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West Feliciana volunteer track and field coach bringing program back together after Wednesday's storm

1 month 2 weeks 2 days ago Friday, April 12 2024 Apr 12, 2024 April 12, 2024 5:33 PM April 12, 2024 in News

ST. FRANCISVILLE — Thanks to a tornado's 110 mph winds, West Feliciana High School is in no position to host a district track and field meet. The storm left parts of the campus in shambles, tossing pole vault pits and high jump mats across the athletic fields.

Christopher Holland, a chemist who volunteers as a track and field coach, was among the first to the scene after the St. Francisville area was battered by severe weather Wednesday. As of Friday afternoon, the volunteer coach still did not have power himself, but he's adamant about restoring a track and field ahead for his student-athletes.

"'Stay home, stay safe, we'll reach out to you,'" Holland said was the message to his runners after the storm hit, accompanied by a photo of the damaged pole vault pits. "A couple of them I called, my vaulters specifically. 'Guys, the pits have been,' I sent them the picture. 'The pits have been swept off, they're gone. We'll get through this.'"

The pole vault pits, valued at nearly $30,000, were a total loss, according to Holland. If the school's insurance cannot cover the cost of a replacement, Holland was insistent there is a way forward.

"We don't have a choice, we'll make something happen," Holland said. "We'll survive."

West Feliciana High School was supposed to host the district championships track meet ahead of the storm, but after the damage, the track is an unreasonable host. According to Holland, the high school has an amicable relationship with Brusly High School, which has offered to host the meet.

Holland's prestigious track program, which has won the district championship every year since 2014, according to the coach, has been not been allowed to practice because the high school is closed.

The superintendent of West Feliciana schools said schools in his parish are still without power, which means extracurriculars are a no-go during the week by Louisiana High School Athletic Association's standards. Holland has been dragging bits and pieces of pole vault pits across the field and attempting to dry high jump mats in the 48 hours since the storm.

"We're gonna practice tomorrow," Holland said. "One way or another, we'll be set up by the time the sun sets tonight for practice."

The plan for Saturday's practice, according to the volunteer coach, is to bring all the kids together and see where they are emotionally, mentally and physically, noting that some kids are still without power and some have even lost homes. When asked how many of his student-athletes were without power, Holland said he's unsure and hopes to assess at the beginning of practice.

"(We've tried) to set our drills up, set things up to bring back some level of normalcy for the kids," Holland said on why he's been at an empty track the past 48 hours. "The kids are kind of in a chaotic situation. We have some kids that are at home, they have power, everything's back to normal. We've got some kids that still don't have power, some kids lost, lost homes."

When Holland first saw the track, he said it looked like "God came through with a broom," later saying that the sight of damaged equipment made him feel "sick in the gut."

As the volunteer coach stacked tossed hurdles preparing for Saturday's first practice since the storm, he reflected upon the profound life lesson within the chaos of the storm.

"How are we gonna deal with adversity?," Holland questioned toward his program. "You can either let it set you back or you can't. So, it's a chance not only to help the kids but also to teach them a life lesson. This isn't the only adversity they're gonna face, so let's get back to what we do: winning.

"We don't plan on start losing now just because of a storm."

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