The Norman Transcript

June 14, 2013

Former basketball stars and PAL team up to benefit youngest tornado victims

By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript

MOORE — Howard Barnett said his son still has nightmares. Even though it has been more than three weeks since the EF-5 tornado ripped through Moore, killing 24 people and injuring another 300, 6-year-old Adorian Barnett is still feeling the effects.

“They say kids are more resilient, but we’ve had some challenging issues with the kids,” Barnett said. “When the weather changes, they start getting freaked out. My six-year-old, he had a nightmare one day and was sleepwalking in the garage, pulling on the car thinking we were going to leave him. I believe that is a result of the trauma that he suffered in these last two tornados that we had.”

It’s because of kids like Adorian that members of the National Basketball Retired Players Association and the Police Athletic League hosted a free basketball clinic Thursday at Moore High for kids affected by the recent tornadoes.

More than 50 students from Briarwood and Plaza Towers elementary schools took part in the two-hour camp that taught skills such as dribbling, rebounding and defense. But its main purpose was to give children a reason to smile.

“For us, it’s about getting back to some normality,” Barnett said. “Letting him have a bit of fun. Getting back in the groove of what it is to be a six-year old. This is needed to get him back to some normality.”

Arnie D. Fielkow, president of the NBRPA, went through the same type of devastation in Hurricane Katrina. He knows how tough it can be on the youngest victims and wanted his group to help in some way.

“It’s very important, especially for youth, to have an outlet of recreation and fun in the midst of some difficult times,” Fielkow said. “Our mission is to give back to communities. It was an honor and a privilege for us to come to Moore and Oklahoma City and to be able to give back to some kids who need some fun and entertainment.”

Fielkow was joined by a cast of former pro basketball stars such as Michael Ray Richardson (NBA), Otis Birdsong (NBA), Sam Silbert (ABA) and Marques Haynes (Harlem Globetrotters). Each of them played long before all of the campers were born, but that didn’t stop them from finding a way to empathize with the campers.

“When I sit and look at this, it’s unbelievable,” said Richardson, who now lives in Lawton. “To go to bed one night with everything in place, and the next day everything is gone. It has to be devastating. It’s really, really tough because these kids here have no idea what happened. What do you tell a kid? If we can just put a smile on their face, I think that’s big.”

One former player on hand who almost all of the the kids’ parents knew was Danny Manning, who is now the men’s basketball coach at University of Tulsa. The former Kansas University and NBA standout brought members of his team down to work with the campers.

Even though Manning has only been in Oklahoma for a year, he considered himself part of the community.

“This is our community, our state,” Manning said. “It’s a way for us to come back out and share some of that love. The goal is to bring them in the gym, put a smile on their face and have them just concentrate on having fun. Once they do leave this clinic, hopefully the memories of the experience will last for them. But the reality is that some of them will have to deal with the continued damage.”

Manning is a former spokesman for the National Police Athletic League. So when PAL president Christopher Hill called him asking if he could be part of the clinic, it was an easy decision for Manning.

“You can’t measure what it means,” Hill said. “You see the smiles on their faces to have someone with his caliber; he brings notoriety to it. So people know these kids need help. These families need help.

“They need more than just personal items. They need comfort, they need words of wisdom. They need encouragement. They need to know there is love and support coming from across the country.”

The NBRPA also donated $5,000 to tornado relief efforts in the Moore area. But the former players realized it was them who got something in return for being at the clinic.

“It really makes you want to sit down and be quiet and not complain about anything,” Birdsong said. “I never had to experience anything like this in life. To see kids and people go through something like that, it really just makes you want to shut up and never complain about anything.”

Michael Kinney Follow me @eyeamtruth mkinney@normantranscript.com