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After devastating flood, Waverly isn’t ready for football yet — but it will be

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Waverly Central entrance

An entrance to Waverly Central's Roy Hampton Stadium is blockaded by a downed fence caused by last week's deadly flood. 

WAVERLY — Randall Boldin was the quarterback with the girlfriend who would later become his high school sweetheart.

He was a leader type while attending Waverly Central High School. He could throw a football, he could run, and his town meant a lot to him.

Boldin, naturally, grew into a head football coach. He spent three seasons at Whitwell and already has a state title, helping clinch the Class 1A state championship in 2018.

Around the same time his mother-in-law was having health issues, Waverly offered him its head coaching position. So he came back.

“Everything kind of just aligned for us to come back home,” Boldin said.

He could not have predicted his job responsibilities this week.

Nothing has been about football.

Last week’s flood in Humphreys County hit Waverly hard. More than 17 inches of rain fell in some spots within 24 hours. The disaster’s death toll reached 20.

Everyone on Boldin’s team is accounted for and their immediate families are alive. But two players’ homes were destroyed.

The rains buried Ray Hampton Stadium with feet on feet of water. Now it’s a tangle of fencing, glass and metal. The football field house — named after longtime booster and groundskeeper Wayne Himes — is in equally bad shape.

Boldin has been a coach, counselor, relief worker and just about everything in between this week.

“I’ve never had to deal with anything of this magnitude,” he said. “We’re just trying to help others in any way we can, whether it’s sending kids out to help, or going out and helping ourselves. I’m making phone calls trying to get things in line for our kids moving forward: dealing with insurance, trying to get fundraisers going and trying to rebuild our facilities. It’s been a whirlwind. It’s been non-stop. But I’m kind of used to being non-stop, so it’s not taxing on me. I can handle it. I’ve been handling it.

“I’ve been able to get home and see my family at night before they go to bed. The next morning, unfortunately, I’m usually gone by the time they wake up.”

The town of Waverly isn’t ready for football yet.

But ask people tied into Tigers athletics, and they believe it eventually will be.

Tiger mural

A mural at Waverly Central's Ray Hampton Stadium still emits its color after a deadly flood swept through the area last week. 

‘It just matters’

Waverly Central has a quiet but proud sports tradition.

Its “Wall of Fame” in the hallway next to the school gym has a nice set of retired jerseys — not replicas, actual game-worn jerseys, including a pair of Nike socks that cross-country state champion Andrea Davis once wore.

One of the three football jerseys is Doug Baird’s. A Tiger offensive lineman from 1982-86, he signed with Tennessee and started at right guard in 1990 for the Vols’ Sugar Bowl champion team.

His mother, who was the Waverly Central librarian for years, still lives in Waverly and is safe. Baird has driven from his home in Nolensville more than usual this week helping her.

He almost didn’t recognize the town at first.

“Just disbelief,” Baird said. “To see houses off their foundation, things like that, it’s just disbelief.”

The Tigers aren’t a football power, but they’re on the upswing in a cycle of success. Last year, Boldin guided them to a second Class 2A state semifinal appearance in three seasons.

Baird is still drawn to the program.

“I always check in on Friday night to see if Waverly won or not. It’s still relevant after all these years, in my life anyway,” Baird said.

Saul Beard, who helps with the Tigers’ football radio broadcast each week, has seen too much in the last week. He’s lived in Waverly most of his life and been an insurance agent for 24 years. The knotted stumps and furniture cast into ditches aren’t just visuals for him — he has seen the storm damage on paper.

“About 15 percent of my clients have flood insurance,” Beard said. “I’m a smaller agency. But to put it into perspective, up until the 20th of this month, I’ve had 64 total claims this year, which is a little lower than normal. This last week I’ve had over 100.”

He isn’t sure how the team will react to playing again when the time comes. He won’t cast blame if their minds are elsewhere.

But win or lose, their performance will matter.

At least Emily Pleasant High thinks so.

High — a proud Wall of Fame member— is another alum who has been helping this week in Waverly. She starred for the Tigers in basketball from 1989-1993 and went on to play at Lipscomb University, where she’s now in the athletics hall of fame.

She and her husband were struck by the destruction during their visit to the school, which like most places in town, has been transformed into a disaster-relief compound amid piles of debris and dislocated infrastructure.

The softball field where High once played is largely destroyed. Now an assistant athletic director at Lipscomb Academy, she was part of the effort to set up a portal for online donations: www.WeAreWaverly.com

Now is not the time for football, but football she believes will eventually help ease a little bit of pain.

“I’ve not played an athletic game in Waverly since 1993,” High said, “but sports at Waverly still matter to me. And I know they still matter to a lot of people I graduated with who live across the country. I have two sons who are active in football and baseball, and I keep up with Waverly’s football scores every Friday night when my boys play.

“It just matters.”

Waverly field

Waverly Central's Roy Hampton Field is empty but for debris brought by last week's deadly flood. 

Tight-knit

One of his players cracked a joke and Boldin just rolled with it.

He had gathered his team for a practice at a little-league baseball field in New Johnsonville on Tuesday, just for a get-together and a sense of normalcy.

“Obviously their minds weren’t on football. They were just happy to see each other,” Boldin said. “There was a lot of laughing, joking and cutting up. As a coach, we’re usually serious; but I had to take a step back and just laugh and cut up with them. We needed that. I think the kids needed that. They’re still in the process of recovering.

“I’m extremely proud of our kids. They’ve gotten out into the community and they’re helping any way they can, and we’re urging them to do so.”

Boldin has watched the community shift in the last 10 years. Some of its closeness, he believes, isn’t what it was when he grew up there. But he’s seeing a resurgence this week.

Neighbors are helping neighbors.

“I know a minimum of 10 friends who live out of town and have been back helping this week,” Baird said. “We still have a lot of pride in our community, regardless of how long it’s been since we’ve lived there, and it’s because of the people.”

Many of those people watch football games. They’ll have to do so on the road this year, but Jerry Hooper, who runs the public-address system at home football games and helps with road radio broadcasts, thinks they’ll show up.

“Like a lot of programs, support for football fluctuates. But there has always been a strong support base for Waverly Central football,” Hooper said. “We had some down years, but most everyone has those. There’s many road games where the Waverly crowd will be bigger than the home crowd.”

Hooper never played football for the Tigers — he was raised on a farm and rarely had free time — but he has a pulse on the program and its community. He knows both are exhausted.

Waverly’s rebuild is sure to stretch into the next year and beyond. There are hours of work remaining before normalcy can be regained.

Boldin admits he is overwhelmed sometimes, wondering if he and his players are doing enough to put their town back on its feet.

“We’ll worry about football when football gets here. We’re slowly getting back into that mindset,” Boldin said. “We’re going to try to play next week and represent our friends and family and community, some of whom have lost everything, and try to be a beacon of light for our community for a little bit.”

Tyler Palmateer covers high school sports for Main Street Nashville. A graduate of Oklahoma State University, Palmateer has covered high school and college sports for nearly a decade. Find him on Twitter @tpalmateer83.

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