Thomas Walker High School Principal Terry Welch surveys the damage to the school's baseball field and field house from Tuesday night's storm. Walter Littrell photo.
EWING - Losing a game 3-2 with Cumberland Gap, Tenn., after eight innings was just the beginning of a bad evening for the Thomas Walker High School baseball team Tuesday evening when a severe spring storm roared through, demolishing the field house and littering the playing field with debris from the building.
Fortunately, canceling a junior varsity game may have prevented injuries and even saved lives at the ball field, said Principal Terry Welch.
Welch said the Pioneer baseball team was scheduled to play a JV game with Cumberland Gap at 5 p.m. and follow that with a varsity game at 7, but since the Tennessee team's JV players were unable to field a team, that game was canceled and the varsity game was moved up. The game went into an extra inning and had it been played as scheduled, said Welch, it may well have still been under way when the storm hit.
"We'd have been cutting it close if we'd played on time last night," said Welch.
An official with the National Weather Service in Morristown said Wednesday that there were no tornados in the area, but due to the amount and type of damage, many who have visited the scene would dispute that assessment.
Not only did the storm rip the roof off the field house, it blew out windows, a portion of one wall and flipped a section of metal bleachers upside down. The bleachers took out a section of fence and flattened a large-diameter pole under them. Sections of the field house roof were strewn from the infield to the outfield fence, which had one section flattened outward and just a few feet away another section was bent inward. Two trash cans near the bleachers were blown over in different directions, while just a few feet away a small portable barbecue grill stood just where it had been left before the storm.
Concrete blocks from the field house wall were deposited in the outfield more than 200 feet from the building and gouge marks in the grass were evidence that they had flown most of the way to where they rested on Wednesday.
"I don't know much about construction, but I wonder if that all won't have to be demolished," said Welch as he surveyed the damage.
With the roof gone above the second floor of the building, rain water damaged much of the furnishings and equipment, but even the first floor suffered serious water damage, he said.
While the baseball field suffered the brunt of the damage, the rest of the campus was not immune. The storm blew a piece of Plexiglass from the press box at the football field house and the main school building had a small section of its tin roof blown loose.
An insurance adjuster visited the scene Wednesday afternoon but an estimate of damage was not completed, said School Superintendent Fred Marion. The superintendent said the adjuster authorized the school to begin cleanup this morning. Meanwhile, the adjuster will return today with a contractor to begin working up a cost estimate.
Welch said a middle school game with Middlesboro, Ky., set for today has already been canceled and he figured that tonight's game with Rye Cove will most likely be canceled as well.
"There's just no way we can get it cleaned up and ready to go by then," he said.
The War Eagles won't be able to host the game as their field is under construction, he noted.
While the field would be playable once the debris is removed, Welch said he's not sure if building codes and school regulations would permit games to be played before the damaged building is stabilized, so he is unsure when play will be able to resume at home.
"We've had a lot of upgrades and improvements to our facilities here and we've really been tickled with them, so we hate to see this happen," said the principal. "We are grateful, though, that there was nobody here to be injured."
In addition to the damage at Thomas Walker, school officials said the storm did minor damage to a dugout at Flatwoods Elementary and dropped a tree across a fence at Rose Hill Elementary. The storm also caused widespread power outages across the county, dropped numerous trees and damaged barns and other buildings.