Smithville’s High School football team helped town pull off ultimate comeback in the wake of 2011 EF-5 tornado

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SMITHVILLE, Miss. (WCBI) – 10 years ago, Bubba Tacker could barely recognize the football field that he had called home for so long as both player and head coach of the Smithville Seminoles.

“Everything was just gone,” he said, trying to find the words to describe that day. 

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200 yards away and just in sight of the current football field, there are still piles of debris that the EF-5 tornado left in its wake in 2011. 

“Football is just one part of those things that just brought life to the community,” said Turner Sanderson, who was one of the top running backs for the Seminoles heading into the 2011 season and his junior year. “People gathered, people celebrated, there was success, there were failures.”

In just 10 seconds it was all gone.

But it wouldn’t stay that way.

“Smithville kids are tough and they always have been,” Tacker said. “And there’s something about them.”

To rebuild their town, they had to rebuild the football field.

“Everybody was just setting out down on the field with five-gallon buckets picking up rocks, glass, nails, you name it,” Tacker said. 

Just months after the tornado wiped it out, the Seminoles were back on their home field. Sanderson says he can’t remember who they played that first game, he just remembers how they got there.

“There wasn’t a school around, there wasn’t a rival or an enemy around per se, that didn’t offer us nearly the jersey off their back,” he said. 

One of the school’s greatest gifts came from the Hatley Tigers.

“Hatley kids are brought up to beat Smithville and Smithville is brought up to beat Hatley,” Tacker said, summing up their rivalry. 

The storm displaced all students in Smithville. For the kindergarten through 6th graders, it meant the unthinkable: attending school at Hatley.

“The Hatley staff, of course, they had banners up,” Tacker said, barely holding back tears. “I think they were all dressed in (Smithville) maroon and white just to take care of those kids.”

It was a season of goodwill that they will never forget.

“It meant a lot that there wasn’t a missed season or there wasn’t a missed game,” Sanderson said. “We have achieved something. We are rebuilding here as a community as a whole. That’s something to smile about.” 

In the days just after the tornado, Tacker remembers something else that made him smile. The coach says he got a call from an elderly woman in Treemont.

“She told me she had something in her yard that belonged to us and was sure we needed it back,” he recalled. “Said it was our scoreboard off the football field.”

“It was kind of bent up a little bit,” he added after a brief pause.  

But still there.

Just like the team. Just like the town.

“They knew what they accomplished,” Tacker said of his 2011 team. “They didn’t have to be told, they didn’t have to be celebrated, they knew what they accomplished. They carried on.”