By Cam Huffman
West Virginia University head baseball coach Randy Mazey was having lunch at an Oklahoma City restaurant Monday afternoon, keeping a close watch on the television set.
With every passing minute, the tornado that devastated the Oklahoma town of Moore, was moving closer and closer to his location and its path was being documented by a local television station. At one point, the coach even looked out the window to see if he could see the approaching funnel.
Luckily for the coach — and his team, which was at a hotel in the city after finishing up its final Big 12 series with Oklahoma State on Saturday and arriving in Oklahoma City to prepare for the upcoming Big 12 tournament, which was scheduled for a Wednesday start — the storm never got close enough for Mazey to become an eye witness. It came within four miles of the team’s hotel, but never came any closer.
But that didn’t keep Mazey and the Mountaineers from becoming part of the story. As soon as television reports began to filter in about the loss of property, and even life, in nearby Moore, Mazey knew his team couldn’t just sit and watch.
“As soon as we knew everybody (within the WVU traveling party) was safe, we turned our attention to the victims,” said Mazey.
His first thought was to get to the site of the disaster and help in the search for those still missing. Mazey contacted the Oklahoma City Police Department to offer the services of his team, and his call was passed on to the Moore Police Department.
By the time the team busses were loaded and ready for the short drive to Moore, though, Mazey received word that nobody was being allowed to enter the city of Moore. There may have been an exception made for the WVU squad, but Mazey eventually decided better of the idea.
“We didn’t want to get in the way of families trying to get back in and find out about their loved ones,” said Mazey. “We didn’t want to create more traffic and confusion.”
So Mazey turned his attention to finding another way to help. His first thought was of The Hoss Foundation — founded by former WVU quarterback Jeff Hostetler and his wife Vicky to help families facing hardships due to traumatic injury, illness or financial crisis.
“I thought about all the good work they’ve done and said, ‘Why can’t we do the same thing here,’ he said.
Mazey quickly rallied his team, loaded the buses and headed to a local Wal-Mart, where his players loaded up on supplies to help the victims. Carts were loaded with shoes, socks, underwear, shirts, pants, batteries, flashlights, mattresses and anything else that could help the victims.
“It was amazing,” said Mazey. “There were strangers coming up to me handing me $20 bills, saying, ‘Here, here, take this.’ People you don’t even know were willing to do whatever they can. It’s amazing how people find a way to come together in times of tragedy.”
At the same Wal-Mart was a woman who had lost her home and spent at least three hours Monday afternoon unsure of the fate or her kids, who had been at a school in downtown Moore. She had eventually been reunited with her family and was at the store simply trying to purchase the supplies necessary to make it through the night.
Mazey and his team led her directly to their shopping carts and let her pick out the supplies she needed.
“I think that was a special moment for our guys,” said Mazey. “They could see tangible evidence of the immediate impact they could make on somebody’s life just by helping out.
“It was very satisfying for all of our guys to be able to help that woman.”
On Tuesday, the team loaded the supplies on the buses and headed to the site of the disaster to deliver their assistance directly to the victims.
“I think that meant a lot to them,” said Mazey, wrapping up the experience. “Twenty years from now, when they look back at their college baseball careers, I have my doubts that they’ll remember the games at all. But they’ll remember what they did for the families and the impact they had on people’s lives.”
WVU will open play in the Big 12 tournament Wednesday at 4 p.m. central time against Kansas. The Mountaineers swept the Jayhawks in a three-game series at Beckley’s Linda K. Epling Stadium earlier this season.
— E-mail: chuffman
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.