Teams Cope With Hurricane Recovery For Regional Qualifying

It's been nearly eight months since Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas coastline.

The storm brought 130 mph winds, tornadoes, epic flooding, and millions of dollars of destruction. The type of destruction that most had never seen before.

Homes, businesses, schools, and entire communities had roofs ripped off, interior flooding, and, unfortunately for some, even loss of lives.

Since then, it's been a long, difficult, and sometimes unimaginable eight months of recovery. Today, the regional track and field meets get underway across the state of Texas. Region III has perhaps one of the largest number of coaches, student-athletes, parents, volunteers, and officials that were affected by the storm.

Many of them have made it to today and the athletes have an opportunity to qualify for the UIL state track and field meet.

To reach today's meet, athletes first had to make it out of their district meets and their areas and still must survive this weekend's preliminaries and finals before they can move on to state.

However, they had to do more than survive those couple of meets to be here today.

Port Arthur Memorial is known for their outstanding athletics. 

However, the city of Port Arthur, Texas, has also been known for their difficulties brought on by Hurricane Harvey.

The city went days and weeks of either being flooded or without electricity.

Homes were lost and many that weren't still experienced heavy wind and water damage. In the eight months that have past, many may have forgotten about the communities like Corpus Christi, Port Aransas, and Port Arthur. But not everyone has forgotten.

"I remember it like it happened yesterday," Zykirra Cabarras said.

Cabarras is a sophomore sprinter at Memorial High School in Port Arthur.

"When Hurricane Harvey hit us, it affected my life badly," she said. "It definitely affected my academics because I couldn't go back to school for weeks. I was in a hotel trying to figure things out, like how was I going to catch up in all of my classes and how were we going to pull through as a family."

For Cabarras, track and field was also in jeopardy.

"I got injured this track season," she said. "I didn't know how I was going to get through the season. I knew my parents had other things to do for the house and I knew they were going to get overwhelmed, so I had to face that adversity."

Anyia Duhon is also a sprinter at Memorial. The junior has also had her own obstacles to overcome this season, some that she never saw coming.

"Hurricane Harvey impacted my life in many different ways, from not living in my own home to affecting my track season," she said.

Duhon has been displaced from her home ever since the storm hit.

"I've been without having my own place to call home for eight months now."

It may seem very minimal compared to the bigger and real-life things that are going on, but that sense of unknown, uncertainty, and anxiety has spilled over to Duhon's athletics.

"The beginning of track season was off to a rocky start," she said. "I had so many responsibilities on me; also being the captain of the track team, it was very rough."

The Humble, Texas, area was also documented as getting hit hard with storm-related flooding. Not only were homes and communities hit hard, but also Kingwood High School.

The entire campus was flooded and the school was simply unfit to hold classes. The decision was made for Kingwood students would go to school in another school. The neighboring Summer Creek High School, which was also going through storm-related issues of their own, would split the school and facilities with Kingwood.

"We had a lot that were flooded out of their houses and some chose to transfer," Kingwood coach Tate Symons said.

The Kingwood track and cross country program has a long, storied history of winning Texas state championships. Everything tangible that records that history was lost in the flood. Equipment, uniforms, and anything else you can name was a total loss.

As for going to school in a different school, "I think the main thing is our entire bell schedule was different," the coach said. "All year we have been on a block schedule and only had our athletic period twice a week for the girls. Due to this, we had practice at 7AM for the track kids which isn't normal but the dedicated kids and the ones who have seen the most success this year were always there and it didn't hold them back at all; 7 AM practice was a big hurdle for a lot of the track kids but I think it turned out for the best. Weather all season has been really strange this year and we always blame it on Harvey, half-jokingly."

As for sharing a school, track offices, facilities, and practice schedules with your district rivals and competitors, things may not be as bad as you would expect.

"I thought it was great," he said. "We got to know them a lot better and Summer Creek head coaches Shelton Ervin and Jennifer Harper helped us out tremendously. They were very gracious hosts and allowed us to use whatever we needed. We feel a ton of appreciation toward them and they had a great track season. We wish them nothing but continued success."

Ervin agreed on the bell situation.

"It was very tough, there were a lot of changes, modifications, and scheduling changes to go through," he said. "We were practicing around 12:15 or 12:20; kids were having to eat lunch and then head straight to practice. The kids had to get their nutrition and energy and still be able to practice and then they had to be able to catch the buses home. I estimated we lost about one-third of our training time on the season."

About a mile away Sheldon ISD schools had extensive damage to their community. Coach Ervin even had significant roof damage to his home. However, Summer Creek student-athletes, for the most part, fared well.

"We didn't have kids that were displaced," Ervin said. "The biggest thing is they had minor damages whether it was fence or roof damage. However, the kids did have family members that were affected and they had to enable family members come live with them. Several of our kids also assisted at shelters and other community-related organizations.

"Coach Symonds and Kingwood was an ideal situation of partnering up. Their numbers being where they were and ours made sense to make it fit. We won a team state championship in 2013 and then they won in 2014, and we both have state championship caliber athletes. It made sense since our programs are pretty aligned.

"Our guys were fortunate in being able to pull off the district championship. I think that is in part from being accommodating to our sister school and being able to partner with Kingwood and share an office and talk with Tate Symons, Larry Gnatzig, and their staff." 

As far as being with district foes, Ervin said, "It was a highlight. Carter StormNick Majerus, and Trent Nolan would stop by the office every day, I got a chance to talk and encourage them and talk with them about how their workouts went. At a meet, you'll see me high five them or dap them up. Tate would do the same and counsel my Summer Creek runners like Solomon Brent, Pierce Schradeand Travis Jacobs. At district, I think he was rooting my guys on just as hard as I was and I was rooting for his."

Ervin believes this whole process taught both staffs and athletes valuable lessons. They stayed focused on what they had control of and making the most of their situations.

"A lot of life lessons came out of this season," he said. "We reaped the benefit and achieved a lot of success at Texas Relays."

He sings the praises of the Summer Creek administration: "The situations that Harvey brought were unfortunate, but I enjoyed the opportunity for my school, the teachers, and my staff to share the school and interaction with Kingwood. A lot of relationships between schools and communities that normally wouldn't have been built were built and it will help the healing process continue to take place."

Symons definitely agrees.

"Without a doubt," he said. "This really revealed what kind of kids we are dealing with on a daily basis. I think my appreciation for the athletes, students, and staff of Kingwood High School has gone through the roof. These kids are phenomenal people who will not lot any obstacle keep them from being successful. It was such a hard year and without all the positivity we had with each other I'm not sure it would have turned out as well as it did."

Both the Kingwood and Summer Creek programs will compete today against each other and the rest of the region to qualify for state. Both programs are loaded with regional qualifiers.

As for Port Arthur Memorial, well, the boys team only has some of the top individuals and relays in the state.

The girls team is finally getting healthy and they are making strides toward recovering. Duhon has rebounded both athletically and academically. She currently has a 4.2 GPA with a 3.6 in college courses.

"I knew I had to focus on school and keep my grades up no matter what and that's exactly what I did," she said. "I am the district and area champ in the 400m. I achieved my goal and it's still unbelievable right now, To God be the glory!"

Cabarras is also competing at regionals today and has a new way to cope due to Hurricane Harvey.

"Although Hurricane Harvey was a natural disaster, I learned from it. I learned how not to fold under pressure when faced with adversity. Prayer goes a long way. I overcame and now I'm here to conquer!"