Storm turns competitive rivalry into act of community

By Alex Davis |

Published 11/20 2013 11:49AM

Updated 11/21 2013 05:12PM

SPRINGFIELD -- As Washington residents move forward from Sunday's storms, one thing they can look forward to is football. The team is in the playoffs and will challenge Sacred Heart-Griffin High School Saturday. WCIA-3's Alex Davis finds out the game is more about community than competition.

The Washington Community High School Panthers advanced to the playoffs last Saturday. Hours later, their victory turned bittersweet when an EF-4 tornado swept through their town. Now, their rival, SHG, is offering a helping hand.

"This is a big football game for these high school kids. This is a game they'll remember for the rest of their lives."

Ken Leonard says he's never faced such a challenge in his 30 years as SHG football coach.

"They're going to use this as an incentive and they're going to be fired up and we're going to have our hands full because they've got a lot to play for."

He wants to make Saturday's game one for the record books; but not just because it's the playoffs.

"They want to get back to normal, so they want Saturday to be as normal as possible."

Come Saturday, Leonard says SHG will bus hundreds of Washington fans to Springfield since many there lost their cars during the tornado.

"Our goal is to be champions and that's what we're going to try to be on Saturday afternoon. But, more important, our purpose is to be Christ-like, so you can either talk the talk or walk the walk."

So, SHG will also feed fans and players that day.

"We're people first, football players, second, you know. We have to just care for each and everybody like they're our brothers and sisters."

Sunday's tornado took out some 250 - 500 homes. Several of those belonged to Washington players.

"They got a great team and they got kids that have endured a lot."

In that mess, they also lost their field and some of their gear.

"It's, um, the least we can do is just try to better, try to make their lives better, try to help them out anyway we can."

It turns out, both faith and football are what helped keep so many people safe from the storms. Folks were at church Sunday, and took cover there. Some were at home, watching football and saw the warnings ahead of time.

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