Middlebury tackles Mother Nature

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Middlebury sandbags
Middlebury players found a lot of work awaiting them when they returned to campus in September.
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This past week featured the first day of classes at Middlebury College, but on the first full day of football activities back on Sept. 1, the Panthers were asked to tackle their first opponent: Mother Nature. The remnants of Hurricane Irene tore a devastating path through New England days before the football team arrived on campus for preseason practices.

On the afternoon of Sept. 1, the football team was in the weight room prepping for the next day’s inaugural practice. Word got to the coaching staff that the usually tranquil waters of the Otter Creek were rising to record heights in downtown Middlebury due to the torrential rain and ensuing run-off from the remnants of the hurricane.

The team mobilized and gathered at the banks of the swollen creek adjacent to a restaurant with a fretting owner desperate for help to prevent the inevitable rise of the creek into his business. Within minutes, using borrowed shovels, hundreds of sandbags were filled, passed down the line in bucket-brigade style, creating a secure buttress against the fast-rising creek.

Later in the day, the Panthers were called into action once again, breaking up an evening team meeting. Two homes on the edge of the rising creek were in desperate need of sandbag assistance. The squad made quick work of the pile of sand, packing hundreds more  sandbags to the delight of the local residents.

The team practiced for the first time the following day, a three-hour session ending at noon. After the inaugural practice, the team was summoned to assist in several challenging clean-up projects in the worst-hit parts of the region. Players and coaches were digging out several feet of mud from numerous homes, removing destroyed furniture and debris. It was a sullen scene, as the team saw families deal with the devastation. Tears, hugs and thanks were all that several residents could muster in the wake of the destruction.

Even before playing their first game of the season, in the eyes of the community, the football team already won their home opener against Mother Nature.

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