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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Full house: Joplin residents, top profiles gather for scrimmage

The Missouri men's basketball team followed up on Frank Haith's idea of hosting a charity scrimmage in Joplin.

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MU and MSSU fans sported signs to cheer on their respective teams during the One State, One Spirit Classic on Sunday in Joplin. The Leggett and Platt Arena sold out with a record-breaking 3,477 people attending the game.

Ben Walton/Staff Photographer

Nov. 1, 2011

For a moment, silence consumed the One State, One Spirit Classic at Missouri Southern State University. MU and MSSU basketball players joined the 3,477 fans in lowering their heads.

The moment was 5:41 p.m., exactly six minutes prior to the six-month anniversary of the moment that an EF-5 tornado destroyed the town of Joplin. It is difficult to imagine what happened to some people in the stands, the ones making soft whimpers — the only sound audible before the game's tipoff.

Equally difficult to imagine is what happened to a house about four miles away, just off 20th Street, clinging for life in a small field that was once victimized by the cyclone's swallow. Inside what might have been the living room, a message spans the wall in purple spray paint: "THIS WAS AN AWESOME HOME."

Back on the MSSU campus, inside the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center, there persisted a silence that engulfed the house. The silent scene lasted for just a moment before fans from both teams united in applause.

The charity scrimmage was initially the idea of first-year MU coach Frank Haith, who said he was moved by what he saw in Joplin when he visited with other athletic officials days after the tornado destroyed the town.

"It's a lot different than seeing the pictures," he said. "We went to a shelter and just seeing the children, the little people who have nowhere to go, who don't have parents. That's what stands out."

Before tip-off, MSSU Board of Governors chairwoman Sherry Buchanon announced that $1,000 scholarships would be given to any MSSU-bound student enrolled at a Joplin-area high school May 20.

Before the game, the crowd gripped the introduction of national anthem singer Desi Hickman, who six months earlier had crawled out of rubble the day after she graduated from MSSU.

Gov. Jay Nixon was in attendance and lauded the commitment of Haith and MU to help return the national spotlight to Joplin.

Throughout the game, a mixture of cheers came at every score, regardless of the team. The crowd of yellow and green and black and gold applauded together. It grew louder at the end of the game when both teams met with smiles at center court.

Haith said the scene capsulated lessons the Joplin recovery process can teach to all.

"In life, everybody goes through some adversity," said Haith. "I would hope that our team, coming from here, would be able to see the spirit of the folks here in Joplin and the courage that these folks had."

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