WASHINGTON, Ill. – Last week this time, the only thing on Kim Brownfield's mind was that her son's high school football team had just won its playoff game. One more win and the Washington Panthers would play for the Illinois State Championship.
Brownfield's son, Brogan, is a senior and a team captain.
"The boys had a fantastic game," his mother said. "We had no idea what was going to happen 16 hours later."
This is what happened: A tornado roared through Washington, a town of 16,000 near Peoria. Brownfield and her husband, Mike, huddled in the basement with Brogan and their daughter, Hannah.
"It seemed like an eternity to me, but to Mike, Brogan and Hannah, they said it seemed like seconds," Brownfield said.
"I was thinking that it was the light coming in through the back door that was coming down the stairwell. Didn't take me long to figure out that it was so bright because there was no house above us," she said.
Around 1,000 homes were gone, including those of nine other players. But amid all the devastation, people found little treasures that had survived, like a pendant with Brogan’s No. 65.
"I’m so glad it's not damaged," Brownfield said. "It's the little things."
In times of trauma, little things become big things. Brownfield was thrilled that her son's team flag is still flying.
"There was an American flag on a 20-foot pole in the back and it's gone," she said. "But the Panther flag prevailed and we're pretty proud of that."
In Springfield, the Sacred Heart-Griffin kicked off against the Panthers on Saturday afternoon. It's not often that the opposing team sends a half-dozen buses 75 miles to pick up the other team's fans and bring them back to the game.
Wearing Panther colors, Brownfield took her seat in the stands. Hollywood would have had her team winning big. But this is real life. The Panthers were crushed 44-14.
That really didn’t matter much to Brownfield and the other 1,500 people from Washington who made the trip to Springfield. They have a new perspective about winning and losing.
"It was nothing but about football today and I think it is going to be a little bit hard to drive back into town. It's going to hit home," said Brownfield. "But it's good. It's going to be good."
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