It’s Friday night, the first football game of the season at Richwood High School. It is also a chance after a devastating flood during the summer for many in this town to feel normal again.
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The flood this June changed everything in this remote area of West Virginia. It collapsed hillsides, wrecked homes, destroyed businesses, and left a total of 23 people dead in the state. While the waters have since receded, uncertainties remain, including the fate of Richwood High School, one of the many school buildings that have been condemned.
Nevertheless, Richmond High’s football field has been rehabilitated for action, ready not just for the game but the half-time show by the school's award-winning band that has long been a source of pride in this small logging town of roughly 2,000 people.
“The band means everything to every kid that’s in band right now because we don’t have a school we’re used to,” said twirler and clarinet player Kendra Amick. “The only regular thing we have is band.”
Band director Greg James held practice on schedule over the summer, albeit at a former Dodge dealership, a space offered by a community member.
“We were not going to sit down and let a flood devastate us,” said James, who has directed the Lumberjack Express Band for 40 years. “We jumped in, we got our stuff cleaned up. We worked, we found alternatives. We made things work.”
Lead majorette Madison Frame, whose home was destroyed in the floods, says the band has helped her keep a positive outlook.
“Right now, my family of six is living in a single wide trailer, which isn’t the best of circumstances, but it’s better than nothing,” she said. “We’ve lost so much, but we’re still going on, and we’re going on like everything is normal. And that just goes to show you how strong we really are.”
Over a hundred instruments were destroyed in the floods, and the team received an outpouring of support from the community and nationwide, including a donation of $108,000 for new instruments from Mr. Holland’s Opus and Music Rising, an organization formed to help music programs in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The students want their music to give hope, not just for the people of Richwood, but for other communities affected by adversity.
“For the people of Baton Rouge that are flooded right now, I'd just like to say just keep moving forward,” said Frame. “When my house was flooded, I didn’t know what I was going to do, I didn’t know where my family was going to live. But just know that everything gets better.”
Richwood mayor Bob Henry Baber takes pride in the band’s fighting spirit.
“Their uniforms were in the mud just weeks ago,” said the mayor. “They fished them out, had them dry cleaned, and tonight they’re going to march onto this field. That’s America. That’s American guts. That’s American toughness. That’s Appalachian. That’s West Virginia.”