Some things are simply bigger than sports.
In the days immediately following Hurricane Harvey's rampage through Texas, even as another monster hurricane bears down on Florida and the Southeast, that truth has become even more evident. And so the college sports world has put the games in their proper perspective to take a pivotal role in relief efforts.
“[Other schools] could easily sit on the sidelines,” Houston offensive lineman Marcus Oliver tells NCAA.com. “It’s about more than just going out there and getting 'W's. Being a part of a sport is for a bigger cause.”
Several Houston-area athletic programs have provided assistance to those affected by Harvey wherever and however possible. A key tool: social media. Houston head basketball coach Kelvin Sampson posted the following tweet more than a week ago.
Sampson figured the response would be overwhelming.
He didn’t expect this.
“I wouldn’t say it was a shock, but it was definitely a pleasant surprise," Sampson says.
“The coaching community as a whole, I think, are givers,” he continues. “I think 100 percent of coaches in our profession, regardless of level, are givers. And what I think that tweet did is it served as a GPS. It gave them a direction.”
Since the tweet was posted, 2.58 million people — and counting — have seen it. More than 1,300 commitments were made via Twitter. Many more, according to Sampson, were sent without being posted on social media.
Here are some of the tweets:
The donations came from all over. To tally the schools that made commitments:
- 321 Division I sports programs
- 89 Division II programs
- 120 Division III programs
The sports varied, too, from baseball and softball to volleyball and tennis. One donation stood out to Sampson in particular, though, and it wasn’t from a college program.
It was from a high school basketball team. That doesn't even have a coach.
“A high school in Massachusetts, the kids got together and decided they were going to send 20 t-shirts and two pairs of shoes,” Sampson recalls. “And that was as much appreciated as a Power Five school. They did what they could. That’s awesome.”
Perhaps lost in all the giving: Coaches and players in the Houston area are dealing with Harvey's immediate effects, too. Their loved ones are dealing with it.
Oliver is a Houston native. The Cougars traveled to Austin during the worst of the storm, but his family was back home. That wasn’t easy for him. Or them.
“My mom is my backbone,” Oliver says. “And she was back in Houston. That was hard. But she just encouraged me to do whatever I needed to do with the football team, and stay in touch whenever I could.”
Relatively speaking, Sampson was fortunate. His home held up through the storm.But it’s been an emotionally draining couple of weeks for he and everyone else involved. And the suffering is far from over. The damage is evident now more than ever.
“As the water recedes, they’re finding bodies,” Sampson says. “It’s serious. The aftermath of a hurricane is just devastating. It’s hard for me to put into words what some of these neighborhoods look like. It’s tough here. The rain has stopped. The sun is out. The water has receded. But now you can really see the devastation.”
Sampson credits his daughter, Lauren; Patty Godfrey, a Cougar booster; and Meshu Negga, Houston’s director of men’s basketball operations as three people connected with the program who have spearheaded the relief efforts. They, like so many others in the Houston sports community, were focused on something entirely different a month ago.
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Now, their focus is on their city and recovering from the devastation of Harvey.
“This helped us really see what everyone else is going through," Oliver says. "It’s a brotherhood. To see what the guy next to you is going through brings us that much closer.”
“Some programs have to create stressful situations as teaching moments,” Lapray notes. “Nature gave us one.”
Says Sampson: "I used the analogy the other day that when you move into a new neighborhood, people come and welcome you and they bring you a plate of cookies, or whatever it is. All of the sudden, a few weeks later, you’re baking a cake and you run out of eggs. So you run next door. Different scales, of course, but it’s a similar thing here.
"Our neighbors are in need. They may not know our names, but they need our help. So we give it to them. This is a lesson in giving.”