TUSCALOOSA — As Keith Word looked around the lower bowl of the west side of Bryant-Denny Stadium, he was reminded once again of why he’s proud to call Piedmont home.
“Anytime a big event happens in Piedmont, our folks will be there. There’s very few people left behind at home today because they’re all here. I guess they shut down the town,” Word said.
Word, a Piedmont graduate, was among the blue and gold-clad supporters to witness the Bulldogs’ 44-7 win over Bayside Academy in the Class 3A championship game Thursday. Piedmont (14-1) earned its second title to go with their 2009 crown.
Seeing the unification of his community is nothing new for Word. He has witnessed both football championships, and he’s an integral part of the town’s fabric with his involvement in numerous civic events.
But he has also been a part of Piedmont’s darkest days.
On Palm Sunday in 1994, Word was attending worship services at Goshen United Methodist Church, situated three miles north of town. It seemed like a normal morning, and the congregants were enjoying a presentation from the children of the church. Suddenly, the lives of those in the building were tragically altered.
An F4 tornado with a path of destruction a half-mile wide bore down on the structure built in the early 1900s. Of the 147 in attendance, 20 members — including six children — were killed and another 96 injured.
“I was sitting in the third pew from the front when I heard a pounding sound on the roof,” Word said. “I just thought it was hail, and then a piece of stained glass came down.
“My first thought was to get the kids to safety, then the lights went out as I got up and that was the last thing I remember.”
When he regained consciousness, Word was pinned beneath brick and steel from the roof that collapsed. Two men seated beside him did not survive. After being freed from the rubble, Word turned his efforts to rescuing others before collapsing. He was hospitalized with 13 broken ribs and numerous lacerations.
“A tornado never came to mind that morning,” Word said. “This was before we had warning sirens in our community. It was the most difficult day you can ever imagine. I couldn’t even speak about it for the first year.”
George Scroggins lost five family members in the tragedy, including his brother and father. He has seen how that day strengthened the resolve of the entire region.
“That’s why days like today are so special to us all,” Scroggins said. “We’ve been through some hard times together, and everyone rallying around the football team just brings us all closer. It definitely helps us keep things in perspective.”
The church dedicated a new building in 1996 a short distance from the old structure. Though the memorial to those who lost their lives serves as a constant reminder, it offers an inspiration to Word and his fellow residents.
“We may be a small town, but when something happens good or bad we’re there for each other,” Word said. “That’s one of the great qualities of being from Piedmont.”
The Bulldogs scored the game’s final 37 points to dominate Bayside (11-4).
Quarterback Taylor Hayes was named most valuable player for his three-touchdown performance. Hayes rushed for 63 yards and two scores and passed for 126 yards, including a 45-yard scoring strike to Bayley Blanchard.
Darnell Jackson added 61 yards and a pair of touchdowns for Piedmont.