Hurricane Katrina hits home for some TCU athletes

“They lost everything. They lost it all.”Vernon Russell, a junior cornerback from Gramercy, La., said he did not personally experience Hurricane Katrina, but members of his family, including his parents, lived in the area hit hardest by the hurricane.

Russell said his family lived west of New Orleans and now has nothing to go back to.

His mother, father, aunt, uncle, grandfather and cousins are living with him in an apartment off Hulen Street.

“It is not bad at the apartment living with my family,” Russell said. “You see players in the NBA and the NFL, and everybody is keeping people in their houses. It’s a sacrifice you have to make.”

Russell said when he first heard about the hurricane, he knew New Orleans would not survive a direct hit.

Craig Stopa, a junior tennis player from New Orleans, said he was not initially concerned about the hurricane because it has happened before.

“When I heard about the category and the size, I got worried,” Stopa said.

He said his parents evacuated to Macon, Ga. early on Aug. 29, and are now staying with friends in Hahnville, La.

“My home has minor damages on the outside,” Stopa said. “But the levee near it did not breach.”

Russell said his family also evacuated on Aug. 29.

“Some of my family have been staying in the Astrodome,” Russell said. “We just lost some windows and the roof from our house, but other members of my family have nothing.”

Adam Lowery, a sophomore offensive guard from Brandon, Miss., said he plans to help his family members rebuild their houses that were also damaged by the storm.

Lowery said his hometown is located two hours from the Gulf Coast and did not expect Hurricane Katrina to affect it.

“I could not get in touch with my family for three days, and three trees fell on my grandma’s house,” Lowery said.

Stopa said he has had trouble contacting his parents.

“The cell phone lines are down,” Stopa said. “They can contact me, but I can’t contact them.”

Russell said he had a friend call him three times and he ignored the call.

“I have not heard from him since,” Russell said. ” What if my friends were calling to tell me where they were located so I can notify the police? What if they are dead?”

Despite all of the destruction, both Lowery and Stopa said sports help the healing process.

“When I step on the tennis court, my focus is on tennis,” Stopa said. “It is better to play sports.”

Matthew Johnson, a professor of sports psychology at TCU, said depending on the individual, sports can serve as a helpful distraction and provide some continuity.

“For others, who are directly impacted by Hurricane Katrina, it causes a process of transition,” Johnson said.

Russell said the hurricane has made him work harder.

“If I was financially stable, I could be able to help my family,” Russell said.

With school, football and the hurricane, Russell said, he has had a lot on his mind.

“I do not know if I will ever go back to New Orleans,” Russell said. “It’s going to take time for New Orleans to be revived.”