The amount of devastation is still difficult to grasp for Downstate Washington sophomore Randy Meneweather.
Like several of his wrestling teammates, Meneweather and his family were forced from inhabitable homes following the tornado that ravaged the Washington, Ill. community on Nov. 17.
“I went blank when it happened,” said Meneweather, who’s now living in a hotel. “I had some family over so I didn’t want to show fear in front of the little kids, but it still hasn’t really hit me yet.”
What Meneweather, a returning state qualifier, has come to recognize is the tight bond between the wrestling community. Instead of going to practice last week, Washington coach Bryan Medlin had the team shifting through debris to help spur cleanup in the area.
“Seven of our guys lost their homes completely and another half dozen aren’t able to move back yet,” Medlin said. “We couldn’t just be selfish and say we had to practice. A lot of these kids were effected by it, so we had a lot to give.
“The wrestling team in our community has taken a leadership role as far as doing the grunt work and moving debris.”
More than 1,500 homes were destroyed or damaged in Central Illinois, according to federal storm damage accessors. The National Weather Service in Lincoln reported the Washington tornado belched winds between 170 and 190 miles per hour.
On Saturday, Washington traveled to Sandburg for a quad meet that included Lincoln-Way West and T.F. South. Each school hosted a different level of competition and combined to raise over $4,000 for the relief fund.
“One of the best and most comforting things to know is that such a strong group has your back,” Medlin said. “It warms your heart to see that.”
Medlin added that Sandburg was one of the first programs to contact him offering help. Eagles coach Eric Siebert was quick to defer.
“It wasn’t just the wrestling program,” Siebert said. “All the coaches here and the whole community wanted to show their support.”
Programs at Oak Park-River Forest and Montini, among others, have also provided assistance, traveling to Washington to speed the cleanup process. Medlin said Oak Park-River Forest coach Mike Powell brought nearly 200 wrestlers to prompt the recovery.
“From Chicago teams to Central Illinois teams, the wrestling community wanted to roll up their sleeves and work — help manually,” Medlin said. “It’s that wrestling mentality that hard work is going to be the solution to every single problem.
For Meneweather, the bond between teammates and the wrestling world is only growing stronger. The Washington sophomore said the most rewarding role he’s played in the recovery has been helping teammate Trey Keeley, who’s father’s home was completely razed.
“I don’t think anyone gets too down because we’re all here to pick each other up,” Meneweather said. “We’re going to get it done.”