As rain started to fall – big, heavy raindrops coming with increasing regularity – and thunder continued to roll, Ben Bracewell took an unintentional leadership role setting up canvas tent tents in the parking lot outside the Palmeiro Center for use by emergency personnel. A fifth year senior on Mississippi State’s baseball team, he’s spent his whole life rolling and unrolling tarps on rain-soaked baseball fields under threat of dark, storm and wind.
Often a part of emotional support and recovery, sports have a way of bringing people together, of offering comfort.
In this instance, following the outbreak of tornadoes across Mississippi, the impact was quite tangible.
The expertise and willingness of Bracewell and his many teammates who came out unasked proved helpful, as did the football players and strength coaches who lift heavy things for a living. The equipment managers, the administrators, the sports medicine staff – all found a role as the massive MEMA center for emergency workers was constructed on their campus.
They, in fact, were the ones doing the construction, along with dozens of students, University employees both athletic and non, as well those in the community who found out about the project online.
Few were as happy to help as Joe Dier, whose recent retirement from the baseball program put him in perfect position to serve the moment his service could be taken.
Those from marketing and media relations carried bags, unwrapped wires and snapped together tents like erector sets as their untucked polos and button-ups flowed over their business casual pants.
Athletes showed up in the same gear they had been wearing anyway – tennis shoes, shorts, t-shirts and rain jackets. Pitchers and cornerbacks, setters and outfielders. Anyone who could make it.
More importantly, it involves Mississippi.
For hours on Monday afternoon and night, the concern across the state was for personal safety as nearly every corner of the map was on the receiving end of super cells, tornadoes or the like.
As soon as the immediate danger passed, each individual mind and every collective city turned its thoughts to those who had been hurt. In the wake of devastating destruction, Mississippians asked the most obvious question in their hearts and heads: how can we help?
Over the recent years, Mississippi has had more than its share of natural disaster. Be it hurricane, tornado, ice or otherwise, the response is always the same. No one in this state has to wonder if someone will pick them up, or who that someone will be. Mississippi picks itself up, always has and always will.
With the threat of dangerous storm not even over in their own areas, offers poured in from all over when they realized what the storms had done across the state.
A Mississippi native and offensive lineman for MSU, Ben Beckwith had to watch from Starkville on TV and Twitter as tornadoes hit his hometown, too.
Before the rain on his own roof even stopped, he tweeted Monday night, “Anyone that needs help in Louisville or Tupelo or anywhere me and some of my teammates would love to help you just let me know.”
That’s what’s so great about the state. People here know that every town is someone’s hometown, and every place in Mississippi is claimed as their own by anyone in the state.
The hurt in towns like Louisville is felt everywhere in a state equally mournful and supportive.
In Starkville, the efforts to console, encourage, rehabilitate and rebuild their neighbors came immediately. Donation sites popped up at businesses across town Monday evening, trucks going back and forth all day Tuesday.
When those nearby found out that MEMA and Homeland Security were setting up a base for rescue workers and emergency workers, able bodies were unloading semi trucks, erecting heated tents and setting up showers and food stations before the call for help could even be made.
Camp being set up in the middle of MSU’s athletic facilities, all personnel still in the football, baseball, basketball and administrative offices walked outside and asked that same question: how can we help?
Again, the camaraderie of sports plays a part.
Georgia natives on campus the last two years, softball players Logan Foulks and Julia Echols were among the last holding strong as the rain poured down on the emergency construction site.
They may not be born here, but it’s their state, too. Mississippi is home to anyone who wants her, loves everyone without condition.
Those without their homes consider themselves lucky to be alive. Those who have lost possessions are thankful for a roof to sleep under. Communities in pain will be picked up by the communities surrounding them.
Nothing can replace the lives lost, but to those who are left to mourn, rebuild and repair, Mississippi will provide everything they need. That’s what this state does.