UT athletes volunteer for Habitat for Humanity build
A certain irony resonated from every hammered nail from Josh Richardson.
“I’m here building a house right now and everything in Oklahoma is destroyed,” the Tennessee junior said Saturday morning, coated in sawdust-crusted sweat.
Richardson spent the morning in East Knoxville — a few blocks from where Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. merges into Asheville Highway. He was joined by his UT men’s basketball teammates and members of the football and Lady Vols basketball teams.
The sun was already relentless by 7:30 a.m. An inconvenience, yes. A deterrent, no. The orange Vols were shoulder-to-shoulder with volunteers from Habitat for Humanity.
The project: A house.
The goal: Put a family in it.
About 900 miles west of the construction sits storm-ravaged Oklahoma City and its surrounding areas. Among them are the cities of Edmond, Richardson’s hometown, and Moore, a town so battered by tornadoes that 17 of the 19 stories on the local newspaper’s website Saturday were weather-related.
An E-5 tornado etched a 17-mile long, 1-mile wide warpath through Moore on May 20. Twenty-four were killed and more than 200 were injured in a storm with winds exceeding 200 miles per hour.
One day before the devastation in Moore, Richardson was working out at his local gym in Edmond, about 15 miles north of downtown Oklahoma City. The sky greyed, drawing Richardson and two friends outside.
“We saw the clouds, like, start swirling right behind us,” he recounted Saturday. “So we sped to my house to make sure my parents were cool. We just stayed there through the storms and it calmed down.”
A tornado touched down one street southeast from the house. Only minor injuries were reported. Some roofs were damaged and power outages caused inconveniences. All and all, it was minor compared to what was ahead.
“I’m used to it,” Richardson said. “There’s a reason we have a storm cellar.”
Then May 20 arrived. Richardson, having had his wisdom teeth pulled, was relegated to a bed. A television served as his window. Moore is a half hour south of Edmond.
“It was crazy seeing what was happening on TV,” Richardson said. “I was just lying in bed all day, hoping it didn’t come my way.”
It never did. Richardson went the following day to visit a friend in South Oklahoma City, which borders Moore to the west. He arrived before the relief effort expanded beyond the most impacted areas.
“I drove through it and saw some stuff,” he said. “It was really bad. The first thing I saw when we exited off — there used to be a building there, but it was just in shambles. It was a giant pile of rubble. Then there were some houses that were just gone.
“It’s weird. It’s sad. You don’t get used to seeing places that you’ve known before, that are just gone.”
Friday night brought a new surge of severe weather to Central Oklahoma. At least nine were killed. This time, Richardson was in Knoxville, following on social media. His friends and family were again unscathed.
“I’m so thankful,” he said.
Saturday’s project with Habitat for Humanity will come in handy for Richardson later in the summer. He plans on returning home to join the relief effort.
“It’s cool to be here and do this,” Richardson said. “But there’s a lot of work that needs to be done back home.”
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn