SIU head football coach Dale Lennon cutting up downed trees in Harrisburg Tuesday afternoon. Photo courtesy of Jessica Tezak/Daily Egyptian
March 7, 2012
By Bill Ford
CARBONDALE, Ill.— As the busload of 30 Southern Illinois University football players and coaches made its approach to Harrisburg Tuesday afternoon, the signs of destruction weren’t obvious.
“As you drive into the community, you don’t see a lot of damage,” said SIU head football coach Dale Lennon.
When the bus turned into the neighborhood that bore the brunt of an F4 tornado that ravaged the town a week earlier, though, the reality of the scene rendered the passengers speechless.
“You go down one street and it doesn’t look like there is anything gone,” said freshman offensive lineman Tanner Crum. “Then you go down another street, and there is a trailer park that has been just destroyed. The bus got real quiet.”
The reaction everyone on the bus had was precisely the reason Lennon knew it was important that he take his team to Harrisburg. It was obviously a community in need.
“We have a good relationship with a lot of people from Harrisburg. When we heard about the disaster, it definitely hit home,” Lennon said. “You had lives that were lost in that area and the reality of it really hits you hard. You just want to help in some shape or form. For us, it was just being there and helping with the cleanup.”
The Saluki football team spent Tuesday afternoon helping some Harrisburg residents clean up the mess the tornado left behind. Mainly, Lennon said the Salukis were put to work cutting up and moving downed trees.
“It was a straight afternoon of continuous work,” Lennon said. “It was a lot of heavy lifting, but our guys were definitely equipped for the challenge.”
Sophomore quarterback A.J. Hill, a native of nearby DuQuoin, said it was important for him to be there to help his fellow southern Illinoisans.
“I was in DuQuoin the night of that storm and it woke me up. I wasn’t expecting to get up the next day and hear that an F4 tornado had hit,” Hill said. “It definitely opens my eyes up, because it could have just as easily been DuQuoin or any of the surrounding areas.”
Crum, a Mount Carmel native, echoed Hill’s sentiments.
“Southern Illinois is a lot of small, close-knit towns,” Crum said. “We might hate each other on the football field and in sports, but we are going to pull together in times of need.”