West Virginia University baseball coach Randy Mazey was supposed to jump on a quick teleconference Tuesday afternoon to talk about his team’s upcoming appearance in this year’s Big 12 Baseball Championships taking place in Oklahoma City.
Instead, he talked about what his players went through staying in Oklahoma City just a couple miles away from a rare EF5 tornado that devastated the nearby town of Moore, Okla. on Monday afternoon. Tornadoes of EF5 intensity have wind speeds up to 200 mph, according to Weatherchannel.com.
The Mountaineers were in Oklahoma a few days early for the conference tournament because they had wrapped up their regular season against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla., over the weekend and instead of returning to Morgantown the team simply bused over to Oklahoma City. Mazey said he was eating lunch on Monday afternoon when the tornado hit.
“I was watching it on the TV screen and then looking out the window and seeing it while we were eating,” he said.
Tornadoes are very rare in West Virginia and Mazey wasn’t sure if any of his players completely realized the seriousness of the situation.
“Our guys, being where they’re from, aren’t used to tornadoes and can’t appreciate the impact, but I think they can now because we watched it unfold four or five miles down the road,” said Mazey. “Now we have a lot better understanding the damage these things can create.”
They also have a better understanding of what happens during the aftermath of a storm of this magnitude. Realizing he had a bunch of able-bodied, strong young men, Mazey called the Oklahoma City Police Department to see if there was anything his guys could do to help. They transferred the coach to the Moore Police Department Command Center and he was advised to stay away from the area until all of the families could locate their loved ones.
“We didn’t want to get in anybody’s way,” said Mazey. “I didn’t want to create additional traffic while people were seeing if their loved ones were OK.”
That’s when it occurred to Mazey that they might be of more assistance by going down to the local Walmart and buying some supplies to hand out to people in need. Mazey actually thought of former Mountaineer quarterback Jeff Hostetler’s Hoss Foundation in Morgantown that helps out people in desperate situations.
“I thought we can do that down here,” Mazey said. “Get the team, put them on a bus and go up to Walmart and load up our carts and stand in the checkout line and do what we can. It was amazing. There were strangers coming up to me handing me twenty dollar bills saying, ‘Here, take this’ and ‘Is there anything we can do to help?’ It was people we didn’t even know and they were willing to do whatever they could. It’s amazing the strength of people in times of tragedy and how people find a way to come together.”
Mazey said his players did a great job of only picking out essential items to purchase.
“I just told the guys when they went in there to just look for necessities,” he said. “It’s not a time to be buying toys for kids, or luxuries. I was looking in everybody’s carts and they had shoes, socks, underwear, shirts, pants, mattresses, flashlights, batteries … and our guys were pretty creative when it comes to that so we had a good variety of stuff to take to people.”
The team experienced first-hand what it’s like being in a desperate situation when they met a woman at the checkout line who had lost her home and wasn’t sure if her family was safe.
“I think running into the woman at Walmart last night who was actually a victim who lost her house and didn’t know if her kids were safe … I think that was a special moment for our guys,” he said. “You can see tangible evidence of the immediate impact you can make on somebody’s life just by helping out.
“We saw her last night and there was about a three-hour period when she didn’t know if her kids were safe. They were at a school in downtown Moore, but as of the time we saw her she had met up with her children and everybody was safe,” Mazey said. “She was just out shopping for the same stuff we were shopping for. Fortunately, we re-routed her at the checkout line and she swept through and picked some stuff out that we had already checked out. It was very satisfying to all of our guys to help that woman.”
The team delivered the remainder of their purchased items earlier today.
“I wish in retrospect that we would have gotten more organized to be ready to help as soon as the storm came through here,” said Mazey. “We tried to get the guys loaded up on the bus and get them down there when it was really chaotic and they were still searching for people. You never know what kind of devastation you are facing until it actually happens.”
As for the Big 12’s decision to delay the tournament by a day, Mazey said it was clearly the right call.
“Who knows if they are still going to find anybody? The coaches and athletic directors made the decision to postpone it until everything was settled. We didn’t want to be hitting balls and playing baseball while families were still looking for their loved ones,” said Mazey.
There have also been some discussions amongst the coaches and school administrators to donate a portion of the proceeds from this year’s championships to the relief effort, according to Mazey.
“I’m really in favor of that,” he said. “That makes the tournament worthwhile if we’re going to do that. It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s like you are playing for someone else now. If we can make a significant impact on the people who were affected, it doesn’t matter if you are playing a baseball tournament or a game of checkers, if you have a venue and an opportunity to raise a lot of money and help out people then I think it’s worth it, regardless of who wins this thing.”
Years from now, Mazey believes his players will always remember their first Big 12 Baseball Championship for reasons other than what happens on the diamond.
“I think 20 years from now when they look back at their college baseball career and the baseball tournament here at Oklahoma City, I have my doubts that they will remember the games at all, but they are going to remember what they did for the families - and the impact they’ve had on people’s lives,” he said.
It’s simply a case of good people helping out good people.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of those affected in Oklahoma by this tragedy. For those looking to help, you can log on to AmericanRed Cross website and make a contribution to the relief effort.
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