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March 9, 2012

Louisville's football team helps Indiana tornado victims

One week ago, a massive storm ripped through the midwest, leaving 22 dead in Kentucky and 12 dead in Indiana.

While much of the damage in the University of Louisville's home state of Kentucky is more than 100 miles away, the Indiana towns of Henryville, Marysville and New Pekin are less than 30 minutes from campus.

For days, police limited access to the affected areas as citizens began the process of cleaning up their demolished homes, businesses and school.

On Thursday, Louisville's football team loaded into two large busses and traveled to Indiana to help their neighbors pick up debris and remove large items from their land. Coach Charlie Strong and his entire coaching staff arrived at the Metro United Way Volunteer Center just after 1 p.m. and committed their entire team to an afternoon of cleanup in the storm-ravaged area.

For Strong, it was an opportunity for his players to understand he means what he says when he talks about serving your community.

"It is great that our guys have a chance to give back," Strong said. "That's what you always talk to your players about - giving back. Now we have a chance to come into this community that has been hit and is a disaster. Now we have a chance to give back."

The offense was sent to help the community of Marysville and the defense went to Henryville. In Henryville, the town comes into view as you round the interstate exit and drive down a slight hill into the town center.

As the defensive bus rounded the turn, the players and coaches got a full view of the horrific damage at the Henryville school (a combined grade school, middle school and high school).

Strong, who said his hometown of Batesville, Ark., was hit with a tornado when he was a child, said he'd never seen anything like the devastation in Henryville, Ind.

"(When the bus entered the town) everybody was silent," Strong said. "No one said anything because they were just stunned. They were shocked more than anything."

After Strong and his staff spoke with a local fire department, the bus navigated a maze of aid vehicles and electric bucket trucks and found a parking space on the side of a road near the school.

The players unloaded the busses and immediately began lifting and carrying debris from three severely damaged homes behind the school.

"I'm from Cincinnati so I am used to hearing about tornados," linebacker Preston Brown said. "I mean, you hear about them all the time, but you never really see what actually happens. It is really shocking."

Strong told his players not to tweet about their trip beforehand and he limited media notice. He wanted his players to focus on working to help, not publicity.

The players didn't just pose for photos. They were each given gloves and went to work despite sputtering rain and muddy conditions. Their work site was within easy view of the demolished school.

"I'm from Miami, but I wasn't really old enough during Hurricane Andrew to remember any of it," defensive lineman Jamaine Brooks said. "It was bad, probably like this, but I was too young. It just wakes you up, makes you take nothing for granted."

Earlier in the week, players and coaches visited tornado victims who had been airlifted to Louisville hospitals including the Gilles family, a Henryville family of Louisville fans whose home was thrown 300 yards by the storm.

On Friday, members of the Indianapolis Colts arrived in southern Indiana to help the clean-up effort as well.

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