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Mississippi High Schools Receive $75,000 in DICK’S Grants to Repair Tornado Damages

DICK’S Sportings Goods presented Moss Point High School with a $75,000 grant on Nov. 17, 2023. The grant will help finance repairs at the baseball and softball complexes after tornadoes caused damage earlier this year. Photo courtesy Julius Bridges

Julius Bridges stepped into DICK’S Sporting Goods in D’Iberville, Miss., to look for baseball equipment days after his team had lost all of theirs along with the use of their facilities in an EF-2 tornado that ripped through Moss Point, Miss., on June 19.

Superintendent Oswago Harper had given him a directive to return with quotes for the needed items. Bridges met DICK’S Store Manager Robbie Black, who helped him determine prices for the equipment on his list. The two struck up a conversation about how the storm had decimated the team’s supplies and Black brought up the company’s sports grant.

“I told him at that moment, it would be amazing to receive and that whatever I need to do to try to get it, I was willing to do it,” Bridges told Mississippi Free Press.

Bridges completed the school’s part of the application and submitted it, but after months passed, he forgot about the grant. At 6:30 p.m. one October evening, he noticed a missed call and listened to the voicemail. It was from Black.

“Coach Bridges, we got it,” Black said.

DICK’S Sporting Goods awarded the district’s athletic department $75,000 through its 75for75 Sports Matter Foundation. In celebration of DICK’S Sporting Goods’ 75th anniversary, the foundation is giving 75 youth sports organizations across the country grants to help alleviate their financial burdens. The program brings awareness to underfunded sports programs and gives funds to youth and athletic programs to go toward their facilities and equipment.

‘We Lost Everything’

Moss Point will use the funds to repair its softball and baseball facilities. The tornado struck the town at about 3 p.m. on June 19 and appeared to first touch down near Moss Point High School. The storm did considerable damage to homes, churches and city buildings such as tearing the relatively new roof off the high-school gymnasium. Fifteen students and 10 faculty members were sheltering inside the gym when the storm hit. The tornado also ripped the school’s press box from the football stadium and significantly damaged the softball/baseball complex.

“We lost everything,” Bridges said. “All of our equipment was held at the facility, and when the storm came through, it took the top off where the equipment was held. It damaged everything.”

The dugouts and other buildings must be completely rebuilt. Bridges said the funds will be used to make other repairs and potentially some wanted upgrades.

“One thing that we are pushing for is a covered facility,” Bridges said. “$75,000, I believe, will be able to help go towards the many things that the softball and baseball program is missing.”

Moss Point Superintendent Oswago Harper said the award shows the resilience and determination of the community and his staff.

“Coach Bridges is great at making those connections,” Oswago told Mississippi Free Press on Dec. 1. “I am extremely thankful to DICK’S Sporting Goods but also extremely proud of the work that Coach Bridges did to pursue the grant.”

‘There Was Nothing, Just Rubble’

Moss Point is the second Mississippi program to receive funds from DICK’S to rebuild after tornadoes. Amory High School’s softball team also accepted a $75,000 grant this year to replenish destroyed equipment and to rebuild fields.

Head softball coach Jessica Seger and others in the Amory community arrived at the high-school athletic complex with flashlights to assess the damage in the aftermath of the EF-3 tornado that tore through the city on March 24. Amory High School took a direct hit from the storm.

Seger was shocked at the devastation. At the softball fields, the fence had been destroyed and the cinderblock press box and brick dugouts were decimated. The concession stand and equipment closet were in shreds with their contents strewn across the street at the baseball field. The playing field was littered with debris from nearby homes, and fragments from trees and buildings jutted from the ground.

“There was nothing, just rubble, you know,” Seger said. “The only thing still standing perfectly was the scoreboard that we purchased a year and a half before the tornado hit.”

An EF-3 tornado ripped through Amory on March 24, 2023, leaving the Amory softball and baseball fields in shambles. Photo courtesy of Jessica Seger

CCTV footage from inside the school recorded the moment the storm hit. The roof was ripped from the building and the school’s other athletic facilities were heavily damaged. The community rallied to begin clearing the debris and making repairs at the school. DICK’S Tupelo store manager Tyler Roberts and his family volunteered to help with the cleanup, but Roberts wanted to do more.

“My wife and I started talking about things we could do in the community to try to help out,” Roberts said. “But right then, there is so much chaos, things are so fresh that it’s kind of hard to discern what’s needed.”

When Roberts arrived at work, he learned that the DICK’S Foundation had announced the 75for75 grant program. Roberts and local Community Marketing Manager Amber Sawyer reached out to the foundation and secured a grant for the school.

“We coordinated, and within 16 days of the tornado being on the ground, we were awarded $75,000,” Roberts said.

The Sports Matter Foundation reached out to Seger to make a video about the grants. After touring the facilities and meeting the team, DICK’S surprised Seger with the award.

“I didn’t know what to say,” Seger said. “I was very humbled that Tyler took that time and did all that work to get somebody from across the country to come out and wanna take a video of us and for us to be a recipient of that. It was very overwhelming (and) a blessing for our program.”

Seger said the tragedy gave her team grit. Without a home field, the team made it to the third round of the softball playoffs before the eventual state champions eliminated them. Although the team will likely still not be able to play home games this season, the grant will help replace equipment, uniforms and supplies once the softball facility has been rebuilt. Roberts is happy that DICK’S can help Amory’s close-knit community.

“It’s definitely a highlight of my time here at DICK’S Sporting Goods,” Roberts said. “It’s just an amazing thing when you think about it. There are a lot of these smaller communities here, and sports make a huge difference in kids’ lives,” he continued. “It teaches them so many different things, gets them physically active and teaches them teamwork. It gives them something to buy into and look forward to and feel that feeling of belonging that you get when you’re a part of a team. In these local communities, it’s so ingrained in the fiber of everything we do.”

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