In late April, a record-breaking outbreak of tornadoes thundered across the southern U.S., leaving a trail of almost unimaginable destruction in its wake. The National Weather Service has estimated that during the 24-hour period of 8 a.m. April 27 to 8 a.m. April 28, a total of 211 tornadoes battered the South, razing entire neighborhoods and killing at least 344 people.

The small town of Ringgold, Ga., population 2,800, was one of the areas hit hardest by the storms. In less than 5 minutes, this close-knit community lost eight of its residents, and at least 75 homes were damaged to the point of being deemed completely unsalvageable. Ringgold High School – home of the Ringgold Tigers, the pride of the community – suffered incredible devastation. Still reeling from the loss of two of their classmates in the storm, students learned that the high school and adjacent middle school had been destroyed. The school’s athletic facilities were also heavily damaged – the field house, weight room, football stadium, baseball stadium, cheerleading field house, wrestling building, storage buildings, athletic equipment, video equipment, mowers and field equipment were all lost. The total cost of repairs for the school is estimated at over $25 million – the athletic facilities alone are expected to exceed $200,000.

In an effort to regain some normalcy in the bleak aftermath of the storm, the school and community rallied together and vowed to continue the 21-2 Tigers baseball team’s drive to clinch the state title. Area schools volunteered the use of their fields, and at the time of this writing, the Tigers were still battling it out in the playoffs. School was back in session in early May, with Ringgold students attending neighboring schools to finish out the year, and Ringgold officials have made it their mission to be ensure the Tigers will be playing football in the fall.

Generous donations of equipment, labor and money have been pouring in at an unbelievable rate, but as you can imagine, there is still a long way to go to rebuild the school and athletic facilities. A relief fund has been set up for those wishing to contribute to Ringgold’s efforts. Donations may be sent to: RHS-RMS Athletic Relief Fund, c/o Northwest Georgia Bank, P.O. Box 789, Ringgold, Ga., 30736.