Town devastated by tornado has local high school team in March Madness Tournament

By WEEK Producer

March 8, 2013 Updated Mar 8, 2013 at 10:51 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- Eight teams are playing in Peoria this weekend for the chance at an IHSA state title. Each team has a different story but none stands out quite as much as the Harrisburg Bulldogs.

Just over a year ago a deadly tornado hit the town of Harrisburg, Illinois. In the aftermath of the destruction, the High School Basketball team gave the community something to rally around. After falling just short of making it to Peoria last season, the Bulldogs are now just two wins from a State Title.

Hailey Price and Morgan Burklow lost their homes when a tornado blew through Harrisburg early in the morning of February 29th 2012.

"I heard the sirens go off and the news was on. We could see something was happening. The power went off and we ran in the bathroom, and we could hear it coming. My mom told us to all hold on. The house started shaking and I could hear windows breaking," said Harrisburg Sophomore Hailey Price.

"My whole house was completely collapsed. The only room that didn't collapse was the bathroom that we were in. So we we're really blessed and lucky," said Harrisburg Sophomore Morgan Burklow.

Both girls were supposed to cheer for the Harrisburg Bulldogs that night in a sectional final.

"I actually realized how important basketball was to the community of Harrisburg. A devastating time, people with houses destroyed, heavily damaged and people were wondering if we were playing the game or not," said Harrisburg Basketball Coach Randy Smithpeters.

The game was postponed and when the team finally took the court the whole town was there.

"It was a way for everyone to come together. Like an escape away from everything. Just focus on the team to lift everyone's spirits," said Burklow.

" We felt it. It was a good weight. We were out there playing for our community and trying to help everyone out. Make a good thing out of something terrible that happened," said Harrisburg Senior Guard Ryne Roper.

One year later, the Basketball team is playing in Peoria with a chance to bring a state championship trophy back to a town that is still working to return to normal.

"We're finishing what we started last year. It's a healing process and I think we have come so far since last year," said Burklow.

To submit a comment on this article, your email address is required. We respect your privacy and your email will not be visible to others nor will it be added to any email lists.