Tornado unites Lady Bulldogs, rivals

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)--For members of Union University's Lady Bulldogs basketball team, sports has been a source of comfort and peace in the aftermath of the Feb. 5 tornado that completely disrupted their lives.

When the No. 1-ranked Lady Bulldogs arrived for a Feb. 14 game with cross-town rival Lambuth University, a Methodist school, they saw the Lambuth team had posted signs in the locker room that read "Lambuth Eagles are praying for you" and "LU cares," with each players' name written on the sign. After the game, which Union won 82-76, the Lady Eagles fed the Lady Bulldogs and said each player on the team was praying for a specific player on Union's team.

"It was really neat and emotional," said Meredith Richardson Jacobs, who plays forward for the Lady Bulldogs. "It was great that your rivals were lifting you up. That was the best part of the Lambuth game for me."

"It was just really thoughtful," said Ella Joines, a freshman guard from the United Kingdom. "It's nice that everyone there was like a community and everyone was there for you."

After the tornado ripped through campus, Union's men's and women's basketball teams couldn't practice on their home court because the Fred DeLay Gymnasium was turned into a staging area where students could come to collect belongings recovered from the rubble of the residence halls. Jackson Christian School, West Jackson Baptist Church and Trinity Christian Academy opened their gyms to the teams until they were able to hold practice back on campus again Feb. 18.

Lady Bulldogs team members helped pass out bags of recovered items to their owners, Jacobs said. That and the ballgames they played were "kind of peaceful," she added. "It gave you a comfort zone, and it helped to be with everybody and just encourage one another."

Six international students on the team had no way of getting home, so they stayed the last two weeks with head coach Mark Campbell and his family.

"They're my players," Campbell said. "It was never a question of going to get them that night. I would hope the parents would trust me enough to treat them like my own daughters. It's been fun."

Beatrice Awino, a freshman center from Kenya, said staying with the Campbells has been a great opportunity for her and her teammates.

"It has been so much fun," Awino said. "They have given us everything just like our parents. They make us forget about the bad things. It has been comforting."

Campbell said he is proud of his team in the way they responded to adversity and is proud of the way they are teammates first.

"I think this team is a special team because they enjoy one another," Campbell said. "They don't have anything going on behind the scenes, and we are working toward the same goal for the season."

Awino said the team is always working hard and stays focused on the goal of winning. She said there is no pressure to remain undefeated, but they want to play their best for every game, especially the home game set for Feb. 21 against perennial rival Freed-Hardeman University.

Jacobs said the team is excited about facing their first home-court competition since the tornado.

"It will allow our fans to come to Union and give the students back some of that normalcy," Jacobs said. "It will be the same atmosphere they're used to. It will be great to be back on our home court."

While the Lady Bulldogs are looking to remain undefeated through the next 12 regular-season games, Joines said staying unbeaten is not the team's top goal.

"Our team motto is: 'We are one,'" Joines said. "We truly are one. We live together and we lived through a tornado together. We were close before, but this brought us so much closer together. Now I can truly say we do play as one team."

Megan McMurry is a junior journalism student at Union University.

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