaster. Alabama won the first two games in the three-game series.

“I really didn’t know how we were going to perform, where we were going to be mentally,” Gaspard said. “Our state of mind is not different than a lot of people here in town. It’s understandable to have a lot going through your mind right now. The three games we played last weekend, they’ve been able to focus in on the task at hand.”

Even before the weekend, though, UA teams were competing on the road. The men’s and women’s track and field teams had a meet scheduled to start Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa. The day the storm hit, the men’s team was already in Iowa and women’s head coach Sandy Fowler was traveling with the women’s distance team before the rest of the women’s team headed out Thursday morning.

Fowler remembers sitting in a hallway of the Birmingham airport texting the rest of her team right after the storm hit Tuscaloosa to see if everyone was OK. After she saw the destruction to Tuscaloosa, they returned to Tuscaloosa and Fowler did not foresee her team making the trip.

“The shuttle hurdle relay on Thursday morning made a request,” Fowler said. “‘Coach, we’ve won this meet for two years, we would like to three-peat.’ They said, ‘Coach, maybe things can be a little normal for us. We’d have electricity, we’d be able to go to a restaurant and eat.’ We made a decision, let’s see if we can get [to Iowa] Friday morning.”

Once the Tide got there, the team received overwhelming support from fans and other teams. Ohio State coaches even brought a javelin from the hotel and checked Tide thrower Bekah Hoppis into an event before she got there on Friday so she would not be disqualified.

“We got hugs from the second we walked in the gate,” Fowler said. “Hearts open, hands open, arms open – you name it.”

The fans showed the same support as the opposing teams.

“As soon as we got there, they announced our name in the heat and everybody in the crowd just stood up and started cheering for us,” senior sprinter Talaya Owens said. “They supported us the whole time we were there.”

Hosting a game on campus, not more than a mile from destroyed homes, is a different story than performing in Iowa, however.

“These decisions are a little bigger than me,” Gaspard said about the decision not to cancel this weekend’s series against LSU. “The biggest thing for everyone was if we were going to interfere in any way with the sheriff’s department, with the mayor, with anything that’s going on, we were going to move and play somewhere else.”

Dugas said, “I think we can energize the city a little bit, give them something to cheer about… With everything that’s happened, we’ve got a lot to play for.”