BUCKHANNON — Members of the West Virginia Wesleyan College Bobcat football team recently contributed to flood relief efforts by replacing a bridge for a family in Clendenin.
"Service is one of the big pillars of our programs," offensive line coach Tony Testa said. "It's one of the emphasis points that coach Del Smith makes. Coach Smith and myself both played with people from the Clendenin area and know how those people were affected by the floods this past summer and had been looking for ways to help."
Testa also serves as the liaison for community service for the football team and was contacted by Buck Edwards, construction site coordinator for the West Virginia United Methodist Annual Conference, who has been helping with flood relief efforts.
"This just seemed like a great opportunity for us to go out there and make a difference for somebody and show some of our players how different people in the state were affected," Testa said.
Of the seven players that had an opportunity to go on this work experience, only one was from West Virginia. But three players from New Jersey were personally affected by Super Storm Sandy, according to Testa. Two other players hail from Florida and have seen the wrath of hurricanes.
"When they saw this opportunity to give back, they really wanted to take advantage of it," he said.
Testa had traveled to some of the flood-impacted areas for recruiting trips but remarked how devastated the area still was seven months after the flooding.
"That whole area is still devastated," he said. "Building after building is condemned and you can see where FEMA has come through and marked buildings. It's still pretty obvious the amount of impact that flood is still having in those areas."
Lawrence Brown, a freshman running back from North Carolina, said, "We redid the whole bridge. We basically took up the old pieces of wood and replaced them with new ones. It took about three or four hours."
The bridge that was replaced was the family's way to get from their house to the highway and was in dire need of replacement, according to Brown.
"It was a lot of heavy lifting," he said. "I can't imagine if they would have had to do it by themselves, but there were a lot of us. They were more than grateful and they were so happy that we were down there to help them out."
"One of the initiatives that head coach Smith told us is that we are going to be involved in the community. We understood how bad the flood had impacted these communities and we all understood how we could make an impact by giving back," he added. "We want to be involved in the community to show that we are more than just a sports team."
Brown said he did community service in high school and was glad to be able to find ways to continue that service streak in his collegiate career.
"It was heart warming to be able to help a family in need," he said. "We will be doing more things like this in the future. We look forward to helping more families in need."
Testa said the work the team did to redeck the bridge was a learning experience.
"The bridge extends over the water," he said. "There was a ton of team work in pulling the old planks out of the bridge and making sure you were doing it in a safe fashion.
"The team building aspect of it was huge plus. They had to communicate with each other. The more important part of it was that our guys have a chance to serve, but there is definitely some carryover to what we teach them on the field."
Last spring, Testa said the football team completed 1,000 man-hours of community service.
"We are going to come close to doubling that this year," he said. "That is a testament to the impact that our guys have made."
Earlier in the school year, the football team helped Edwards with another flood-related project, collecting gently used furniture and appliances to be delivered to flood victims.
Their community service also includes working with Upshur County Schools in a variety of programs.
Two graduating players were inspired to start Reach Out and Respond, which is student-driven and continues the school volunteerism as well helps out in the Parish House and Clothes Closet.
Testa said he and Smith played with Joe Rector, who was on the 2002 and 2003 Wesleyan championship teams and had taught the children in the family that the football team helped in Clendenin.
It was nice to have that connection, according to Testa.
"It was very, very rewarding for our guys and they were really excited about the experience," he added.
(Story written by and courtesy of Amanda Hayes/The Record Delta)