Saturday, September 10, 2011

Heroes Come In All Sizes

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 reminds me of a couple of folks who didn't think they were heroes. On that morning driving into work, I heard first on the radio about an accident at the World Trade Center. I remembered the Seond World War era accident when a B-25 bomber slammed into the Empire State Building during bad weather. It seemed odd today for a modern airliner to do that, but . . .

Not too long after arriving, word spread around Barnhill Arena that the networks had video. Heading upstairs Bev Lewis' office - one of the few with a TV then - I arrived just in time for the shocking second hit. Then the word that something happened at the Pentagon. And then, the announcement that the air traffic system was being shut down.

In the middle if this, Lewis, the former women's AD, calls a couple of people asking about things she needed done. She was at a NCAA cabinet event in Philadelphia, and had been in meetings during the whole thing. Remember, these are the days before text alert, real-time reporting to your mobile device. At first, I could tell she didn't understand what was going on, and why was all her staff watching TV.

In the midst of this, a near simultaneous event. Hey, isn't the women's golf team on the road? And the phone rings from the women's golf coach. Returning from a tournament at Nebraska, they had landed in St, Louis, and were told all flights were grounded. Over the next 30 minutes, the panic escalated nationwide. The Lady'Back golfers were in the middle of it all, now being told they had to exit the airport for security reasons. Once outside, they were told they had to leave the property. Why? It might be a terrorist target.

Phones started to get a little unreliable, and remembering the layout of the St. Louis airport, I said to tell the team to head for the lobby of the airport Marriott - a walking distance but far enough away. More importantly, it gave us a reliable place for our rescue team.

Women's athletics had a 15 passenger van, and we made the decision to load it up with some supplies - snacks and water just in case - and not wait for a solution. We were going to go get our team back.

Here are the two heroes: Tanya Webb and Kevin Jones. Kevin was the do-it-all handyman of women's athletics, and he and Tanya, our personnel, travel and business office manager, didn't hesitate. They were in the van and on the way within the hour, ready to drive up non-stop to pick up the team and drive them back home.

Meanwhile, Lewis discovered that she was also stranded - along with her fellow ADs - in Philly. No rental cars to be had. No train or plane service. Eventually, she and two other ADs convinced Ryder to rent them a truck to drive home. That's a story in and of itself.

By the afternoon, Webb and Jones made it to St, Louis, loaded up the Lady'Backs and headed back to Fayetteville. They were fortunate - not a lot of athletic teams stuck in that travel freeze had staff members who could do that for them.

In the scale of what happened that day, it seems - and really is - minor. But for those few hours when America didn't know where the next plane or bomb was coming from next, and you are stuck right next to what could be a target, getting driven home as soon as possible was a huge relief. And a relief for our parents, who entrusted their daughter's care to us.

No one asked Jones and Webb to do it, or ordered them. That was the way we rolled in women's athletics. It was a family, and a family that took care of its own.

I'll bet tomorrow that along with all the other first responders remembered, a handful of young women - now well into their careers and post-collegiate lives - will pause and recall the two people who charged north to scoop them up and bring them home.

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