Orrick golfers driven to represent school after tornado

05/17/2014 10:54 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

The path to Orrick, Mo., springs its visitors over a set of railroad tracks before entering the small town that covers fewer than two square miles. The first right turn onto a narrow, winding road leads to a faded red brick building, which serves as the elementary, middle and high schools.

This building has provided the foundation of a decade-long friendship between three golfers — senior Jacob Jennings, senior Mason Karnes and junior Tanner Werle, who grew up together inside these walls. They have called it their second home for the last dozen years.

A tornado robbed them of one final week.

It ripped through the Orrick school on May 10, ravaging the high school wing of the building and splitting open portions of the roof. No injuries were reported.

But two days later, the school district announced it would cancel classes for the remainder of the school year — marking an abrupt end to high school for Jennings and Karnes.

“It’s honestly devastating that I couldn’t walk out of that school with my classmates one last time,” Jennings said. “After you’ve been going to a school for 12 years, you want one last day to share with everyone.”

Instead, that closure will come on the golf course.

Fewer than 24 hours after the tornado raced through Orrick — and busted out all of the windows of Werle’s house — the golf team traveled to Maryville, Mo., for a Missouri Class 1 sectional 4 meet.

Jennings, Karnes and Werle posted scores low enough to qualify for the Class 1 state tournament. The three golfers will travel to Rivercut Golf Course in Springfield on Monday to compete for a state title.

They’re labeling it the final day of high school they were never able to enjoy.

“I think it will give us that closure that I really want,” Karnes said. “I really need that.”

Karnes and Jennings are set to graduate today. The ceremony has been moved from Orrick to Excelsior Springs High School.

A day later, they will represent their high school on the golf course for the final time.

It wasn’t an easy route to get there. Nor was it an easy decision to continue the season after the tornado ended the school year.

Jennings said he was still “emotionally shaken” after watching the funnels form from his front yard in Camden, Mo., a few miles east of Orrick. Before heading back inside for cover, he watched the tornado twirl through the town on a destructive path, uprooting trees, ripping apart roofs and destroying vehicles.

It was much more up close and personal for Werle.

After seeing the first signs of the twister from outside his house in Orrick, Werle and his parents huddled in their basement. They listened as the storm blew out the windows of their house.

“They always say it sounds like a train coming through your house,” Werle said. “Well, that’s pretty accurate.”

As the storm passed through Orrick, Karnes slipped into a large refrigeration unit at a Sonic Drive-In in Richmond, where he works. He failed in his quests to receive updates on his friends back home.

“I sent out a mass text to everyone in my phone to make sure everyone was all right,” Karnes said. “It took awhile to hear back because none of the cell phones were working. So I was worried. I just didn’t know.”

Golf, needless to say, was far from anyone’s mind — at least until the following morning. Orrick coach Mitch Comstock sent out text messages to his players last Sunday morning to check if they were still interested in traveling for the sectional tournament.

The debate didn’t last long.

“It was unanimous from all of them,” Comstock said. “They wanted to go play. They wanted to get that normalcy back.”

The golfers woke up at 6 a.m. Sunday to help with the town’s cleanup project — a process that continued this week with fallen tree limbs, shingles, car parts and other debris still littering neighborhood front yards. A few hours later, they piled into a van to head to Mozingo Lake Golf Course in Maryville.

They decided to play. And they played well.

Karnes placed ninth and qualified for the state tournament for the third straight season. Werle posted the best 18-hole score of his life with a 92. And Jennings claimed the final qualifying spot.

They endured two 30-minute delays for severe weather while on the course — an unnecessary reminder of what they had experienced last weekend.

“I think we made a statement that we can come together when times are tough,” Werle said.

An opportunity for another statement comes Monday in the form of the state meet.

“In my eyes, this is the biggest tournament of our lives now,” Karnes said.

“I think we’re playing for the whole community.”

To reach Sam McDowell, call 816-234-4869 or send email to smcdowell@kcstar.com

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