NORMAN, Okla. -- In May 2013, a series of devastating tornadoes impacted families and communities across the state of Oklahoma. While the EF-5 storm that struck Moore, Okla., on May 20 garnered the most media attention, Mother Nature also took a toll on other places like Shawnee, Little Axe, El Reno and even Oklahoma City during the month.
Almost immediately after the first tornadoes touched down in the state, the University of Oklahoma followed the lead of President David L. Boren and his wife, Molly Shi Boren, by providing numerous OU resources to assist fellow Oklahomans in need. University residence halls and dining facilities were opened to provide food, shelter and other services to displaced individuals and relief workers.
Several members of the OU Athletics family were directly impacted by storms. Numerous members of the OU community responded by lending a helping hand wherever they could to assist in relief efforts. Whether it was helping families dig out of their homes, providing words of comfort, distributing and unloading relief supplies or visiting displaced individuals, the University of Oklahoma community was there for fellow Oklahomans throughout this ongoing recovery effort.
Virtually every OU Athletics team contributed in some way to the recovery efforts. In the weeks immediately following the damaging storms, it was common on any given day to have coaches, student-athletes and OU Athletics staff members assisting Oklahomans in need.
Through his own charitable foundation, Bob Stoops quietly distributed gift cards to families in several communities. He also anonymously rolled up his sleeves to help move debris, just like so many other Oklahoma coaches and student-athletes. On Memorial Day weekend, several busses filled with Sooners headed into the heart of impacted areas led by vice president for intercollegiate athletics/director of athletics, Joe Castiglione.
There were other very tangible ways in which OU teams showed their support. OU Athletics implemented the sale of “HOME” shirts due to overwhelmingly positive fan feedback shirt after a similar design was worn by Oklahoma baseball, softball and other teams during postseason competition. The shirt featured the outline of the state of Oklahoma filled with the colors of the state flag and the words “HOME.”
Trying times can also bring out the best individuals and organizations who square off on the field of play. A collaborative effort between OU, the University of Tulsa and Oklahoma State University, resulted in the 2013 Oklahoma Disaster Relief shirt that was developed that featured the logos of all three institutions along with the phrase “OK Together.”
Thanks to the proceeds generated from the sales of two benefit shirt and direct donations to the United Way from fans during Oklahoma Softball’s run to the Women’s College World Series title, United Way of Norman donated over $198,000 to agencies such as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army who assisted in ongoing disaster relief efforts in Oklahoma.
United Way – Sept. 9, 2013 - Full Story
The outpouring of support for the Sooner State came from far and wide as volunteers and relief supplies rolled in from across the country. It was common to meet individuals from across the country came to Oklahoma just because they wanted to help. A father and his two sons from Colorado gave up a family holiday to lend a hand with clean-up efforts. A couple of buddies from Duluth, Minn., hopped in their truck with their chainsaws in tow to tend to damaged trees. Numerous residents of Joplin, Mo., came to Oklahoma as a way of ‘paying forward’ the efforts of those who came to their assistance after that community enduring a devastating tornado of its own.
Countless sports teams and other organizations sent truckloads of bottled water, household items, clothes and other necessities to those in need. One of the more unique shipments came courtesy of Bob Stoops’ alma mater, as the University of Iowa Football Equipment truck delivered bedding, baby products, pet food and other items. Fittingly, Stoops put his troops to work and sent the squad to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma to provide the manual labor needed to unload the semi-load of kindness from the Hawkeyes.
Oklahoma, Iowa Football Team Up – June 4, 2013 – Full Story
While supplies rolled in and people tried to put their lives back together, former Sooner basketball greats returned home to help, too. That spirit of servanthood was epitomized by Blake and Taylor Griffin, who decided that kids impacted by the storms needed a chance to, well, just be kids. The Griffin brothers hosted an event dubbed “Smile Moore” at the Lloyd Noble Center to help children and their families enjoy a day to play and simply have fun.
Griffin Brothers Host “Smile Moore” – May 31, 2013 – Full Story
Perhaps the most star-studded relief effort to take place following last May’s storms occurred at the epicenter of the OU campus on Owen Field as the largest single-day crowd ever to witness a concert in the state’s history assembled for the Oklahoma Twister Relief Concert headlined by Moore, Okla., native and longtime OU fan, Toby Keith. The eight-hour benefit concert on July 6 raised about $2 million for the United Way of Central Oklahoma’s May Tornadoes Relief Fund.
A who’s who of the musical world played the event in Norman, including country music icons like Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Ronnie Dunn, John Anderson and Mel Tillis. Carrie Underwood performed via satellite from the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn., while veteran rocker, Sammy Hagar, even played a set.
While the Oklahoma Twister Relief Concert was a rousing success, team building became an unexpected by-product of the disaster recovery effort as numerous OU squads. The Oklahoma women’s basketball and rowing programs were just two of the many teams who gained a closer sense of camaraderie after working together to assist their neighbors in need.
OU Women’s Basketball – Nov. 11, 2013 – Full Story
Season of Service – April 24, 2014 – Full Story
The extreme weather experienced by Oklahomans in May 2013 will long be remembered by residents of the Sooner State and the entire University of Oklahoma community. While the passage of time continues to sooth the sorrow of those who experienced personal loss during that tumultuous time, a great legacy of caring and compassion was borne in the aftermath of those storms.
Whether it was it was word of consolation, a few hours of manual labor, a safe place to sleep, a warm meal or the shared joy of watching OU Softball capture a national championship, countless examples of the Oklahoma spirit permeated the days, weeks and months that followed some very trying moments a year ago. The University of Oklahoma and OU Athletics recognizes that the recovery continues for many individuals and their families. We join Oklahomans and Sooners everywhere in celebrating the resilient spirit that our state has shown as we continue supporting our friends and neighbors in a place that call HOME!