Central Oklahoma keeps community in thoughts at national championships
HERSHEY, Pa. -- Images of Monday’s mammoth Oklahoma tornado are troubling in every horrible sense of the word.
Houses and businesses leveled flat by winds estimated at up to 200 mph, as if they’d been constructed with playing cards. Debris everywhere. One photo showed planks of wood that had impaled the side of a moving van.
More than 20 people lost their lives as the storm cut an unimaginable swath through the state, with much of the damage centered in and around Moore, a city of about 55,000 or so.
It was the second time in the past decade and a half that Moore had been in the path of such an intense and deadly storm system. According to one CBS News story, 44 people died on May 3, 1999, and some $800 million in damage was left behind in the costliest storm in history to that point.
Winds that day were said to have topped 300 mph, the fastest ever recorded.
It’s a straight shot due south from the campus of Central Oklahoma in Edmond down to Moore, and a distance of maybe 25 miles. Oklahoma City is located almost squarely between the two, give or take a mile or two.
The Bronchos men’s golf team was already in Hershey for the NCAA Division II national championships when the storms hit. Thankfully, none of the golfers’ family members or friends were among the injured.
“It’s a difficult situation,” Central Oklahoma head coach Pat Bates said. “It’s hard to watch. We all had our iPhones and TVs, looking at it and watching it. It so close to home, so all of our families were on watch.
“Everybody was able to communicate and everybody knew [their families and friends] were safe. Everybody’s got a friend of a friend or a family member of a friend who knows somebody in Moore or somebody down that way. We all knew our families were safe, so that’s good.”
The ribbons they wore on their caps the rest of the week said it all: Oklahomans stick together, come what may.
Bates was a member of the PGA Tour, a five-time champion of the Nationwide Tour and an All-American at Florida. In Florida, residents have days to prepare for approaching hurricanes. A tornado like the one in his adopted state Monday are something altogether different, where minutes -- not hours and definitely not days -- matter.
“Ultimately, with the Oklahoma City bombing and some of the tragedy that’s hit Oklahoma, it’s really become a really close-knit community,” Bates continued. “They have a prayer in the morning newspaper. They have prayer before Thunder games.
“You’re in the Bible Belt down there. It’s really a great community. People really look to their church, to God for support in these troubling times. In that sense, it’s a great thing, but obviously, you don’t want to see the loss of lives when you have something like that.”
The Bronchos are in position to make the cut for the eight schools that will advance to match play Thursday and Friday, competition that will determine a team national championship. Once everybody was able to determine that friends and family were safe and sound, it was easier to focus on the game of golf.
“Tornadoes aren’t a new thing,” Bates said. “They’re all Oklahoma kids. I think the fact we didn’t have this tragedy strike us personally, it’s a little easier to do your thing.
“The guys are out here, playing in a great championship on a great, tough golf course. The golf course, as tough as it is, becomes kind of a safe haven. They’re focused, and they’re ready to go.”
The Bronchos were not alone in their thoughts and prayers for the area. Southwestern Oklahoma State’s men’s golf team is competing here this week, and is based just 80 miles to the west of Moore.
Mark Immelman, head men’s golf coach at Columbus State University, pledged $10 to the Red Cross’ relief efforts for every birdie his team made here Tuesday, and then challenged his more than 2,500 followers on Twitter to do the same.
At last count, the effort had garnered $560 on the way to a goal of at least $1,000.
“We haven’t really played our best, and we were at dinner [Monday] night,” said Immelman, whose team also sported black ribbons in recognition of the tragedy. “As a team, we were chatting about how things were just put into perspective for us when we saw the devastating events in Oklahoma. It just made us realize that there’s a few more important things than birdies and bogeys.”