SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Trees were scattered everywhere, nailed-up boards ran the length of windows and construction equipment littered the streets. Still, more than one week after a tornado blasted through a 39-mile stretch in Western Massachusetts, UMass coach Derek Kellogg didn't recognize the neighborhood as he approached his old high school.
The Northeast tornado, a rarity in these parts, came on the heels of the ones in Tuscaloosa and Joplin. While Alabama men's basketball coach Anthony Grant and his counterpart Frank Haith at Missouri did their part to help, it just wasn't the same for Kellogg.
|The Red Cross was thrilled to get help from one of Springfield's most notable natives. (Jeff Goodman)|
"This is where I grew up," Kellogg said in disbelief. "And I still can't believe how it looks."
Kellogg grew up just a couple miles from the decimation on Main Street in downtown Springfield, starring at Cathedral High School -- a building that has been condemned and may wind up being destroyed.
"It still hasn't really hit me what happened," Kellogg said while driving through his hometown. "It's one of those things where you just don't think it would ever happen here.
"To be honest, I'm still in shock."
Kellogg and fellow New Englanders concern themselves about the snow in the winter, but tornados usually aren't part of the equation. However, when he got the call from his wife on June 1, he rushed home from the office.
He then watched the shocking news on TV, learning that three people in the area lost their lives.
Kellogg was told it was best to stay away for a day or so immediately following the natural disaster, but he made the approximately 30-minute drive from UMass -- where he has been coaching for the past three seasons -- more than a half-dozen times over the next five days.
"Usually, I have to go after guys like him," American Red Cross executive director Rick Lee said. "They usually don't come after me. But with Derek, he was the one who kept asking."
"Derek's a brand name in this community," Lee added. "Everyone knows his face and his name."
Kellogg brought his team to the one remaining shelter (there were seven immediately after the tornado hit) this past weekend, where they tried as much as possible to lift the spirits of those displaced. Three players -- Sean Carter, Matt Hill and Javorn Farrell -- also toured the city last week with their coach.
"It's crazy," said Hill, a senior from Connecticut. "You see it on TV, but it's different in person."
"The most amazing part is that only a few people died," added Carter. "When you look around and see all the damage, that's hard to imagine."
|More on tornadoes|
More than 800 homes have been displaced and at least a quarter of them have been condemned or destroyed, and that doesn't even figure public housing -- which accounts for a large segment of the population in Springfield -- into the equation.
The Basketball Hall of Fame -- which resides in Springfield -- narrowly escaped the tornado's path.
"It missed our building by 200 yards to the north," said Hall of Fame president and CEO John Doleva, who is also on the board of the American Red Cross. "We're fortunate because we could have lost a lot of artifacts."
This scene looked completely out of place, something that we've come to expect down south or anywhere except these parts.
"We don't know how to deal with it around here," Lee said. "It'll take six months to a year -- and that's just sorting everything out, not even the rebuilding."
Obviously, the key is to raise money to help those who lost their homes -- and Kellogg has reached out to the coaching fraternity.
Former UMass coaches John Calipari and Bruiser Flint are on board -- and so, too, is Auburn head coach Tony Barbee, who, like Kellogg, played at UMass. Kellogg mentioned several others that he has worked with over the years -- Miami coach Jim Larranaga, Marist coach Chucky Martin and Cornell coach Bill Courtney -- have all pledged their support.
Right now, the 15-15 mark and eighth-place finish in the Atlantic 10 a year ago aren't as significant as Kellogg drives through his hometown and shakes his head at the devastation.
"It really puts everything in perspective," he said. "Sure, basketball is important to me -- but just look around."
"It shows you that this could happen anywhere," Kellogg added.
It just did.