Even though they may have faced each other as opponents on the field, when Florida Atlantic University’s football team stepped off the field and needed somewhere to seek refuge from Hurricane Irma, the University of Wisconsin Athletics Department paid no mind to jerseys.
“We’ll take care of you,” was the message athletic director Barry Alvarez had for FAU.
It is the Wisconsin Way, a statement used frequently here to emphasize the kindness of Badgers, and willingness to help out those in need. The Wisconsin Athletic Department not only offered any assistance they could to those from FAU, they opened up their doors, making sure everyone could feel at home, even 1,500 miles from their home.
UW opened up their facilities, allowing FAU to continue training while waiting for Irma to pass through Florida. They also opened up their dining halls and weight rooms — even the wives of the Wisconsin coaches tried to make the visiting wives feel comfortable by hosting a tailgate.
There was some speculation the Wednesday before Irma hit Florida as to whether or not FAU would even come up to Wisconsin. With two major games cancelled and two games postponed because of Irma, many thought Wisconsin would follow suit and cancel their game against FAU.
Alvarez had other thoughts, most of which centered around the safety of the players involved. Alvarez thought it would be better to have the team stuck in Madison where they were safe, rather than in Boca Raton where they might be in jeopardy.
“[Wisconsin told FAU] come up and play the game at 11 a.m. on Saturday and if you can’t get back, stay here,” Alvarez wrote in a column on UW Athletics. “It may be the safest thing anyhow. We’ll take care of you.”
We’ll take care of you. The phrase alone has to be the embodiment of this little thing that we call the “Wisconsin Way.” An extension of our hands with no expectation of anything in return, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
While this might seem silly, and many would think that during times like these, sports are the least important thing in the world, it is athletics that can help bring the world together.
Regardless of what jersey you wear, no team should have to go through what a team like FAU did during Hurricane Irma.
Wisconsin and FAU might have been competing against one another on Saturday, but the entire UW community stood behind the Floridian school, in admiration of the team’s courage to continue playing despite all that was plaguing their minds. Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst first commented during his post-game interview and praised the team for their professionalism during such adversity.
“I give Florida Atlantic, coaches and players, a ton of credit,” Chryst said. “I know just from talking to our kids from Florida dealing with [Hurricane Irma] being on their minds, I give them a ton of credit. They’re a good football team, and they came out ready.”
Fans might not know this, but Hurricane Irma hit close to home for some of the UW players. There are currently eight players on the Wisconsin roster that call Florida home, and all of them come from areas that were directly affected by Irma.
Derrick Tindal, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Florida revealed that his parents had not evacuated their home, since they believed it would not be in a highly-impacted area of Florida. Even though Tindal had a brave face during the interview, it was clear that his family back home was on his mind Saturday.
“I’ve been nervous a lot,” Tindal said, “but I know my family is a strong family and they stick together. My dad, he’s a strong person, and he’s the leader of the family so I know he’s going to take care of them.”
Tindal was not the only one with family who stayed in Florida during Hurricane Irma. Fellow teammate Natrell Jamerson had family that was still in Ocala, Florida hours before Irma was set to reach the shore, yet Jamerson’s mother still remained at home.
This was not the first Hurricane that Jamerson has been through, with Ocala also suffering damage from Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and tropical storms Frances and Jeanne in 2004. Since Ocala is so far inland, it is very rare that a hurricane ever gets far enough to reach this town.
“We’ve been through a few hurricanes before, so we know how to handle them, but this one is supposed to be way bigger than the ones in the past. I’m going to talk to [my mother] when I get out of here and see what they’re going to do about [evacuating], but for the most part I know that they’re still there.”
Despite being so far inland, Ocala was still heavily damaged during Hurricane Irma, with trees falling on top of many houses, flooding and power outages on Friday. Marion County, which houses Ocala, remains focused on repairing all the damage caused by Irma.
In times like these, it is difficult to feel as though anything good can come out of these situations. It seems no matter how many articles you scroll past about raising money to help cities in need, or flights of emergency response crews heading towards the affected areas, nothing major has really happened.
You still see photos of someone’s house flooded with four feet of water, and you see the lines at shelters of people who need assistance. It might seen as though any effort made during these storms doesn’t matter, but for those involved, every single action matters more than you think.
Even something as simple as welcoming a collegiate football team to use your facilities and stay in a safe area might seem small, but to those affected by the storm, it is far from small. FAU head coach Lane Kiffin took out a full page ad in the Wisconsin State Journal on Saturday, thanking UW for welcoming his team with open arms during a tough time for all of them. His message read as follows:
Dear Badger Nation,
Thank you! You have opened your hearts to our football program during the last six days in our time of need. Every single person on the campus and in the community was kind and courteous. The Badger Football team even shared their home with us and made our stay as comfortable as possible. We are forever indebted to the Wisconsin Athletic Department, Barry Alvarez and Head Coach Paul Chryst for their collective generosity. We wish you nothing but the best with the rest of your football season. On Wisconsin!
Florida continues to suffer in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, and FAU is picking up the pieces from the storm. FAU has cancelled classes until September 18th, and reported that there is “nominal damage” on their campus.
Now more than ever, it is time to live by the “Wisconsin Way” that we all preach on campus. It is time to extend a hand to those in need and let them know that we are thinking of them, and that we are ready to help them in any way that we can.
We need to live by those words that Alvarez spoke on Wednesday, before he even knew the damage that Irma would wreak on Florida. We need to let people know that “we will take care of you.”
Below are donation efforts for those affected by Hurricane Irma. After all, helping people in their time of need is the “Wisconsin Way.”