No matter what score they produced Thursday, the Greensburg Rangers were the sentimental favorites at the Kinsley Invitational golf tournament.
The quarter-mile entrance road to the clubhouse offered proof. Red, white and blue streamers -- Greensburg's school colors -- were tied to wooden posts along a stretch of barbed-wire fence.
Handmade signs were part of the decor as well. Among the messages: "God bless you." "We love you." "Our thoughts and prayers are with you."
"It," junior Justin Brokar said, trying to find the right words, "was very touching."
Playing with new, donated clubs they received minutes before leaving their tornado-stricken town, the Rangers defeated reigning Class 1A champion Quivira Heights by four shots and won their high school's first athletic event since last Friday's tornado.
"Any little victory for Greensburg is going to be good news for everybody in the town," said senior Alex Reinecke, who finished second, behind sophomore teammate Andrew Seiler. "Once word gets back that we won, it's going to be uplifting for every person in Greensburg."
It's the Rangers' sixth consecutive tournament victory; some things may indeed be returning to normal.
Each day since the EF5 tornado pulverized their community has been surreal for Greensburg residents. Thursday was no different for Rangers coach Ron Roe and his six varsity golfers -- Reinecke, Seiler, Brokar, Brenden Jantz, Logan Waters and Devin Bundy.
As their school's Web site instructed, the players met in front of the crumbled remains of their school building to depart for the tournament. The mood was somber. Even when Greensburg girls basketball coach Marshall Ballard pulled up in a blue pickup with his bed full of boxes marked "Titleist," no one said much.
Soon, however, pocket knives emerged and the boxes opened.
"Who wants what color?" Roe said, clutching a stack of caps.
Then the golfers opened black golf bags and an assortment of shiny new clubs -- 905R drivers, 906F 3-woods, 735 irons and Scotty Cameron putters -- products from Titleist that 1983 Greensburg graduate Tim Hacker, a golf teaching professional in Atlanta, helped secure for the Rangers.
"These clubs are a lot lighter than my old clubs," Bundy said.
"You'll see a huge difference," Reinecke said.
"Hopefully, it's better," Bundy countered.
Then they laughed and posed for photos taken by family and friends.
"Smile and say, 'Water hazard,' " one of the photographers said.
Parents loaded the gear into the back of a maroon Ford van, donated by the rental division of Wichita's Mel Hambelton Ford.
Happy golfers climbed aboard. A few parents would join them later in the day.
One who would not was Marvin Jantz, Brenden's father. He was to sing in the afternoon at a graveside memorial service for Beverly Volz, one of those killed in the tornado.
It was two hours before the tournament at Kinsley Country Club, a well-maintained, nine-hole course south of town off U.S. 183. The club is nestled in the sandy hills south of the Arkansas River. A bright sun framed by clouds hovered over fairways lined with tall cottonwoods, mature cedars and pines that emit a pollen shower with occasional gusts of wind.
Competitors from 10 area schools had not arrived and the parking lot was vacant. But a Chrysler idled in the middle of the paved path, and Pam Wetzel, whose son, Dwight, plays for the host school, was working frantically.
She tied streamers to the fence on the north side of the road. Her helpers, Laura Allison and Marcelle King, had returned to town for more blue streamers.
"This might be something that will lift their spirits like President Bush did," Wetzel said, her voice quivering with emotion. "We just wish we could do more."
Kinsley golf coach Brandon Rice crafted this idea. He has a deep understanding of a tornado's fury. The Hoisington native's grandparents, Lloyd and Joyce Jaynes, were injured six years ago when a tornado ripped through that town, striking their home as they opened a door to their basement. The raging wind flung them into a wall.
Rice's grandmother died a month later.
"It's hard," said Rice, who lived with his grandparents and taught at Quivira Heights at the time. "We could give them money and whatever to help their cause, but we just want them to feel welcome."
If the other signs weren't enough, there was one next to two handicapped parking spots near the clubhouse. It says "Reserved: Greensburg Rangers."
Greensburg was the last team to arrive, and the crowded lot hindered their view of the spot. As Jantz carried his clubs toward the practice green, he saw the sign and stopped in his tracks. Minutes later, Reinecke did the same. And finally, so did Coach Roe.
"Oh, we could have parked right here," Roe said, touched by the gesture.
His golfers headed for the driving range, which Rice cleared so the Rangers could have time to try their new equipment. As television cameras chronicled their arrival, the golfers peeled plastic wrapping from the clubs' grips.
Roe approached as Reinecke hit a wedge shot that barely made it off the practice tee.
"Quit trying to kill it, Alex," Roe said.
Roe sat outside the clubhouse eating a hamburger while his golfers played the course. Most of his recent days have been spent with his son, Kingman volleyball coach Seth Roe, going through the remains of his leveled 1940s home that had French doors and arched entryways.
Wednesday, however, Ron Roe traveled to Wichita for a shopping trip with his daughter, Andover resident Amy Schoonover. She bought him clothes, but Thursday, Roe opted for a pair of pleated khaki shorts he salvaged from the rubble.
Roe laughed at the thought of being in trouble with his daughter for that choice. He shook his head in disbelief at the outpouring of support. Hoisington, one of the teams competing in the tournament, brought balls to give to Greensburg's players.
"I figured this might be good for our players, but I never knew it would be so good for me, too," Roe said. "It's just a beautiful day. It's nice to have some normalcy."
Even for Brokar, a staunch Republican at 17 who shook hands with President Bush twice in the past year, the excitement is tempered. So ingrained into the GOP is Brokar that he received a call from Sen. Pat Roberts soon after the tornado hit, asking what he needed.
"The weather hasn't been great for digging around and trying to save things," Brokar said. "But today, we had a nice day and it was just great to get our clubs. To get here with people we've golfed with before, it was nice, peaceful, relaxing. It kind of clears your mind of what you have to go back to in Greensburg."