Each Sunday during the 2016-17 school year, the Carson-Newman athletic communications department will shine a spotlight on a current or former Carson-Newman student-athlete looking to tell a tale of life outside of his or her respective sport.
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn.—Over the course of the of the last two weeks, the state of Tennessee and the United States in general have come together to help aid in the relief efforts of Gatlinburg and Sevier County, Tenn. after devastating wildfires engulfed the area for the better part of Nov. 28 and into the rest of the week.
The tragedy hits home for the Carson-Newman community as the city affected sits just an hour away up the Smoky Mountains. Even more, the fires struck a number of Eagle athletes who call the iconic area home or have significant ties to the community.
In fact, 14 Carson-Newman student athletes are from the Sevier County area, and like the rest of the country on the night of Nov. 28, they too watched as their backyard woods caught fire and spread throughout the night.
After all was said and done, the fires that were continuously spread by 87 miles per hour winds at times that damaged or destroyed more than 2,400 homes and business while claiming the lives of at least 14 people. The fires also injured more than 175 individuals during the process.
Haris Price (Gatlinburg, Tenn.) grew up in the heart of the damaged area while being a standout for the Gatlinburg-Pittman basketball team in high school. The sophomore Lady Eagle felt the effects of this devastation as her father's business was burned to the ground.
"My dad works for the Trolley Department in Gatlinburg," Price said. "I think all the Trolleys were safe, but the building itself burnt to the ground. The building next his apartment burnt down as well.
"You see fires around the mountains all the time, so at first you don't think much of it. But then it gets closer and closer and eventually, it's right there in your backyard. It's heartbreaking knowing that a lot of people lost their homes, but through it all, everyone has really come together. "
Those of whom came together throughout the time of hardship range from a number of different people throughout the East Tennessee area and beyond, but the most dedicated efforts came from the first responders and firefighters who arrived on the scene to finally put the fires to rest.
Andy Barnett, who his currently in his first season as a student assistant coach for the Carson-Newman men's basketball team after playing the three seasons prior, sat in Jefferson City much like the rest of the C-N student body on the night of Monday, Nov. 28 when the fires were at their worst.
However, Barnett was glued to his phone and television as his father, along with the rest of the Pigeon Forge Fire Department, was one of the firsts on the scene to try and put the flames to rest.
"My dad was up there on Monday night working on two structure fires that weren't really related to the wildfires initially," Barnett said. "He called me and told me that he was home and going to sleep, but only about 45 minutes after our conversation, he was called back in and ended up working through the night and all of Tuesday.
"I'm super proud of my dad and I look up to him so much. You don't see too many people who will run straight towards danger when they are faced with it. I'm very prideful with that and he means so much to me."
As the fires began to gain momentum before really tearing through a good portion of the Smoky Mountains, authorities began to issue evacuation notices to the people of Gatlinburg and to other parts of the Sevier County.
"My mom and brother evacuated from our house as the fire was beginning to come down on Wears Valley road which is less than five minutes from the house. There was smoke and ash in the neighborhood, so they decided to pack some bags and leave," Barnett said. "All I wanted to do was to be at home with them and to do anything I could to help."
As the notices began coming in, people like the Barnett family fled their homes and belongings to seek safety. Banding together as one community in Sevier County, many churches, schools and other facilities opened their doors to accept evacuees for the night and foreseeable future.
However, the places these people called home were left behind.
Dual-sport Carson-Newman athlete Graham Warren (Franklin, Tenn.) spent large portions of his life in cabins that his family owned in Gatlinburg. Sadly, a couple of the structures did not survive the fires, but the Warren clan is choosing to count their blessings instead of losses at this time.
"My grandparents own some cabins in Gatlinburg that they rent out on a weekly basis and two of their cabins are burnt completely down," Warren said. "Amazingly, out of all the cabins and houses that burnt down because of the wildfires, my uncle's cabin survived. He also lives up there. His entire neighborhood of cabins burned, but his was the only one that stayed intact. It was a major blessing to be able to claim that cabin."
Though the wildfires have taken a considerable toll and one that will take both financial and manual efforts and contributions to overcome, the three aforementioned Eagle athletes are proud of the way both the Carson-Newman and East Tennessee communities have come together in the aids of this tragedy.
Price, Barnett, Warren and a host of other C-N athletes and students have donated their time and dollars to send food, supplies and offerings to the relief effort. Students have had the opportunity to donate through Carson-Newman by using their dining dollars to purchase these goods, as well as load multiple truckloads full of supplies.
"I think it is amazing how everyone has come together with the amount of support we have received," Price said. "Everyone thinks it will take so long to put back together, but at the same time with everyone helping out, I don't see how it will take that long."
Barnett echoed the notions of Price by saying the people of Sevier County have always been depended on one another and that this circumstance is no different.
If any Carson-Newman student, faculty member or resident of Jefferson County would like to assist in the relief effort, please get in touch with Anya Piotrowski in the Bonner Center for Service Learning & Civic Engagement or C-N Vice President of Student Affairs, Ross Brummett.
"Overall, we as a community can continue to help Gatlinburg whether it be financial donations or supplies for the fire fighters and workers who are still out there," Warren said. "We owe our neighbors that much."