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Last minute decision to cancel sports saves lives
Bryan Tornado Hendrix  Park bleachers
Picnic table at Hendrix Park after the April 5, 2022 tornado.

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two part story.

Bryan County Recreation Department Director Dr. Samose Mays said he had a premonition as storm clouds gathered the afternoon of April 5.

“I just had a feeling it was going to be bad,” he said. “I decided I was going to go ahead and cancel everything at 3:30 p.m. I’m glad that decision was made.”

Had it not been made, some 30 participants in a new volleyball program may have been inside the rec gym at Hendrix Park when a tornado touched down in Pembroke at approximately 5:18 p.m., then tore a 13-mile strip through North Bryan.

By the time it got to Hendrix Park only minutes later, the tornado had reached “maximum EF4 intensity of 185 mph,” according to the National Weather Service.

The gym was destroyed, as was much of the park, nearby Park Place subdivision and Black Creek Golf Course.

The next day, Mays met with his staff of approximately 20 employees as Bryan County Public Works employees began clearing debris and a salvage operation was launched. Everything that could be saved was, including team uniforms. All of them.

The goal, Mays said, was to get things back to as close to normal as possible for the approximately 150-180 kids participating in spring sports at Hendrix Park.

By Monday, things were a lot closer to normal.

“Of course, now all Hendrix Park home games are away, and some games will be played in Richmond Hill on Saturday, but it really hasn’t missed a beat,” said Mays, who gives credit to his staff, public works and the public for making the recovery easier.

“One thing about our staff, is that when the lights come on, they are always at their best,” he said. “Every night there’s a performance, every night there’s a baseball, football, basketball or softball game and that’s when the lights shine the brightest. But they were even better when faced with adversity. A tornado totally wiped us out on Tuesday, and by the following Monday everybody was playing games again.”

As for the public, Mays, an advocate of servant leadership and a published author, said they’ve long been supportive of the ecreation department under his watch.

“This recreation department isn’t about what Dr. Mays wants, it’s about what the citizens in the community want,” he said. “Because our staff manages this department that way, anytime we’re hurting or down they show us support. They’ve done that in a big way through this tragedy.”

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