The first time a hurricane destroyed B.J. Frazier’s house, he was, he estimates, six years old.
It wasn’t the only time he lost a house to the disaster. His hometown of Beaufort is on one of the tiny peninsulas on the east coast of North Carolina, just inland from the Atlantic Ocean.
Frazier, now a high school football coach, doesn’t recall everything about the first time he lost a home, but he remembers returning after evacuating and seeing the wreckage.
“We came back to our house and I had absolutely nothing. My dad looked at me and he goes, ‘I want you to just go in your room, get your toys that you can get, the ones that didn’t get flooded,’” he said.
But then his dad added one more thing: “All we can do is control what we can control.”
“That’s something I’ve always took with me,” Frazier said. “Control what I can control, and everything else is going to take care of itself.”
Fifteen years later, as Hurricane Florence floods the coast of North Carolina, Frazier tries to pass this life experience onto his athletes at East Carteret High School.
“Maybe two, three of (my players), knew they didn’t have a good house to go to, but now they actually received a little bit more that what they’ve always had, as far as supplies, as far as the amount of love and support that they’re getting,” Frazier said.
“They’re receiving that, so they’re going to put it out there: ‘OK, wow, people care enough about me to help me that I don’t even know, so why not do the same?'”
When senior Sam Stott steps out of his house in Stacy, N.C., he can see the Stacy Free Will Baptist Church that overlooks the Atlantic and is one of the only churches in the small town.
It was unusable after the storm.
“I’ve been to that church, and I know the preacher and a bunch of the crowd that was over there,” Stott said. “I was just working with my friends and we were just trying to help.”
His house was also damaged. Water rose above foot level, ruining furniture and getting into bathrooms.
Stott evacuated to Williamsburg, Va. to stay with his aunt on Sept. 12; his parents, who went to Greenville so his dad could receive a kidney transplant, did not return until Monday. His dad wasn’t able to re-enter the house for fear of mold infecting his wound.
Ethan Fulcher, another senior on the East Carteret football team, evacuated to Winston-Salem with his mother. His brother and grandfather stayed in Stacy, despite the roof caving in.
But the two of them, who are neighbors, teammates and in the same boy scout troupe, have made it a priority to help the community.
There’s carpet to be ripped up, tarps to lay on roofs, fallen trees to chop and move.
“If I was in a bad situation, hopefully somebody would help me out too,” Stott said. “Everybody’s got each other’s backs down there, that’s the people that we grew up with.”
It’s like Frazier has experienced, and what Stott and Fulcher are becoming aware of: People help people.
That’s not just locally. Volunteers have flown in from places including California, New York and Louisiana.
“How in the world are you flying in hot meals from California?” Frazier asks.
But they do. The meals aren’t bad, either, Stott says; the MREs (Meal, Ready-to-eat) from fire stations, for instance, have hash browns with bacon, peanut butter jelly sandwiches, and other protein-filled meals.
Many volunteers are random people. But the storm also illustrates the way disasters can reconnect old friends.
Four hundred miles away, two coaches at Erwin High School in Asheville, N.C. had a conversation about how they could help.
In the mountainous area of Asheville, damage was minimal. But head coach Rodney Pruett and assistant coach Sherman Holt wanted to find a way to help those severely impacted by the storm.
Holt said: “Let’s adopt a team.”
“I’ve got a guy that I know that’s a head coach on the coast of Carolina, and I think we could adopt his team,” he said. “I just had that connection, played football with him at Appalachian State.”
Whether or not one football team adopting another is unprecedented, it is highly unusual. Like adopting a highway or adopting a school, Erwin High’s football team would take care of East Carteret.
Holt sent a text to his old college teammate in Beaufort.
“He wasn’t really asking us if we needed anything,” Frazier recalled. “He said, ‘This is what we’re going to do.'”
So Erwin High set up a tent at a football game and asked the community to donate supplies.
Between Sept. 21 to Sept. 28, the team collected money and supplies. The coaching staff talked to local businesses about getting involved. On Friday, players loaded up a U-Haul and two truck beds with food, water, diapers and other essentials.
“(Football) brings all of us together … What if that’s taken away?” Pruett said. “That was my message to my team. We love this game, we love this sport, and what if it was taken away from you and you couldn’t play it?
That night, East Carteret played its first football game in weeks. Six seconds before halftime, it got rained out and postponed to Monday.
A couple hours later, immediately after Erwin finished its own game, eight coaches began the red-eye trek to the east coast.
The coaches departed Asheville at 12:45 a.m. and arrived in Beaumont at 8:40 a.m. They spoke to the East Carteret team, sat in on a film session and helped work on a home that had been damaged heavily from the flooding near the school.
Five hours later, they departed. They got back home at 8:45 p.m.
It had been a turbulent 20 hours.
“I ask my players: Don’t talk about it — be about it,” Pruett said. “It’s one thing to have people donate and everything, but when you do more than that … We just want to see first-hand (and) tell them our thoughts and prayers are with them during this difficult time and just help out any way we can because their football team’s no different than my football team.”
It’s an addendum to what Frazier has been trying to convey: Possessions can be replaced. Insurance provides a safety net.
But people and connections are essential.
“I would rather leave everything in my house if I could get my family and stuff out,” Fulcher said. “I was calling my friends up to see if they wanted to come with me to Winston-Salem. I was calling them up, ‘Pack a small bag, you can come with me, I’ll give you a ride, it doesn’t matter.’”
He sounded sincerely torn that nobody took him up on his offer.
But things are beginning to return to normalcy.
The first football game back resumed Monday.
School re-opened Tuesday.
And Frazier took an optimistic view on the catastrophe that brought the community together and taught the athletes valuable life lessons.
“We teach life through football. We want to win football games, but end of the day, we’ve got to be able to build young men up,” Frazier said. “I teach my guys, even when you’re facing hardships, still, get up, do what you have to do to take care of home when you can get on your feet, and still go out and help someone.”