Athletes of Distinction
JCJC FCA members, student-athletes helping out with tornado relief efforts
ELLISVILLE – When tornadoes struck Forrest, Lamar, Marion and Wayne counties on Feb. 10, thousands of people had their lives altered in an instant.
It did not take long for Jones County Junior College student-athletes, JCJC Fellowship of Christian Athletes members, coaches and others associated with the school to come to the forefront and help the people affected by the storms.
Jones County FCA director Justin Graves said his group did not have a specific plan after the storm hit. But things fell together quickly.
“My wife (Casey) and I have a friend that works at Christian Services in Hattiesburg,” he said. “We hooked up with her and she gave me some names of people that needed help immediately. We got in touch with a student pastor in Petal, Brian Hinnant. Parts of Petal were just smashed.
“With pretty much no plan to start, my wife and I tried to set up a calendar to send our FCA teams out to help. So far, it’s been our men and women’s soccer teams, men and women’s tennis teams, softball team, women’s basketball and football teams. I know (women’s soccer) Coach (Dolores) Deasley has been at least four times down there to help out.”
Graves said he receives word periodically from JCJC coaches or students or with people in Forrest and Lamar counties about wanting to help with tornado relief.
“I have contacts in Petal, Oak Grove and Hattiesburg and wherever that need is, that is where we send our teams,” he said. “I will call or text them and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a group of 10 soccer players or 15 softball players and we would love to go and serve someone.’ And they will text or call back and say, ‘Meet me at this church and I’ll take you there.’”
For Lady Bobcat soccer standout Kimberly Murray, the EF4 tornado was personal.
Murray is a graduate of Oak Grove High School, which received significant damage. In addition, she was at Hattiesburg’s First Baptist Church on Lincoln Road when the storm struck.
“I am across from Highway 98 and live about three minutes from Oak Grove High School,” she said. “I got really lucky because my family is across from where the tornado was. I was actually at my church when it hit and did not have a clue that any of that was going on at the time.
“I was getting ready to leave after it was over and my journey home, which usually takes about 10 minutes, took over an hour because of all the damage and detours. It was scary.”
In Lamar County, 51 homes were destroyed and another 170 had major damage. In Forrest County, 192 homes were destroyed and another 338 had major damage. There was also significant damage in Marion and Wayne counties.
The University of Southern Mississippi received an estimated $20-30 million of damage. Many JCJC folks have helped out with tornado relief at Southern Miss.
Amazingly, there were no deaths associated with the storm. There were 82 injuries reported.
Murray said the opportunity to lend a hand and be with her teammates in the process is phenomenal.
“It’s been an awesome experience, especially when you see the people you are helping,” she said. “That’s been huge. The first time we went down there, we saw a guy who had lost half of his house. He was out there working, too. He had kids and he was talking about what had happened. You can truly see how it affects people. It is definitely a blessing to help people out in this situation.
“We went with the tennis teams the first time, but I’ve been with my team both times. We plan on returning and helping out as much as possible, as long as school does not get in the way.”
Bobcat tennis player Tanner Chamblee, a sophomore from East Rankin Academy, went with his teammates to an area in Petal to help.
“When we got there, it was extremely bad,” he said. “We went to two yards and there was a trampoline up in the top of a tree. That was pretty amazing. There was stuff everywhere, houses destroyed.
“People began to saw up trees and we just went back there and started picking up stuff and hauling it away. It was an awesome experience to be able to get out there and help people that had pretty much lost everything. It was very humbling to give up our time and our bodies and use the gifts that God has given us to give back and help somebody in need.”
Chamblee said the feeling of helping people and seeing their appreciation is inspirational.
“We met one guy who was just so amazed that we showed up to help him,” he said. “That was the first yard we cleaned up and it was awesome. I wish we had taken a ‘before and after’ picture for everybody to see the damage that had been done. It felt so good to help him and he was just amazed and thankful that we were there to help.”
Being from Oak Grove, Murray realizes her family’s home could have been damaged during the tornado.
“It could have easily been me or my family or someone close to me,” she said. “If that had happened, we definitely would have wanted people to help us. To be able to help people is awesome and is such a blessing.”
Lady Bobcat softball coach Chris Robinson and his team went to Mt. Carmel Baptist Church on Main Street in Hattiesburg, where Rev. Kenneth Fairley is the pastor.
“We were fortunate enough to go to Mt. Carmel Baptist Church and help clean up in their area,” he said. “We appreciate Rev. Fairley letting us come down and help out. Anytime we can give back to the victims of this terrible tragedy we are going to do it – no questions asked.”
Chamblee said he was proud to see the JCJC freshmen student-athletes roll up their sleeves and go to work to help people.
“I’m only one of three sophomores on the tennis team and to see our freshmen give up their own time and get out there and help and sacrifice and step up as leaders was awesome,” he said. “They worked from the start, they didn’t take any breaks and they didn’t complain one time. As a sophomore to see those freshmen step up and be leaders was great.
“We were there with the soccer teams and they all worked hard, too. (Tennis) Coach (Mark) Easley and the other coaches (Deasley, men’s soccer coach Oleg Baleyev) were also out there with us. It was good to see us come together as a school and help someone who needed it.”
Chamblee added that what the student-athletes have done as far as relief work together has made them much closer as a team.
“Just showing that we have those gifts and can come together and help others, it was a good bonding experience for us, as well,” he said. “Anytime they need us, we will be there. We had to miss one practice, but that is such a small price to pay to help somebody in need.
“We will put in the work outside of practice if needed.”
Graves has been impressed with the work the JCJC FCA members have done, especially the first day they went to Petal.
“They have absolutely owned it,” he said. “They have worked their tails off from start to finish. The first time we went, I believe, was two days after the storm. We were in literally eight inches of mud hauling debris out.
“Nobody complained one bit. It was cold, it was wet and it was nasty work, but none of our kids complained. They had smiles on their faces.”
Graves added the JCJC students have exceeded his expectations.
“We were working at one place where people had lost a whole room off their house,” he said. “They were picking up ornaments and decorations and things like that and they are really sensitive about it. They did not want to throw it away – they were trying to take care of the family as best they could.
“Our students are the best. I knew they would do good, but they have absolutely blown me away.”
The work the JCJC student-athletes have done has had a snowball effect – once they go, they want to keep going back to help.
“I had a girl text me last night and ask when we were going back,” Graves said. “I had a coach text and tell me when his team would be ready to go again. It is amazing.”
Graves said there would several opportunities to do relief work during the upcoming months.
“This is going to be an ongoing project,” he said. “Anybody who has been there knows it’s not going to be cleaned up in a couple of days. As long as we have the opportunity to go and God keeps that door open, we will continue to walk through it.”
Robinson said many of his players couldn’t wait to return to help.
“A lot of them want to go back and that’s just a testament to the type of kids we have here at Jones,” he said. “Whether it’s softball or baseball or any sport we have here at Jones, our players want to bend over backwards and help the victims of this tragedy.”
Graves noted that none of the relief efforts could have happened without the support of the JCJC administration, staff and coaches.
“Jones has stepped up in such a big way,” he said. “Our coaches have really stepped up. They are always calling and wanting to know when they can have more opportunities to go work. We have such a great community, we really do.
“Jones has been so gracious. They have provided transportation and they have given us supplies. The coaches have gone and bought supplies. They have canceled practices, just so they could go and serve. That’s a big deal!”
Graves also said that different schools have worked together so far, as well as different denominations.
“This has definitely been a chance for us to put down our jerseys and our team colors and work with others,” he said. “The pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg, which was really hit hard, commented the other day about how Baptists, Methodists and Catholics have been coming to help them. But he said we all worship the same God, so it really doesn’t matter what we call ourselves – especially in this kind of situation.”
Robinson noted that when the JCJC softball and baseball teams had home games on Feb. 16 at Community Bank Park, they were able to receive donated non-perishable items from the opposing teams that day.
The Lady Bobcats hosted Pensacola State College (Fla.), Co-Lin and Mississippi Delta in the Gwen Magee Invitational, while the baseball team entertained Southeastern Iowa and Jefferson Davis Community College (Ala.).
“We have to say a big ‘thank you’ to all of those teams for helping out,” Robinson said. “It’s just amazing when a tragedy happens you see so many join together and help out. We really appreciate what those teams did to help with tornado relief.”
For more information about the Jones County FCA, contact Graves at 601-433-1312.
Top Photo: Members of the JCJC men’s soccer team, along with head coach Oleg Baleyev, athletic director Katie Herrington and trainers Joel Cain and Keela Hill help out with tornado relief.