Two large-scale hurricanes in the last couple weeks wreaked havoc on two of the nation’s most populous cities, and Ole Miss student-athletes from the affected areas could do little more than pray and wait for the safety of their families, friends and hometowns.
The University of Mississippi is composed of a 60/40 split between Mississippi residents and out-of-state students. Likewise, nearly 50 percent of Ole Miss student-athletes hail from out of state. Two of the largest contributors to this out-of-state pool are Texas and Florida – the states facing the most hurricane damage at the moment.
There are nine Rebel athletes hailing from either the Houston or Corpus Christie metropolitan areas. One of those student-athletes is sophomore running back D’Vaughn Pennamon, who scored his first touchdown of the season two weeks ago against South Alabama. Just days before, he had been anxiously awaiting word from his family in Houston.
“It was just really nerve-racking watching all the devastation happen,” Pennamon said, reflecting on the day Harvey made landfall. “I kept calling my family every couple of hours to make sure they were OK.”
Officials from the Red Cross reported that 32,000 people were displaced as a result of Harvey’s destruction, including Pennamon’s grandparents.
Following the storm, university officials were quick to reach out to students from the Houston area, offering assistance through the Rebel Relief Disaster Fund, which was established earlier this year.
Head baseball coach Mike Bianco joined in the assistance, picking up on a Twitter challenge that encouraged baseball programs around the country to send university apparel to help Harvey victims.
“Todd Whitting, the head baseball coach at the University of Houston … wanted as many baseball teams as possible to donate 20 program shirts and 10 pairs of shoes,” Bianco said. “Eventually, I picked up on it and was happy to join in on behalf of our team here at Ole Miss.”
Sixteen days after Harvey made landfall in southeast Texas, one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, Hurricane Irma, began to bear down on the Sunshine State 1,200 miles away.
Kylan Becker, a sophomore outfielder on the softball team, came to Oxford from Miami, a city devastated by Irma.
Having grown up in South Beach, Florida, Becker is no stranger to hurricanes, but the last several days have been worrisome, nevertheless.
“Being here in Oxford while the storm was hitting was really hard,” Becker said. “It was my little brother’s first hurricane experience, and I wanted to be there for him because I know he was super scared.”
Becker said her family members’ experience with brutal storms was key in preparing for Irma and they took necessary precautions to ensure their safety.
“We have accordion shutters on our house that we slide together,” Becker said. “The next thing we do is drain our pond so it does not overflow, and since my dad is a police officer, my family can actually stay at the station while the storm is going on.”
Associate Athletics Director Kyle Campbell said Athletics has begun reaching out to athletes from the affected areas.
According to Campbell, the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee provided handwritten notes and candy bags to student-athletes affected by the storms.
As the storms weaken and gradually dissipate, the affected areas can begin to rebuild. However, it will not be an overnight process, as damage costs already total in the billions of dollars in Houston alone, according to an article by the Los Angeles Times.
The economic damage presents a formidable challenge, but residents like Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt have already raised more than $15 million. Though he lacks Watt’s social media fame, Pennamon began drumming up support on social media and reassuring people that every little bit counts.
“If you can help, please do so,” Pennamon said. “Anything at all can help. A prayer, a donation, just anything at all can go a long way.”