Monday, August 9, 2010
Warren West's fight to revamp RHS football doesn't compare to his previous bout: starting over Katrina
AVON — The total number of direct and indirect deaths attributed to Hurricane Katrina was 1,836.
If not for a strange set of circumstances, Riverside High football coach Warren West and his family might have made it 1,839.
Two days prior to the deadly hurricane, West's father-in-law died, forcing his wife and son, Grant, to travel from their home in Pass Christian back to Greenville for the funeral.
Meanwhile, West, who was an assistant coach at Pass Christian at the time, stayed home to coach the Pirates in their Friday night game against Florence. They won the game 34-26, and afterwards West made his way to Greenville to be with his family.
After an emotional funeral on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2005, the West's had no idea that the worst was far from over.
That night, he was without a father-in-law. By the morning, he had no home.
"We lost everything (because of Hurricane Katrina)," said the 1977 Lakeside High (Ark.) alum, who is entering his first year back at RHS. "Pictures, records, everything was gone. The vast majority of people get to pack some things up. We only had the clothes we brought to Greenville."
What he saw when he returned to Pass Christian was surreal, said West.
"You get out of your truck and walk a block or two, and wonder what's left of your house — and all you see is a concrete slab," he recalled.
A weekend stay in Greenville for his wife ended up lasting six months. And just a week after the brutal storm, he got a phone call from the head coach.
"He called and said, 'I talked to the superintendent, and we're going back to school,'" West recalled.
"I said you gotta be kidding, there's nothing left in town," he continued.
But it was no joke.
Just two weeks after the entire coast was nearly wiped away, the Pirates were back — in a sense.
"We went house-to-house trying to find the (players)," said West. "We were able to come up with about 20 kids to play 4A football — and two or three of those were junior high players. (Two weeks prior) we had 48 in our win against Florence."
But the number of players wasn't the only obstacle standing in their way. They had no stadium, no equipment, and nowhere to practice.
But in an effort to make the best out of a bad situation, the Pirates accepted an offer to practice at an old "warehouse" belonging a local businessman.
"It was really a cow pasture," he recalled. "There were no lines, no chalk, no paint. We didn't have anything.
"We cleaned out the rooms and made them into coach offices. The kids had to get dressed in folding chairs. And we had two volleyball stands that we rolled together and made that our upright (for kicking)."
Unfortunately, due to a lack of players and knee injuries to both the quarterback and running back, the Pirates went 0-7 through the rest of the 2005 season.
Afterwards, West left Pass Christian en route to San Antonio, Texas where he coached for two seasons. He then came back to the coast to coach at St. Martin, Perry Central and Mercy Cross.
Now he's back to where it all started — the Delta.
"It was a hard move for my family. My wife had a good job, good friends. It was tough to leave them," he recalled. "But it's good to come home. I wanted my little boy to be close to his grandma."
West said he rarely talks about his past experiences, but his sister has brought up the idea of writing a book about it all. As for now, West said he's hasn't made up his about that just yet.
"You see so many things, so many people go through so much adversity. It's really hard to sit down and put it into words," he said.
So many people saw it on television and saw the pictures and ask 'boy, it must have been bad. How bad was it? But it's hard to explain.
"The best explanation I've heard was that it looked like a bomb went off. A bomb went off all the way across the Mississippi coast."
Riverside is scheduled to begin their season in less than two weeks on Aug. 20 against rival St. Joseph — a team West once coached.