PEMBROKE — Though the majority of the area is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Florence extended from coastal North Carolina to Robeson County, a source of good news came last week when the Public Schools of Robeson County gave the OK for high school sports to resume with practice and games.
On Monday, the Purnell Swett volleyball and football teams practiced for the first time in nearly two weeks.
Both players and coaches were relieved to have their team back in one piece and at full strength.
“It’s important to the kids to have some normalcy,” said Purnell Swett volleyball coach Corey Deese. “They were all hugging each other and so excited to see everybody when we got here to start our practice.”
Purnell Swett football coach Jon Sherman shared similar sentiments about his eager group as they got back on the field Monday evening.
“I was talking to the guys, mostly, through this past 10 to 12 days, making sure everyone was OK. I’m just happy enough everybody is here,” Sherman said.
Both coaches expressed how grateful they were to have their players and their respective families healthy. They did, however, acknowledge that some have a longer road back to recovery than others. And each team lended a helping hand to neighbors in need.
One of the biggest challenges for the next few weeks will be getting the players to focus on the game while their communities are trying to bounce back from the second major natural disaster in a two-year span.
“It’s adversity. It’s just a matter of getting back into a flow and telling ourselves we want it or not. You can’t really change when things happen and it’s how you react to them,” Sherman said, as his team gets ready to play Scotland on Friday.
Deese discussed how her team was ready to respond after a quick turnaround, having to play Scotland on Wednesday.
“I think they’re in the mindset that they’re ready to play and they’re ready to prove to people that they’re winners and that they can push through some of the adversity they’ve delt with this season,” she said.
The Lady Rams, in particular, will be tested both mentally and physically throughout the next few days with a grueling schedule. Including Wednesday, they’re scheduled to play six games in 10 days. Two of those games will be on Saturdays, which Deese says is a challenge in its own right. Compounding matters, the team will be practicing and playing home games at Pembroke Middle until the shelter set up at the high school is cleared.
Despite the new changes and difficulties, both Deese and Sherman are convinced their respective groups won’t be affected too much and are eager to prove themselves.
Much like their counterparts at Purnell Swett, the Lumberton volleyball team went to a feeder school to practice Monday. Both high schools as of Monday were still being used as shelters, forcing the Lady Pirates to practice at Magnolia Elementary School, which they did in 2016 after Hurricane Matthew.
“I can’t thank Magnolia enough for being gracious to help us out,” Lumberton coach Tre’ Britt said. “Without them, we would have no where to practice.”
Lumberton sits at 6-3 overall and in the middle of the pack in the conference. Britt wants to see more positives come after the team gets out of the hurricane-forced break on Thursday at Seventy-First.
“They were really just trying to get a feel today. They were excited and are looking forward to move on and take the positives we had before and turn it into momentum,” Britt said. “We are right in the hunt and want to get some momentum and ride it all the way out.”
Whether that momentum has to be built at Magnolia for a few weeks while the gym is still being used a shelter, or even sooner, Britt said there is a comfort level at the neutral location. But nothing beats playing at home.
“When they give us the green light to go back, the girls will be excited to get to go back to a place they are comfortable at,” he said.
Donnell Coley can be reached at 910-416-5165 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Sportsinmyveins. Jonathan Bym contributed to this report.