Sports serve as rallying point during disaster

Dec. 21—If you ever doubt the impact that sports can have on a community, there's a simple solution.

Just look around.

After a slew of tornadoes ravaged western Kentucky two weekends ago, it didn't take long for people in the surrounding areas to show their generosity. Of course, communities came together to provide support for places like Bremen, Bowling Green, Mayfield and other affected areas in between.

That spirit of giving filled the sports world, as well.

When we think of athletics, it's usually in the context of fierce competition. We love our teams, we hate our rivals, and we love the game (whatever specific game that may be). Often, that's enough.

However, when tragedy strikes, that's when sports create the biggest impact. Hitting game-winning shots and playing lockdown defense are one thing, but they pale in comparison to the type of impact that can be made when people are in dire need of help.

Take the Independence Bank Kentucky-Indiana Classic this week at the Sportscenter, for example. It features several games packed into a short timeframe, and organizers are asking for toy or gift card donations to give to youth in the region before the holidays.

In Lexington, Kentucky's football foursome of Will Levis, Chris Rodriguez Jr., Wan'Dale Robinson and Josh Paschal spent the day signing autographs, with donations going to tornado relief. By the end of the session, the Wildcats had raised more than $20,000.

That came days after members of the school's athletic department hosted the Kentucky United Telethon, which ultimately raised more than $3 million.

At Western Kentucky University's basketball game against Louisville on Saturday in Bowling Green, fans were encouraged to give if they could or simply use the afternoon to forget their daily troubles if they couldn't. The Cardinals basketball team even brought toys to donate, and a local Bowling Green company pledged $500 for each free throw WKU hit that afternoon. As it turned out, the Hilltoppers sank 25 foul shots in the 82-72 win.

Now, after the Kentucky men's hoops team was left looking for an opponent for Wednesday after the Cardinals pulled out due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, the Hilltoppers were there to fill in. And, as a result, proceeds from the contest will go to help tornado victims as well.

Along those same lines, Cats coach John Calipari has teamed with Charlotte-based Samaritan's Feet to give away 10,000 shoes to those affected.

Right here in Owensboro, alumni of the Kentucky Wesleyan College baseball program raised more than $40,000 to help those affected in nearby Bremen and Earlington.

On and on it goes, and it's truly remarkable. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of relief fundraisers out there.

Sports are more than just about playing games. At its purest essence, athletics is supposed to be a rallying point, whether that's coming together to cheer for your favorite team alongside other diehard fans or jeering the opposition in a heated rivalry.

However, off the court and off the field, we're all the same. Sometimes, we need help. Other times, we're the helpers.

Ultimately, sports bring people together — and they provide more of an impact than anyone might realize.