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Three other towering oaks had fallen on the house across the street from Kelton's, killing the three students inside. With nearly the entire Alabama baseball team standing in Kelton's yard, the family of a female victim arrived.
Kelton approached, offering condolences. "Is there anything we can help you find in the house?" he asked.
"There is a white dress that we'd like to have," the mother, choking back tears, told Kelton. "We'd like to bury her in it. Could you help us find it?"
The 15 baseball players formed a line that stretched from the remains of the house to the street, picking up garments, books—anything salvageable—and then handing it down the line and giving it to the parents. Minutes later Nathan Kilcrease, a pitcher, pulled out the white dress. He gave it to the woman's mother.
"Thank you so much," she said, tears running down her cheek. "Thank you."
"I wish I could have gone my entire life without having to do something like that," Kilcrease said as he sat in the players' lounge at Sewell-Thomas Stadium on campus last week. "But all we want to do is help. And maybe through baseball we can put a smile, if only for a few hours, on people's faces and make them forget the heartache."
Eleven days after the white dress was recovered, on a mild, sunny afternoon in Tuscaloosa, Rosecrans recorded the final two outs in Alabama's 9--0 win over LSU. The crowd of 4,019 at Sewell-Thomas thundered as the team surrounded Rosecrans on the pitcher's mound. Here, for a few sweet moments, all felt normal in T-town.
Nick Saban stood in front of his players in a lounge at the Mal Moore football complex two days after the tornado, his voice thick with emotion. "I know you all have seen a lot of things in the last few days and if you have any issues, come see us," Saban said. "I've found through the years that professional help can get you through major things. But we've also got to support the community. We can't just be a team for them on Saturdays. The fans are with us in the best of times, and we have to be with them in the worst of times. Just by your presence and being with them, you can help people."
And hundreds of athletes have. Grant, the men's basketball coach, has worked on rooftops all around Tuscaloosa repairing damage. Courtney Upshaw, a linebacker, signed thousands of autographs to raise $25,000 for tornado victims. Carlos Taborga, a tennis player from La Paz, Bolivia, has spent hours acting as an interpreter for Temporary Emergency Services. Barrett Jones, a 6'5", 311-pound offensive lineman, lugged a chain saw around town for a few days helping people remove trees from their homes and yards. And hordes of athletes from every sport have been fixtures in the most desperate areas, handing out water and food, and—most significant—simply listening to stories of survival and loss.
So far the athletic department has donated more than $1 million to the relief effort. But more money will undoubtedly pour into Tuscaloosa when the Crimson Tide football team hosts Kent State for the Sept. 3 season opener—an event fans in T-town start anticipating the minute the previous season ends. "When people come to that game, if they haven't been here since the tornado, they'll see that this community will need a lot of support for a long time," Saban says. "Hopefully, an indirect thing—a football game—will lead to a direct thing: more help for Tuscaloosa."