WEST LIBERTY, Ky. (WYMT) - Sunday, Sept. 2 will mark 6 months since several devastating tornadoes tore through the bluegrass state.
The governor's office gave us some updated numbers on the storm's impact on Friday and reported 24 people were killed. Half of those deaths were in Morgan and Laurel Counties.
More than 2,800 homes were damaged and of those, 810 were destroyed.
FEMA approved more than $24 million for repair projects in eligible counties. Gov. Steve Beshear said he is proud of the rebuilding and recovery efforts in the affected communities.
In West Liberty, homes, schools and businesses, including much of the downtown area, was destroyed by the EF-3 tornado.
On Friday, Aug. 31, there was another milestone in that community's recovery.
“In eastern Kentucky especially, Friday Night Football means so much,” said Morgan County High School Football Head Coach Brian Turner.
“It is a place where people come to talk, spend time together and get caught up.”
Those who know it best said mountain football is a way of life and players in a small town have a special bond.
“We are very tight,” said Turner.
“They have known each other pretty much from kindergarten, all the way through, everybody knows everybody's name in this town.”
Players on the team echoed that sentiment.
“We are really close, we are the definition of a team if I have ever heard one,” said J.T. Brow, junior Left Guard.
Turner said the thought of not having a den for the cougars, was something they did not want to see happen.
“The way it looked like after the tornado, we did not think we were even going to get to play here this year,” said Don McKenzie, who has worked for the M.C.H.S. football team for more than 60 years.
The name of the first home game was the “Donnie McKenzie Kick Off Classic” in his honor.
Turner said they had to do something to ensure they would not let the community down.
“It would really mean a lot to kind of bring normal back to our town if we have high school in West Liberty this fall,” said Turner.
Turner said folks in West Liberty, and many from places far away, made sure they would have a place for their team. They said they wanted to because many of their own lost their homes, and so much more, to the Mar. 2 tornado.
“Losing everything, it's like losing your home, we are all a big family, that's just how you describe us,” said Brown.
“Morgan County football, the first thing that pops up into my head is family.”
“It means a whole lot to the whole community, but it is going to be extra special this year, we have got a special group of kids. we are expecting special things to happen this year,” said Joseph Gamble, the Morgan County High School Principal.
People of the community said they are very close and they hold tailgates before every home game, sponsored by a local bank.
Players said they are not only excited to introduce a new field, new scoreboard and new uniforms, they are excited about the next chapter this will bring to their family.
“We were really worried at one point that we wouldn't be able to play here this year, it is just great to be able to come back here at our home,” said Nick Clevenger, a junior Defensive Tackle and Center whose family lost their home to the tornado.
“Cougar football is cougar football,” said football parent Michelle Whitt.
“I knew we would have a field somewhere here at home to play.”
The field was re-dedicated to the Herdman family, Bruce, Connie and their daughter Brooke, who were well-known in the community. Turner said the family was killed in an accident years ago.
The coach said the renovations are not complete yet, and they look forward to the new locker rooms, seating and other improvements.
The Cougars defeated the Estill County Engineers 44-8.
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