The Commerce Journal
In early April a severe band of storms swept through the North Texas and Commerce area, spurring tornadoes and causing damage throughout. It also spurred the Texas A&M University-Commerce football team to make its way to one of the hardest-hit locations to help clean up and rebuild the final resting place of a number of those who called Hunt County home.
Just days after that series of storms passed through the area, more than 15 members of the Lion football team took an afternoon to go to McWright Cemetery and repair dozens headstones and cemetery grounds that were effected by the tornadoes.
“One day after practice Coach [Colby] Carthel told us that there were places around town that the storm had really hit hard, and that we were going to do our part,” senior defensive lineman Charlie Tuaau said.
In addition to brush and trash being scattered throughout the cemetery, the high-level winds were strong enough to knock over numerous headstones and sculptures, some of which were centuries old and weighing several hundred pounds. Knowing this, the Lions commissioned members of the offensive and defensive lines to make the trek to McWright and get to work repairing the damage.
After arriving, the Lions divided up with some gathering and disposing of brush and trash on the grounds, and others teaming up to move stone structures which were unmovable for the every-day commoner.
“Coach (Carthel) told us some of these stones were really heavy, and he was right,” offensive lineman Jordan Decourte said. “There were some of those marble and granite stones that had to be 400-600 pounds and even though we are pretty big and strong guys, it still took us 4-6 people apiece to move some of them.”
The players spent approximately three to four hours at the cemetery completing the project, one that proved to be a history lesson of sorts for a group of student-athletes not native to Hunt County, but who have been adopted into the community with open arms.
“Some of these headstones were from the early 1800s,” Tuaau said. “The groundskeepers even showed us how in those days they buried the slaves on one side of the cemetery, away from the rest. It was eye-opening to get a visual of how that worked back then.”
With the majority of the group being on the offensive and defensive lines, it was nothing uncommon for the blue-collar group to get their hands dirty. For several, it was a way to reconnect with their youths and home, including Decourte and Tuaau, who both grew up working outdoors in Hawaii.
“It reminded me of building rock walls with my dad when I was younger,” Decourte said. “We tried to make it a game too, with me and my roommate trying to see who could move the heaviest things.”
Still, when all is said and done the day was not about the satisfaction of a full afternoon of a hard day’s outdoor labor; rather, the sentiment was echoed throughout the team that the satisfaction of the day came from taking the time to assist, when assistance was not asked for.
“That’s how I, and a lot of guys on this team were raised,” Decourte said. “When people need help, you help them. This town and this school is a home to all of us, which makes the community family. And you always help out your family.”