COLUMBUS, Ohio – Schools around the country are launching drives for money and emergency supplies to help Hurricane Harvey victims in a place many Texans consider sacred — under the Friday night lights of high school football.
The schools are tapping into the big crowds and community spirit in the stands.
"Not only are we donating and raising money for them, we're going to play this game for the people down in Texas who don't have the ability to go to their town's school and watch a Friday night game," said coach Matt Walters of East Stroudsburg South High School in Pennsylvania, where a school group plans to collect money to donate to the Red Cross.
Walters said his players feel fortunate to get the game experience — the competition, the crowd, the community gathering — that some Texas towns are missing because of the storm.
Numerous teams and schools elsewhere have turned to social media this week to rally donations after extensive flooding from the hurricane damaged tens of thousands of homes and left at least 31 people dead, among them Ruben Jordan, who had coached football at a Houston-area school. Officials closed schools and canceled activities across Houston and parts of the Texas Gulf Coast.
The Texas High School Coaches Association has urged Texas teams that are able to play as scheduled to raise funds for the Red Cross during the games.
Some schools are gathering donated goods, too. Parkway West High School in suburban St. Louis said it asked its Friday opponent, Affton, to join in collecting items such as batteries and towels, and other high schools in Parkway's district are doing the same.
West senior Julia DeFrank, a student council member whose family used to live in Houston, said her school typically supports a local philanthropic effort but changed plans as the devastation from Harvey became clear.
"Since this huge thing happened, and everyone just kind of needs to be on board, we just decided to switch gears," DeFrank said.
Organizers said a collection at Friday's game in Fort Madison, Iowa, would accept whatever folks can donate to help Texans get by and rebuild, even furniture that could be transported south later.
In the Douglas County School District south of Denver, the Ponderosa Mustangs and Legend Titans teamed up on a shoe drive for their Friday faceoff. The Firebirds of Lakota West High School near Cincinnati also have urged people to donate clothes and shoes at their game.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association was developing plans for a coordinated charitable effort at football games and other athletic competitions later in September to benefit Harvey's victims.
"We just know they're going to be needing support for months," OHSAA communications direct Tim Stried said.