Giving back: Football team steps in to aid community after storm

For The Tribune

Dane Darlage and his family sustained property damage during storms that swept through Jackson County in the early morning hours of March 1.

The National Weather Service confirmed an EF2 tornado hit southern Jackson County.

Darlage’s family lost an entire barn in the storm, and he said many people lent a hand following the storm.

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So Darlage decided he would pitch in and help after receiving a text message from Braves football assistant coach Cam Cockerham that the team was organizing a couple of workdays to help those with storm damage in Jackson County.

“We had some damage at our house, so I know how bad it feels to try to pick up your stuff, so I just wanted to help the community,” he said.

Darlage said he has enjoyed working alongside his teammates to help others in need.

“At first, I thought it would kind of be busy work, but it’s been a good time with friends and getting together to help other people,” he said.

Darlage and several other teammates spent Sunday afternoon helping at the home of Dean and Carol Blackwell in the Wegan area.

The tornado ran through a field northeast of their house, leaving them with large tree limbs down.

Their neighbor, Todd Stark, lost two garages.

Cockerham sent the text message after he read an article about another school doing similar work following the storms.

“The guys are in between sports, so there’s no reason we can’t come out here on a Sunday afternoon and do a little work,” he said.

The first trip had 15 players from the team picking up insulation from a barn in a field in Vallonia.

The Blackwells took shelter in their basement during the storm. Carol said she heard the wind pick up as she was caring for the couple’s new Siberian husky.

“I was taking the dog out because he is potty training,” she said. “We knew about the storms and had it on our mind. We moved down to the basement until we heard it get quiet.”

The Blackwells have lived on the property since 1973, and this was the first tornado they have experienced while living there.

“Mostly, we have tree damage and a little on our roof,” she said. “Mostly, the tops of trees were damaged, and out on the lane, there was another treetop and a lot of branches.”

Cockerham said it is important for the team to help when the community needs them.

It’s a way to give back after the support the community brings on Friday nights in the fall, he said.

“You’ve got a lot of people who just come support us because they enjoy seeing football games, and we have great support at home games and away games,” he said. “When I asked the boys to come help, I told them, ‘The community supports you, and you have to give back.’”

The Blackwells appreciated the help. Carol said it would have taken them much longer than an afternoon to get everything picked up.

“We’re very thankful, and it’s too much for us to handle,” she said. “We really appreciate this.”

The experience also has brought teammates closer together, Darlage said.

“It’s more quality time with other teammates,” he said. “The more time you spend together, the better off you are as a team.”