As the Oklahoma City Thunder faced off in Game 5 of their second-round NBA playoff series, a unique attraction in downtown OKC was underway. The Mayfield Volunteer Fire Department had set up an outdoor basketball court to help with tornado recovery efforts across the region. Volunteers played games as they helped plow streets and collect items for victims while also gaining support from local celebrities like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook who attended the game that evening.
MAYFIELD, KENTUCKY — It didn’t feel right in the air. It irritated Luis “Chili” Pardo. Inside the Soccer Factory, the indoor field he had established a year previously, he didn’t like how the dampness felt on his skin.
A few of parents approached him to speak with him. Some others urged that the remainder of the games be canceled that night. They said that weather forecasters had warned them that a storm was on its way. Other parents, on the other hand, shrugged. Every year, Western Kentucky receives at least a dozen tornado warnings.
Chili was in shambles. It would be impossible to reschedule the final two games if he canceled them. Despite the fact that he had lived in this town for 20 years, he was concerned that parents would mistake the Chilean immigrant for an alarmist who had been frightened away by a little storm. He could be out of money. There isn’t much. But that was enough for him to pause.
He stood there watching the kids play 5-on-5 on the turf field, the air hot, moist, and thick. On Dec. 10, the temperature was 72 degrees, when it should have been in the 30s or 40s. He described the experience as “waiting for a storm in Miami.” “It was unbearably hot.”
Luis “Fish” Ajanel, 18, was looking at his phone across town. Chili had just canceled his game scheduled at 9 p.m. He said to himself, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” “Those are some adorable children. Why is everyone so concerned?”
Fish contacted teammate Gage Lynch, who was heading to the game, to vent his frustrations. “That’s awful. I had a strong want to participate “Before turning the vehicle around to return home, Gage whispered to himself.
Chili and his wife wondered whether they should remain to clean the restrooms and tidy up the premises as they saw parents and children pack up their belongings to depart. He, on the other hand, was not pleased. He didn’t like the way the air made him feel. He motioned for his wife and children to enter the vehicle. They got a short bite to eat, drove home, and watched soccer on YouTube. Their phones began to blare emergency alerts at that point.
The family placed chairs into the bathroom and launched the weather app for the local television station at his daughter’s request. The meteorologists’ signals got more frantic, with their hands circling a portion of the map southwest of Mayfield, pointing to what they said was a big tornado’s characteristic pattern. As it proceeded over the Mississippi River, first into Tennessee, then into Kentucky, meteorologists saw something they’d never seen before: a debris signature more than a mile wide, and it was heading straight toward Mayfield.
“They just kept repeating, ‘If you’re in Mayfield, it’s too late,’” Gage recalled, referring to his family’s trip to a friend’s basement. “‘Do not attempt to flee. Look for a place to hide. Find a safe haven! ‘Find shelter if you can hear us!’”
Fish, who was playing games on his phone at his mother’s home, was irritated by the emergency notifications that were irritating his ears. “I was like, ‘Everyone’s talking about this tornado and whatnot,’ and I was like, ‘Y’all just gotta be laid back,’” he said. He put his phone on the table and went to sleep.
Chili’s phone emitted again another piercing screech that echoed throughout the home. The agitated dog leaped on the youngsters who had packed themselves inside the lavatory. They were startled when they heard a big boom. The room became completely black.
Fish was startled awake by his mother’s screams.
This before-and-after slideshow compares satellite pictures of downtown Mayfield, Kentucky, on January 28, 2017, and Saturday, December 11, 2021, after a tornado wreaked havoc.
Moving from southwest to northeast, the tornado swept into the heart of town, passing through the region’s two high schools. Mayfield’s water tower is now strewn around like a dead spider on the ground. Mayfield High School’s 20 school buses were all stolen. What’s left of downtown is encased in razor-sharp corrugated metal roofing sheaths. The metal is everywhere, coiled around shattered telephone poles, crumbling buildings, and tree skeleton bits, hanging from their carcasses like aluminum foil.
However, the worst damage from tornadoes is frequently the damage that isn’t visible. There’s nothing left except a concrete slab, which serves as a quiet witness to the vortex’s force. According to the National Weather Service, the storm reached a height of more than 30,000 feet, which is higher than the highest commercial planes travel. Check ledgers and prom images belonging to people of this region, about 100 miles northeast of here, have been discovered.
Gage’s home was spared by the storm, but as soon as he saw the photographs on social media, he put his chainsaw and other equipment into a pickup truck. As he got closer to downtown, he had to get out and walk because there was so much debris on the roadways. He grew bewildered, unaware of where he was, and took care not to walk on nails or other sharp items.
He spotted a bright green item reflecting back at him as he rounded a bend. It took many minutes for me to discover it was fake grass. Gage turned around and saw concrete stairs leading to a concrete slab. But there was no door where there should have been one. Not a single thing.
Gage said, “There wasn’t a toilet or anything left standing.” “There was nothing behind which you might have concealed.”
And it was then that he realized what had happened. When the storm hit town, he was standing where he was supposed to play.
He’d stumbled onto the Soccer Factory.
Standing on the concrete slab of the Soccer Factory, Gage Lynch pretends to kick a ball to indicate where he would have been playing if Chili hadn’t canceled the games. Tisha Thompson is a model and actress.
Chris Vogt was getting set to play Ohio State about 22 hours after the storm struck. The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team’s 7-foot-2 center had spent the morning texting furiously. His friends back home informed him that his parents’ house was still standing and that no one he knew had died.
Vogt, on the other hand, felt compelled to act. Something has to be done. “My mind was simply racing before the game,” he said. “I was having some difficulties playing with a clear head. It’s simply difficult.”
As he headed toward the squad bus after the game, Vogt came up with a solution. He inquired as to whether NCAA regulations would let him to gather funds for Mayfield. Vogt studied how to set up a GoFundMe account after he was confident it was okay. “It was launched and ready to go by the time our jet arrived in Madison,” he added.
Vogt planned to raise $10,000 with his campaign. His campaign has so far raised almost $180,000. His is likely the most well-known of the several GoFundMe accounts set up to aid storm survivors in Mayfield.
Mayfield High School’s sports director and football coach, Joe Morris, claimed he’d never seen anything like it. He said, “People are donating their hard-earned money.” “‘What can we give?’ people keep asking. ‘What are our options?’”
“Almost every football coach in the state has reached out to me,” Morris added. Fabian smiled and nodded. He, too, believes that all of Kentucky’s high school soccer coaches have inquired about how they might assist him.
Murray State, Kentucky, and Louisville basketball teams have all held fundraisers. Beachwood High School, who defeated Mayfield in the football playoffs this year, delivered a truckload of donations, followed by another truckload. “They’re sending five truckloads of material, as well as a beautiful cheque,” Morris said. “They’re simply a bunch of guys from my class.”
Soldiers from the Kentucky National Guard have been delivering boxes into the school’s gym, where teachers and other school employees have begun sorting them into divisions. On the basketball bleachers, the principal’s wife sorted clothes into nice little stacks. Batteries were put on a table by her small daughter. Fabian volunteered among the diapers and other baby supplies, assisting disaster victims in locating what they need. One of Morris’s former teammates traveled up from Virginia to help carry bottled water and other heavy items into cars destined to individuals who don’t have access to a vehicle.
After the storm had passed through town, the two coaches went to check on their kids. At least two football players are known to have lost their houses. One soccer player’s whole home was destroyed, while another’s roof was destroyed. Some of these youngsters have gone to the gym with their families to acquire goods, according to Morris and Fabian.
Fish, on the other hand, has yet to be seen.
Wisconsin’s heartland At his alma school, Graves County High School, Chris Vogt loads a box of contributions onto a trolley. For his community, Vogt has collected more than $180,000 in financial contributions. Tisha Thompson is a model and actress.
THE RAIN DOESN’T STOP. It continues to rain. It cascades down the stairwell through a gap in the wall where the second story had stood. It blasts through the openings left by the exploding windows. The orange spray paint flows down, proclaiming that the property has been searched and is now condemned.
Throughout his adolescence, Fish resided in this home with nine other relatives at various periods. It’s his aunt’s residence. Here, Fish and his younger sibling, Little Fish, spend a lot of time. Chili’s soccer grounds are just a block away.
Fabian, who, like Fish, is also called Luis, along with two other students on their high school squad, gave Fish and his brother their nicknames. Fabian named Fish after Carlos Ruiz, the Guatemalan soccer star who owns the record for most postseason goals scored in MLS history and is nicknamed as “Pescado.”
Fish’s family came to the United States from Guatemala. “They labor on farms, harvesting squash, tobacco, tomatoes, and strawberries, among other things. They’re doing pretty hard jobs, as you may know “he said “They go wherever there are money-making chances since we can’t work for the government because they’ll deport us.”
They’re reluctant to seek for assistance at places like Mayfield High School and the Red Cross, according to Fish. “We’re worried that if we reach out, the government would turn it against us.”
His aunt lives in a primarily Hispanic neighborhood, he claimed. Within a three-block radius, not a single house has survived. Many of their neighbors, according to Fish, are similarly scared to seek for help.
“Our church has been as supportive as they possibly can,” he stated. “They handed us a generator and a chainsaw,” says the narrator.
His aunt started to weep as the family went through what was left of her kitchen.
“She said, ‘I put so much time and effort into this, and now it’s all gone,” Fish added, interpreting. “‘My home used to be so gorgeous,’ she adds. It’s now unattractive.’”
A close relative was rescued from the ruins of the candle factory, her lower body having been hurt in the fall.
Fish intended to pursue an accounting degree at the University of Louisville. But college now seems unattainable when he calculates how much it would cost to restore his aunt’s home and repair his father’s house, both of which were destroyed by the storm. Fish is one of the few members of his family that is both an American citizen and proficient in English, having been born in Mayfield. He muses aloud about going to FEMA on behalf of his family. “Will going to FEMA and getting, say, a $10,000 cheque harm my chances for college and student loans?” he wondered.
The child who disregarded tornado warnings and fell asleep during the state’s greatest storm has disappeared, replaced by a young man who bears the burden of caring for his terrified family.
He inquired, “Where are you going to get $210,000?” “It’s simply not for folks like us.”
Luis “Fish” Ajanel, in gray, and his aunt, in maroon, walk through the ruins of his aunt’s house, which is only a block southwest of the Soccer Factory. Tisha Thompson is a model and actress.
GEORGE WILSON spent ten years in the NFL, mostly with the Buffalo Bills and subsequently the Tennessee Titans. With 525 tackles and a couple interceptions, the strong safety scored a few touchdowns. He understands what it’s like to be victorious. He’s also been on the losing end of a bet. Mayfield High School in particular.
With a low grin, he remarked, “One of my greatest, worst recollections of regrets is not being able to defeat Mayfield.” “When I was in high school, we went 1-3.”
Bryan Hall, a former Baltimore Raven, chuckled with a big chortling sound that sounded almost like a yell. “When I was in high school, we went 3-1!”
Both males attended Paducah-Tilghman High School, which is located approximately 30 minutes north of here. The school has competed against Mayfield on the football field for almost 110 years, making it one of the nation’s oldest high school rivals.
And, more often than not, Mayfield emerges triumphant. According to Morris, it ranks fourth in the country in terms of all-time victories. The school has won 12 state titles and finished second in another 12. Six of the titles are attributed to Morris. Another four may be claimed by his father, Jack.
Wilson laughed even more when Hall stated, “It’s something that past opponents we see now constantly remind us of.” “They had us beaten and overpowered. Even though we both played professionally, people still say things like, ‘Hey, I defeated you in high school.’”
“There’s a history of vandalism at both institutions,” Wilson said with a mischievous smirk, almost knocking Hall out with his uncontrollable laughing. “On the football field, we are clearly archrivals.”
Wilson, on the other hand, abruptly stopped laughing.
“But,” he added, “we’re putting it all aside.” “There is no ill will between them. To be clear, there is a competition, yet both sides have a mutual regard and affection for one another. That is why we have here to assist this community.”
In the candle factory, Robert Daniel, a former Mayfield football player who later played for Morris, died. According to witnesses, Daniel, a deputy jailer, used his body to shield convicts he was monitoring as part of a work release program at the facility. All of the detainees made it out alive.
Isaiah and Bobby Holt, two former Paducah-Tilghman football stars, were also at the candle factory. Both brothers were transported to Nashville, where Bobby was in a medically induced coma, according to Hall, who played with Isaiah.
“When I realized what occurred, I was in Baltimore weeping my eyes out,” Hall added. “‘Hey George,’ I said. Hey, dog, we’ve got to band together and do something to aid our town.”
Hall leveraged the contacts he developed in Baltimore via the NFL to gather money for new Christmas gifts. Wilson was in Paducah, gathering fresh and necessary supplies such as hygiene items and power equipment. Wilson’s pre-existing SAFETY Foundation was utilized to recruit volunteers to help distribute everything.
Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Bryan Hall (middle) and members of the Paducah Tilghman High School football team unload Christmas goods for tornado sufferers that Hall gathered in Maryland. Tisha Thompson is a model and actress.
The two former NFL players unloaded three box trucks and two semis into the Mayfield High School parking lot while Morris gazed on gratefully. While Wilson pushed pallets piled more than 15 feet high, Hall and a half-dozen of his old Paducah teammates unpacked the toys. Their old coaches and professors stacked the contributions on tables and met a line of more than 200 storm survivors.
And there was Fish’s family, right at the head of the queue.
Wilson said, “We sent the word out to the Hispanic churches to make sure they felt at ease out here.” “This is a safe zone, as we’ve said. Everyone, you are safe. It’s safe enough to emerge from the shadows without having to worry about any of those problems.”
Fish’s aunt eventually begged (and obtained) the drill Fish indicated they sorely needed more than a week after the disaster. Toilet paper and paper towels were requested by his mother. When his younger cousins and brother saw Hall’s mound of toys, their eyes almost popped out of their skulls with delight. Little Fish was carrying a little, fake Christmas tree in a box.
Except for Fish, everyone in the family grinned. He was looking for something he couldn’t seem to locate. When Hall inquired about his requirements, Fish said that he was looking for the things that his younger cousins, who are too young to comprehend what has occurred, really want.
Hall turned around and motioned for Fish to follow him. He dashed through the contributions, jumping a few times over a low-lying row of toys. The Super Bowl winner then knelt down with one hand on the ground in a stance eerily identical to what he learned on the football field, digging through a box until he found the toys Fish had hoped to find.
“It’s not every day that you see someone throw out $100,000 in presents,” Fish added. “It’s simply that you don’t see it.”
When Wilson addressed him, the adolescent expressed how important this is to his family. He told Wilson, “We’ve had folks claim you need an ID or a social security number to acquire things.” “People who don’t speak English and have lost everything attempt to obtain things but are unable to.”
“That’s not what we’re about,” Wilson added, promising more “pop-up” distributions in the future. He informed Fish, “Know that this is a safe zone.” “There’s no need to be concerned. You may inform all of your friends, church members, neighbors, and anybody else who needs aid. We only care about you if you’re in need.”
Wilson then drew Fish in for a hug and told him: “Thank you for making the effort to see us today. Thank you for setting such a high standard. For being the kind of young man we want our sons to be. Thank you for being a leader in our community through such a trying time.”
Fish, who had maintained a stoic expression throughout the ordeal, was filled with emotion as he emerged from the embrace.
As George assisted another family, he observed, “We need more people like him.” “This world would be a lot better place if we had more individuals like him.”
Residents shop for necessities at Mayfield High School’s distribution facility. Getty Images/By Brandon Bell
EVEN THOUGH IT HAS BEEN BAD, FISH KNOWS IT COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE.
He responded, “I should have been dead.”
He believes he and Gage, as well as their friends, would have disregarded the tornado warnings and continued playing if they had been at the Soccer Factory that night.
“The game was scheduled to begin at 9 p.m.,” Gage said. “Just a few moments later, the tornado struck. So, the game would have continued, and we would have been out on the field, just playing soccer. We would never have predicted it.”
Fabian was also meant to be there with his three-year-old daughter that night.
He said, “I could have died.” “I’m delighted Chili canceled the games because a lot of people were going to be hurt or, you know…”
He is unable to complete his thinking.
“What if Chile hadn’t canceled?” says the narrator. Fabian remarked. “A lot of thoughts go through your head. My wife and I have been kissing. I give my daughter a kiss. I’m quite grateful.”
He took a breath and stopped. He said, “That’s my God.” “We are very fortunate.”
This is a religiously based community. Chili received a message from the hot, damp air that night, according to Gage, who wants to pursue a career in ministry. “I think the Lord spoke to Chili and told him that the game didn’t need to be played tonight,” he stated. “They claim a lot of people have died, and they have,” says the narrator, “but there are a lot of individuals who might have died but didn’t.”
“At the plant, there might have been a significant loss of life,” Morris added. “There was a significant loss of life. Chili must have received a message from God telling him not to do this. It’s not a good idea.
“It’s nothing short of a miracle. It’s nothing short of a miracle.”
It’s a lot like the Book of Job for Adamson, the soccer parent. He’s baffled as to why nice people, like Chili, are being put to such a test.
Chili’s detailing business has turned into a bizarre nightmare. Several automobiles were overturned and smashed. The hull of another car was shattered by a telephone pole. The automobiles were wounded by massive steel trusses and hardwood beams, which pierced their metal bodies like needles into flesh.
Chili’s parking lot, according to Vogt, “looks like all the vehicles are stacked on top of one other.” “It’s amazing to watch.”
Little Fish and his cousin, who lost his house in the storm, choose Christmas items from a pile in the Mayfield High School parking lot provided by retired NFL linebacker Bryan Hall. Tisha Thompson is a model and actress.
To untangle the razor-sharp debris and move the automobiles away, heavy gear will be required. But he’s fighting tooth and nail to keep bulldozers and cranes out of what’s left of his grass field. The irrigation system he worked so hard to put up is the only item that survived the storm. Chili intends to hold a spring league on the field. He wants his guys to continue to train. To provide them with something regular to anticipate.
He wants to offer youngsters like Fish and his son a means to get away from what they all know will be years of recuperation, even if it’s only for a little while.
Chili, on the other hand, need soccer goals and soccer balls. They’ve created a GoFundMe for the Soccer Factory, and Adamson is hoping for a donation from an MLS club.
He said, “Because we need soccer to support soccer.”
Adamson and the other Soccer Factory families, on the other hand, aren’t waiting for assistance. They strapped on their tough gloves and started to work, much like so many others in Western Kentucky right now. The adults moved the big items, such as corrugated roofing, while the children knelt to pick up nails and pieces of glass off the grass. To clear the field, more than 60 individuals came there.
Chili discovered one of his soccer balls a few hours into the cleaning.
“The ball, it looks wonderful,” Chili commented, his voice tinged with admiration. “It hasn’t deflated yet. So my little one, my 6-year-old, says, ‘Throw the ball to me.’ And I just tossed it to him.”
The youngsters began to play on the bare concrete slab where the Soccer Factory used to be without coaxing or planning.
On the site of the Soccer Factory, children who came to assist clean trash from Chili’s soccer grounds play a pickup game. Adamson Family Photo