by Jeff Fisher
There’s never been a doubt in my mind about the role of a high school football team in the fabric of community. After 40 years covering the sport professionally, I’ve seen first-hand, story-after-story how student-athletes, coaches, cheerleaders and bands serve as a lightning rod to bond a town.
Case-in-point, a recent study by a Western Illinois University graduate student Nicholas Swope and WIU Emergency Management professor Jack Rozdilsky. The study entitled High School Football as a Catalyst for Disaster Recovery: The Case of the November, 17, 2013, Washington, Illinois, Tornado comes to the conclusion that the Washington High School Panthers‘ decision to play in an Illinois 5A state championship football one week after an EF-4 tornado destroyed 1,000 homes is “a method of operation by which other high school football teams can consider ways to help their communities during future disasters.”
While Washington lost to Sacred Heart-Griffin, the study finds the game was a victory for the community in the rebuilding process. Media reports indicate that 75% of the 1,018 homes destroyed have been rebuilt and 90% of those homes will be rebuilt by the end of this year. One Washington resident was killed by the tornado that reached 170 to 190 miles per hour.