Florida Panhandle Teams Rebound After Storms
In October of 2018, Blounstown Tigers football head coach Beau Johnson was thinking about how well his team was playing.
“We were 6-1 and playing pretty well,” Johnson said. “Then, Michael hit and changed everything.”
The “Michael” that Johnson refers to isn’t some opposing ball carrier. It’s Hurricane Michael, the category 5 storm that devastated Blountstown and surrounding communities. The storm’s unforgiving winds also claimed the football home of Johnson’s Tigers.
“We lost every single light, light pole, and bleacher in the stadium,” Johnson said. “The light poles were snapped in half like twigs.”
The school’s gymnasium also sustained heavy damage, with the roof being ripped off by Michaels’s over 100-mile-per-hour winds. Blountstown had taken a direct hit, according to Johnson. “
The eye of the storm came directly over us,” Johnson said. “It was brutal.”
Many other programs were impacted by the storm. Madison County head football coach Mike Coe recalled how he and his assistant coaches decided to drive over and help out, delivering food and basic supplies.
“We helped Marianna, Sneads, Port St. Joe, Wewahitchka, and Coach Johnson and his guys at Blountstown,” Coe said.
Like so many people who went to lend a helping hand, Coe said he and his coaches were not quite prepared for what they saw.
“It was total darkness for miles and miles,” Coe said. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I saw linemen standing in chest-deep water fixing downed power lines. Driving down the freeway (I-10), all you could see was trees snapped in half.”
While Hurricane Michael brought the most devastation with its unrelenting winds, the more recent storms have ravaged areas further to the west with flooding rain. Several football programs, including the Navarre Raiders, were forced to postpone games due to flooding conditions at their football facilities. Navarre head coach Jay Walls said his team’s opener, already rescheduled due to the effects of the coronavirus, had to be postponed due to the flooding rains brought on by Hurricane Sally.
“We were set to kick off the season against Milton High School, but we had to reschedule the games for a later date,” Walls said. “It is looking like a Sept. 25 opening date for us.”
Navarre High School is in Santa Rosa County, along with Gulf Breeze and Pace high schools. Other teams affected by Sally’s flooding rains were Escambia county programs Pensacola Catholic, Escambia, and Tate. In addition to the football season being disrupted by hurricane winds and rains, several schools have been forced to close, adding to what had already been a limited class schedule for students due to COVID-19.
An already busy hurricane season could see more tropical systems developing over the next few months.
Written by: Phil Jones