As members of the Arrows’ Volleyball team step up into a white cube van on a warm fall afternoon, carefully, one after the other, it is hard not to notice their lethargy. Hard practice, play and late night studying may contribute to the fatigue, but the root of their expression is travel.
At 3:45 a.m., July 20, 2013, Ursuline College felt the first disaster in its 142-year history – a tornado. The EF1 strength funnel swept through campus, causing the west wall of the O’Brien Athletic Center to collapse, disfiguring windows, its roofs, railings and doors and sending debris flying more than two miles away. More than 167 mature trees were snapped and twisted. Many more were left uprooted, their insides exposed.
The dozens of athletes who call the gym a second home, now travel to all their practices and home games. They are on the road, along with their faithful coaches, every day of the week. The tornado came eight days after Ursuline was accepted as a NCAA Division II school, a three-year transitional period.
“So much of us has gone into the gym throughout the past years,” Senior Katie Cappello ‘14 said. “Blood, sweat and tears.”
Cappello is an Early Childhood Education major and lives on campus. This is her fourth year on the College’s basketball and track teams.
“We are so blessed that no one was injured. We can fix a building.We will find a way,” Cappello continued.
“Find a way” is a phrase Cappello and her teammates use following a text message their coach Shannon Sword sent containing the three hopeful words right after the tornado.
“When conditioning – find a way.When doing a plank – find a way. Building a new gym – find a way. It is getting through a mental battle and knowing, always, that you can find a way,” Cappello said, smiling.
It is the positivity, strength and compassion that Cappello, her fellow athletes and the entire Ursuline community ooze that fuels College President Sister Diana Stano’s charge to move forward. Although her goal is to have a new gym by next fall, she says it is not the facility that makes a great team. It is the students, coaches and staff that make Ursuline College successful.
The College has raised over $1.4 million for a new gym, but there is a long way to go.
“A new state-of-the-art athletic center will cost approximately $10 million and we are not yet certain of the settlement from the insurance company,” Sr. Diana said.
Athletic Director Cindy McKnight always hoped that someday she would get a new building for athletes, but she never believed it would happen in the aftermath of a tornado. “I stood in the rain with Sr. Diana, Matt Eichenmiller and Jim Krzywicki (Ursuline employees), stared at what was the gym and began to cry,” McKnight said of seeing the athletic center after the tornado hit. “I was in a fog all day Saturday and Sunday. It was not real. Monday, it turned real.”
Ursuline was only closed for one business day before reopening on Tuesday, July 23, and classes began as scheduled August 19. But with the gym, pool, weight room, locker rooms, athletic staff offices and athletic training room unusable, all 11 sports teams and the Athletic Department at the College are affected.
Hathaway Brown, Beaumont School, One Wellness, John Carroll University, Case Western Reserve University, Quicken Loans Arena, Lakeland Community College,The Word Church, Laurel School,The Mandel Jewish Community Center and Borromeo have kindly offered their facilities for the Arrows. The Mandel Jewish Community Center has also provided its fitness center as well as Anytime Fitness in Mayfield Heights. Hathaway Brown, Gilmour School and John Carroll University have provided their pools.
A fitness center was created in Daley Dining Hall so athletes can do their conditioning on campus. In addition, module units are set up near the fields and next to the tennis courts, some housing the Athletic Department staff and others designed as locker rooms and training facilities.
Instead of being able to run over to the gym and shoot some hoops or swim laps, athletes need to block off over four hours for off-campus practices and training. “The schedule is really tough and it is taking a toll on all of us,” Maureen Kelly, a Senior Volleyball player, said. “We do not get back until about eight o’clock at night after practices. Then there’s school work.”
Senior Alexandria Leister, Kelly’s teammate, said a friend recently told her the following quote. He said it reminded him of what Leister and her team are going through. “You can judge the character of a person by how they act through adversity,” Leister reiterated.
Leister, Kelly and other senior student athletes must be the solid foundation for their team, they said. “We need to support the freshman, juniors and sophomores.” Kelly said. “We must be patient and strong.”
The Arrows excelled during the fall season and ended with records for Soccer is 12-8-1 and Volleyball is 19-17. Cross Country won the Lorain County Community College Commodore Invitational September 20, the first meet win in program history. The team finished in third place out of nine teams in the G-MAC conference championship. Michelle Klim was named “Freshman of the Year.” The Arrows golf team accomplished three top-five finishes in the first three tournaments of the season.
The volleyball team’s inspiration throughout the fall season was the word “building.” Along with their coach Donna Day, team members are building their skills; they are building their team to be something great, and Ursuline is hopefully building a new gym, Leister and Kelly said in unison.
Vice President for Institutional Advancement, Kevin Gladstone, is working with Sr. Diana to raise funds for a new athletic center and is thankful for the generous donations already made to the Ursuline College Rebuilding Campaign. Since the building was built in the 1970s, the College’s insurance will not cover the cost of building a new gym that meets 2014 building standards.
“For newcomers to Ursuline, the campus is still serene, but for those who knew the campus prior to the tornado, the sight is heartrending,” Gladstone said.
Ursuline Alumna and Marketing Specialist and Website Coordinator Rebecca Wrenn ’12 arrived on campus in the late afternoon July 20. She parked her car in the lot adjacent to Pilla and walked toward the wreckage. The gym was destroyed. Over 160 trees were lost. After absorbing all that she could, she returned to her car, overwhelmed.
“When I first walked onto campus, my heart broke. I have walked this campus so many times as a college student, as an alumna and as staff. It is a second home. I could not help but cry,” Wrenn said. “But, I could also see the sun shining through the mess the tornado left. I was reminded to think positively. I am so excited to see what the future holds for the College.”
“We want to be able to build a new athletic center for athletes, students and the entire college community,” Gladstone said.
“We are grateful that no one was hurt when the tornado hit. This is a community of faith and we believe we will come out of this even stronger,” Gladstone continued.
A common mantra among this year’s athletes is never to take anything for granted. Even though the 40-year old O’Brien Athletic Center did not have air con- ditioning and sometimes the roof leaked, it was still a gym, Cappello said. It was still the home of the Arrows.
“We miss the gym, we do, but I know that this year is just one more thing to add to our success stories.We still have our community and our coaches. Our coaches have never given up on us,” Cappello said. “You know how in movies something usually happens to the protagonists that they must overcome? This is our something.”
Excerpts from letters of donors
Dear Sister Diana, you, your sisters, colleagues, students and college have been on my mind and in my prayers. It’s a miracle that no one was injured or killed by the tornado. – Chagrin Falls, OH
You all are REMARKABLE! … Tornados can be blessings in disguise! – Arlington, VA
I am stunned to see the damage from the tornado which roared through Ursuline’s lovely campus. I thank God that no one was hurt (physically). But lots of hearts are hurting. – North Royalton, OH.
The beautiful campus will be back. – Cleveland, OH
A house is made with walls and beams… A home is made with love and dream… and so is a college! – Willoughby, OH
I was deeply saddened to see the tornado damage from July…Ursuline was the high point of my life! I was in my 50’s when I came back to school and am now 81! – Roswell, GA
With deep regrets that we cannot do more, enclosed is a check from our company to assist in your repairs. – Pepper Pike, OH
Good luck with the rebuilding. Sorry I can’t send more. – Pittsfield, MA
My best to everyone – we are praying for all of you. – Locust Grove, VA
Enclosed is a check for the Ursuline Rebuilding Fund. We wish you a quick and successful recovery. – Akron, OH
Please accept this very small donation. May it be used to help Ursuline rebuild. God bless! – Belvidere, NJ
We are so proud of you for the outstanding example you have given in response to devastation and loss. – Cleveland, OH, alumnae ’70
I look forward to the new plans, ideas and growth that will eventually resurface. Peace as you put together the new piece – and thank you for ‘being there.’ – Chagrin Falls, OH
We were saddened by your latest ‘surprise.’ But those things do happen. They say that those things make us stronger. Well, perhaps, not having those ‘things’ can mean a little bit more peace of mind. – Baltimore, MD
Miracles do happen … and I know you are counting on a real big one! – Pepper Pike, OH
I’m with you in spirit during these difficult, challenging days. May the courage and wisdom of the Spirit guide you and inspire you to see unimaginable possibilities. – Shaker Heights, OH
Our community is built by the generous support of the College’s alumnae and friends. The Ursuline College Rebuilding Campaign has been set up to help in our rebuilding efforts after the campus was affected by a tornado in the early morning of July 20. If you would like to contribute to the fund online please visit ursuline.edu/rebuild. You can also mail a check to Ursuline College, 2550 Lander Road, Pepper Pike, OH 44124.