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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Mississippi prep team gets back to football

Associated Press

LUCEDALE, Miss. – Like any good Southern high school football coach, Don Nelson is prone to throwing his visor to the ground, kicking divots out of the grass and hollering things like “Will you line your dead butt over center?!” or “How simple is it to catch the ball?!”

After Hurricane Katrina, the Gautier High School Gators saw a different side of their coach. He took shelter with many of his athletes in the fieldhouse. He delivered food and water to their homes and comforted them in their misery.

As the days went by, he also tried to coax his players back onto the field. And he managed to put a team back together.

School has not even restarted in the hard-hit coastal community of Gautier (pronounced GO-shay), which lost many of its homes. National Guardsmenand emergency crews still work and live out of Gautier High.

But on Friday night, Gautier football was scheduled to make its comeback, in an away game 40 miles north in George County.

“It’s important. It means everything is getting back to normal,” said Christ Penton, a team captain who lost his new car and nearly everything in his room when Katrina flooded his house.

Four hours before game time, members of the team held hands and bowed their heads in a church rectory doubling as a distribution center for water, diapers and clothes.

“I pray for those around us and their situations at home,” Pastor Tommy Mitchell said. “But for tonight, let them have fun.”

Charlie Torjusen, a sophomore and backup tackle, lost everything in the storm. While he and his mother evacuated, his father, a tugboat operator, stayed home to try to keep the house safe. He ended up paddling a canoe to safety when floodwaters reached his neck.

The frame is all that remains of their home. Torjusen lost his truck, his clothes, everything. His parents talked about leaving town.

“I missed the first two practices and Coach Nelson came to my house,” Torjusen said. “He said he needed me. He said he wanted me back.”

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