Jacksonville residents and businesses will have an opportunity to help a group of fellow Texans — Texas neighbors — that are in dire need Friday when the West High School Trojan baseball team takes on Carthage in Game 1 of a best-of-3 Class 3A, Region III Area series beginning at 6 p.m. at Summers Norman Field on the Jacksonville High School campus.
The small town of West, located about 18 miles north of Waco, was rocked by an ammonium nitrate explosion that occurred on April 17 at the West Fertilizer Company.
At least 15 people, many first responders, were killed in the tragic incident and over 160 people were injured.
About 150 homes in West were destroyed or made uninhabitable.
Members of the Jacksonville High School athletic community, as well as some of the local businesses, have commenced efforts to do things to help the folks that will be visiting from West later this week.
“We have already started receiving monetary donations,” JISD athletic secretary Deena Brand stated. “We will continue to accept donations throughout the week and we will pass the hat at the game so that anyone and everyone that wishes to help out will have a chance to do so.”
Brand said that local residents can come by the JHS Fieldhouse (Corinth Road) during school hours and drop off a donation, or they can attend the game on Friday and do so then.
Monies collected will be given to the West Independent School District to be distributed to those having the greatest financial hardships.
The JHS Booster Club will be providing a free meal to the West High baseball team and coaches on Friday and business like Legends Restaurant have responded by offering anyone visiting from West substantial discounts on all menu items.
Brand, her husband Steve, and nine others from the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville got a first-hand look at the devastation in West last weekend when they traveled down as good Samaritans for a workday.
“I didn't realize how bad of shape their town is in and what the people of West have been going through until I walked in on it Saturday,” Brand said.
One person who knows first hand of the severity of the blast is Kevin Bing, a 1985 graduate of Jacksonville High School who lives in West — Bing's son Karder, a sophomore, is a member of the Trojan baseball team.
“We are a real small town, smaller than Rusk, and all of the houses and business were built close together...so a good bit of the town was close to the fertilizer plant,” Bing said. “The closest thing that I could compare the damage to is a that of a tornado.”.
Bing, who lives on the opposite end of town from the plant, said that several members of the West baseball team ldid lose their home as did the West High School athletic director.
“A lot of people were just allowed back in their homes over the weekend to try to retrieve whatever they could collect,” he said. “We had four schools in town and three of them are unusable now.”
The West High School students have been forced to finish out the school year at Waco Connelly High School, according to Bing.
Brand said that she decided to help spearhead the local response because she felt it was the right thing to do and that she believed if other Jacksonville citizens were made aware of the gravity of the situation that they could not help but open their hearts and wallets to the people of West.
“I just wanted our town to realize that with the West baseball team and its followers and fans coming to Jacksonville Friday that our community has a great opportunity to do something good for people that could really use a helping hand,” Brand said.