Varsity Football

Eureka High football team stays positive while recovering from June tornado

Drone video of tornado damage in Eureka, Kansas

A tornado caused widespread damage in the town of Eureka, Kansas on Tuesday night. A few injuries were reported from the storm. Drone footage the next day shows the damage from the air. (June 27, 2018)
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A tornado caused widespread damage in the town of Eureka, Kansas on Tuesday night. A few injuries were reported from the storm. Drone footage the next day shows the damage from the air. (June 27, 2018)

Zach Hare is reminded of it every day.

“I look at the scoreboard at the football field,” Hare said. “It’s wrapped around itself. I remember the goal post, and one side was completely gone.”

An EF-3 tornado ripped through Hare’s hometown of Eureka on June 26. The storm damaged more than 150 homes and close to two dozen businesses. Hare’s emotional home — the Eureka football field — got some of the worst damage.

The Eureka High School football scoreboard had bad damages after the EF-3 tornado that hit the city June 26. Sarah Lawrence/Facebook

Hare, a receiver and linebacker, said the bleachers on both sides of the field were unhinged. The debris tore the field to shreds. And there was damage to the field house.

Five people were injured in the tornado, and Gov. Jeff Colyer issued a state of disaster proclamation.

With the damage, Eureka has announced the football team will not play home games this fall. The team will play all of its games on the road, and hopes that teams will allow them an all-home game schedule in 2019.

Hare said football has been his sport since he was a kid, so to have a home season ripped away was “heartbreaking.”

“It looked like we were gonna have a pretty good season, and I was excited to play in front of our home fans because we keep getting better,” he said. “I had a feeling that we could do something special.”

Eureka’s school mascot is the Tornadoes. Hare and especially first-year coach Jason Nichols have heard all the jokes. The storm hit about a week after Nichols and his family moved into the 2,400-person town.

Nichols has spent time in the City League, at Campus, El Dorado, Cheney and Bethel College. He applied for the Eureka job in the mid-2000s. His hiring for the 2018 season comes at an appropriate time, he said.

The Eureka High School football bleachers had bad damages after an EF-3 tornado hit the city June 26. Sarah Lawrence/Facebook

“Nobody is sitting around moping here,” Nichols said. “The day after it happened, everybody got to work cleaning. Neighbors were helping neighbors. There were what seemed like hundreds of workers and people from the surrounding communities. There just hasn’t been a lot of negativity.

“We’re gonna move on and rebuild.”

The Eureka community isn’t a stranger to tornadoes. About two years ago, the city endured another strong tornado, but Hare, who has lived in Eureka most of his life, said nothing compared to the 2018 storm.

Hare was in town that morning. He said it was a nice day. When he and his teammates went to the weight room that afternoon, the sky had gotten darker, but there was no indication of a tornado. He went to work in Severy after his lift, and the storm hit.

“It touched down, and they didn’t know until it happened,” Hare said. “No warning. No funnel cloud.”

And so Eureka will start new in 2018 — something Nichols said could be a blessing in disguise.

Hare said he and his teammates have taken to Nichols; they like his approach in the weight room and his attitude toward them. They need that.

Since 2007, Eureka has a combined 25-77 record with two winless seasons. The Tornaoes haven’t been to the state playoffs since 2010, when they finished 5-5.

Nichols said he sees potential even through the storm.

“I hate it for the seniors to not have a homecoming, not have a senior night, but we’re trying to look at it positively,” Nichols said. “We’re getting all new helmets, all new shoulder pads. We have already ordered new uniforms, and the hope is that when everything is redone, we’re going to do the stadium like we want to with turf, new stands, new building, new locker room.

“If we have the opportunity to do what we want, let’s do it. I’m new here, so I don’t know everybody, but that’s what I keep hearing.”

Hare said there is a motivational factor that will help this season. Being forced to go on the road against teams like like Caney Valley, Cherryvale and Humboldt won’t be easy, but neither is suffering through an EF-3 tornado.

“Sometimes you need a chance to start over to redeem yourself,” Hare said. “I think it will be a good chance to start over. It’s not like you wish that upon anyone, but I think it will be a good start for our program and the future.”

Officials took media on a tour of Eureka, Kansas, on Wednesday, after it was hit by an EF-3 tornado Tuesday evening.