Washington IL tornado: Football takes minds off community devastation; Panther lose game, gain support, respect

For a few hours Saturday, the residents of tornado ravaged Washington, Illinois had a chance to take their minds off the recovery efforts as the town's high school football team played in a state semifinal game.
November 23, 2013 9:14:55 PM PST
Washington, Illinois rallies around its high school football team that is competing for a state title less than a week the deadly tornado outbreak. The players have endured a wild week and now they are preparing for Saturday's playoff game.

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The team and some of its fans boarded buses and made the trip to Springfield.

Both teams came into Saturday's game undefeated and though the Panthers were the sentimental favorites, in the end it was not meant to be. But for both players and fans, the game was about so much more than just football.

"This has brought us a lot closer together as a team, as a family," said Washington quarterback Colton Marshall.

If spirit alone could carry a team to victory, the Washington Panthers would have had it in the bag.

And while this wasn't the result the Panthers hoped for, this game was about a lot of things, other than football. Ten of these players lost their homes in Sunday's tornado.

"I'm nothing without my family, my team my family. I'm so thankful to have them," said Cameron Schone.

"For our boys the times we are at practice and the times we are out there today are probably the only time they're not thinking about it," said Panthers Head Coach Darrell Crouch. "From a therapeutic standpoint it's probably the best thing we could do is that."

Saturday's semi-final against the Sacred Heart Cyclones had all the feeling of a home game for the panthers. Hundreds of their fans arrived in Springfield from Washington on buses chartered by Sacred Heart. A "God Bless Washington" banner was raised by Cyclone fans. Saturday, they were all Panthers.

"This is a great life lesson," said Cyclones Head Coach Ken Leonard. "I want our players to be better men than football players."

For the fans, the game was a welcome distraction in what has been an otherwise horrific week.

"My niece lost her house. My cousin lost her house. My sister's house was damaged," Ken Koch said. "It's been a horrible devastating thing, but a lot of good has come out of it."

"For a lot of us, we needed to get away for everything and what better way than to come support our team. It feels good to be here," said Kelly Pohl.

In the end, in spite of a 44-14 loss for the Panthers, both teams came together to pray. Their rivals made them the following promise.

The Washington Panthers left Springfield earlier Saturday evening to go back to Washington, where a curfew is still in place. Sunday will be one week to the day since the tornado hit.


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