BURKE, S.D. (AP) — High school football players have been splitting their time between training and cleaning up debris after a tornado and straight-line winds tore up their small South Dakota town.
Winds of up to 100 mph destroyed a lumberyard, mangled the civic center and injured two people in Burke on Aug. 6, authorities said. The Burke High School’s gym and at least four classrooms were also damaged. But when Friday rolled around, the school’s football team played its first game of the year in hopes of bringing the community together.
“Football isn’t more important than community. It’s not more important than life. But this is an opportunity for us to heal as a community. The people out there, they’re waiting for you,” coach Burke coach Mike Sebern told the Cougars before the game.
The Cougars won 46-8, Argus Leader reported.
Following the tornado , players spent their mornings practicing and cleaned debris in the afternoon.
“We’re not just a community; we’re a family,” said volunteer firefighter Jason Mosterd. “Football brings the family back together each week.”
On their way to the game, the players walked past a line of tree stumps and holes in the ground, some of which belonged to trees as old as the town itself.
For senior receiver/defensive back Jaden Frank, it was especially hard to witness the images of the high school gym, which will be unusable this season after the roof was torn off. Rain also damaged the hardwood floor, along with weightlifting equipment, band instruments and athletic gear.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in that gym and when I saw the damage, it took a toll on me,” he said before Friday’s game. “That’s where we did basically everything and now it’s gone.”
But despite the losses, the team strives to inspire hope.
“We’re Burke strong. We’re Cougar strong,” Frank said standing outside the firehouse, surveying the scene around him. “We’ll get through this.”