Storms put sports into perspective

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 3, 2007

Thursday's damaging storms in the south part of the state were a huge inconvenience to many people in our state and the storms also caused the postponement of all of sporting events in Butler County.

But who cares?

After watching the footage of Enterprise High School, which was devastated by a tornado, and of the students and teacher that was killed there, it took me back to another time in my life when I thought sports were so important, but really they were not.

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On Wednesday, April 8, 1998, I was practicing baseball for my high school team, the Hueytown High School Golden Gophers, in preparation for a game on Thursday and a double-header over the weekend.

Wednesday was like any other day, except for local and national meteorologists were calling for near perfect conditions for extremely dangerous weather.

After practicing all afternoon under beautiful, clear skies, the wind began to pick up and the temperature began to drop as everyone started for home.

I arrived home around 5:30 p.m., and fell asleep in front of the television in the living room while watching &#8220The Andy Griffith Show.”

Approximately an hour later, I awoke to my mother walking in and out of the living room and she sternly stated to me, &#8220I believe we should check out the weather because it is supposed to get really bad.”

So, as she requested, I turned it to James Spann.

In the Birmingham area, Spann, who grew up in Greenville and attended W.O. Parmer, is the most trusted name in weather.

In other words, Spann is the man.

As we turned the station over to ABC 33/40, Spann had his Doppler radar zoomed into the small community of Rock Creek, in which we lived, and he showed this gigantic storm rapidly approaching the community south of Rock Creek- Oak Grove.

Within minutes, Spann was reporting horrendous damage to Oak Grove and the high school there.

He even went a step further and compared the center of the storm, which turned out to be the center of an F-5 tornado with winds topping out at 266 mph and with a base-width of half of a mile, to that of a hurricane eye.

Once he said that, my mother stepped out on the porch to see if she could see anything off to the west.

After she checked it out, she asked that I do the same and it was at that moment I could tell something wasn't right.

It was the calm before the storm.

I could hear a rumble off in the distance and the sky was as black as tar, so my mother and I sought shelter.

Living in a one-floor house, the best place to be is in an interior closet or in the bathroom next to grounded fixtures.

Just as our family had done when I was a child and there was bad weather, my mother and I went into the bathroom near the back of the house and sat near the door with the radio on.

As the lights began to dim down and the wind began to pick up, we got closer to the bathtub.

Within seconds, the power went out and the storm was on us.

People say a tornado sounds like a train, but it doesn't.

This powerful tornado was so loud that it almost became inaudible.

The house shaking was similar to riding on a train or on a subway through a tunnel and the debris hitting the house sounded like nothing I had ever heard.

As I sat there for what seems like an eternity, I wondered what I was going to do when the roof came off.

That is a thought I had never been forced to think.

Although it felt like forever, the storm was over in less than a minute and then the calm returned.

Lightning eerily filled the sky as the tornado passed off into the distance, but no thunder accompanied it.

As I went outside, I could hear people screaming for help in the distance, but there was nothing I could do in the pitch-black night.

Throughout the night, we listened to the radio for updates, but no one really knew anything because of it being night.

The following morning, I discovered just how bad the damage was.

Everything was gone.

Total devastation.

We, however, were fortunate to suffer only minor property damage.

Thirty-two other people were not as fortunate and lost their lives during that fateful day.

So it is days like this that I count my blessings and am able to put things into perspective.

On that April day nine years ago, I was concerned about playing baseball and what I might do over the weekend. Never did it cross my mind to be concerned for my life.

On Thursday, just two days ago, I was concerned about covering several games and getting Saturday's newspaper out. Never did it cross my mind that people within miles of me would be hurting and rebuilding like we did some nine years ago.

For years and years to come, the people of Enterprise will be grieving and rebuilding the things they lost.

On this day, take the time to give thanks for those things that can't be replaced- friends, family and faith- and pray for those families in Enterprise who need it most.

Austin Phillips is The Greenville Advocate sports editor. He can be reached at 382-3111 ext. 122, by fax at 382-7104 or by e-mail at