Joplin basketball team deals with loss of gym, equipment

Friday, December 2, 2011

By Jason Peake

Daily Mail Sports Editor

Before he could worry about what drills to run and what plays to perfect, and before he could even attempt to assess his team's strengths and weaknesses, Jeff Williams had something more pressing to figure out -- where his team would actually practice.

The third year head coach of the Joplin High School boys basketball team has been forced to compromise and change plans quickly in recent months.

The Joplin Eagles no longer have a gym of their own. Of course, the May 22 tornado destroyed the entire high school in Joplin.

It also wiped out all of the team's equipment.

"We lost everything in the high school, every piece of equipment, every game film, you name it," Williams said this week at the Carthage Invitational. "Of course, most importantly, we lost our gym."

Since last summer, Williams has had to scramble to find places for the team to play, holding his camp at a surviving middle school and having open gyms at the local YMCA. The team now practices at Missouri Southern State University's smaller gym, Robert Ellis Young Gymnasium.

The situation hasn't been perfect. Some days the team has had to practice very early in the morning, and on others, the Eagles have been forced to go late at night.

Basically, the Eagles are at the mercy of the college.

"It's been hard at times, we're still working through the process," Williams said.

He was quick to add another point, though.

"Thank goodness for the college," Williams said. "We're so grateful."

The team's home games will be played at Young Gym at MSSU this year.

Williams, who coached for nearly three decades in Chanute, Kan. before heading to Joplin, said despite the headaches, he's just thankful his team survived the tornado and is still able to take the court this year.

"I told myself at the start of the school year, 'Don't complain about one thing,'" Williams said. "There are a lot of people that lost everything. We're thankful for every day we have and we're going to keep going forward."

Always upbeat, Williams said the entire experience has been an interesting one. Through it all, the Eagles are dealing with their situation as best as possible.

"We're trying to be Joplin tough," Williams said. "That's our motto now -- Joplin tough."

Note: The Nevada Tigers will square off with Williams and Joplin in the semifinals of the Carthage Tournament tonight at 7:30 p.m. The winner will advance to the tourney title game, which is scheduled for Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

The loser of Joplin vs. Nevada will head to the third place game, scheduled for 3 p.m.

Carthage Invitational

Tonight's games

Carthage vs. Heritage, 6 p.m.

Nevada vs. Joplin, 7:30

Saturday's schedule

Seventh -- Noon

Fifth -- 1:30

Third -- 3

Title game -- 4:30 p.m.

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