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  • Writer's pictureAaron Ferguson

Taylorville Tornadoes embrace nickname, return to classes and basketball after EF-3 Tornado

Taylorville cheerleaders hold up a banner for the Tornadoes boys basketball team, who play their first game three days after an EF-3 tornado passed through town. (Aaron Ferguson)

TAYLORVILLE – Tornadoes are relentless and won’t let anything in their path stop them, which is what the Taylorville community embodies – a relentlessness in cleaning up after an EF-3 tornado went through town on Saturday.

The community has come together to lend a helping hand, which for student-athletes started with a text from boys basketball coach Ryan Brown and other respective coaches. In two days, the teams covered roughly five miles going house-to-house to pick up debris and help their neighbors clean up but Taylorville senior Justin Wright noted it wasn’t just athletes.

“For tonight, let’s escape for awhile, watch some basketball and cheer on our Tornadoes,” Taylorville Principal Matthew Hutchison said addressing the crowd before Taylorville’s 85-76 win over Charleston. “And to quote THS senior Justin Wright, ‘It’s not just sports people out here, it’s everybody. There are over 11,000 Tornadoes in this town. We can overcome just one.’”

Students and faculty returned to school on Tuesday in a different mood. Some returned with no damage, others were displaced by the tornado.

“I felt a sense of seriousness throughout the building,” senior Nick Livingston said after scoring 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting. “As expected, everyone was talking about it. It was interesting to hear everyone’s stories and what they saw. A few people didn’t go to school because of damage to their homes.”

Fortunately, there were no fatalities from the storms. The State Journal-Register reports 21 people were taken to Taylorville Memorial Hospital as a result of the storm. But there were plenty of close calls, as Brown found out.

“For me as a teacher, you’re just trying to figure out which students were effected,” he said. “I’m in the junior high (fifth-through-eighth) and you’re just trying to talk to as many students as you can just to figure out who was impacted, who didn’t stay at their house the past couple of nights.

“There was a girl in a sling today and she was at her house by herself until five minutes before the tornado, she was taking cover in a closet because her parents were at work and, luckily, grandma came across the street and got her to take cover. In the place where she was at, the closet wasn’t there anymore.”

Athletic director Paul Held had damage to his house but he was at the high school for a girls basketball game that didn’t get played. His wife and dog were home and safe.

“I left home assuming that when the sun went down the tornado would weaken. Meteorology is not in my future,” Held said. “It intensified and my wife was home while I was out here. You could feel it go over the top, you could feel the air pressure change (but) couldn’t hear it. My wife heard it and took cover about a minute before it hit there.”

He added seeing the student-athletes springing into action so quickly Sunday was his “proudest moment in (his) 14 years as athletic director.”

Brown’s pregame speech motivated his team to play for the community, saying there would be at least one person who is just looking for an escape. Taylorville breaks their huddles yelling ‘together,’ which has a different meaning now.

The Taylorville boys basketball team stands for the Star Spangled Banner ahead of their first game since an EF-3 tornado impacted their village. (Aaron Ferguson)

“Number one, it’s Taylorville Community School District so this is who we are, we’re a community, we’re all in this together and we break every single huddle on ‘Together’ and (Tuesday night) it was in big, big letters across the whiteboard,” Brown said.

The Tornadoes (5-1) didn’t feel they did as good of a job defensively as they typically do. Brown and Livingston both admitted that.

Taylorville got out to a 22-11 lead after one quarter but allowed Charleston to close the gap to 41-36 by halftime, and 45-44 in the middle of the third quarter.

Several possessions later Livingston lifted off the ground for a one-handed dunk. That’s when Taylorville began to feel some normalcy as the crowd erupted a loud roar.

“I felt pretty good after the dunk, and I think it kind of pushed us all to finish the game out and get the win for the communities,” Livingston said.

It’s coincidental that a tornado ripped through a town of Taylorville Tornadoes but the community’s relentlessness in helping one another embodies their nickname, which, according to Held, is traced back to a newspaper article in 1938 when football coach Dolph Stanley made it stick.

“I think, real honestly, it was just about the alliteration and getting Taylorville and another thing with ‘T’ and not Tigers – Paris Tigers was a big thing back then, so we were going to be different,” Held said. “The rumor was they were practicing football and saw a tornado in the distance but I don’t think that happened.”

After another game on Friday, the Tornadoes will return Saturday and Sunday to clean up neighborhoods. A big push will be made this weekend so the recovery and rebuilding process can begin.

Those looking to make donations are urged to go through ‘Missions for Taylorville.’ Volunteers can contact them to help with cleanup.

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