When communities in southern Indiana were rocked by severe weather and tornadoes, people from around the state responded. Some of those responding were 13 football players from GHS. Along with their head coach, the players loaded up and headed into the heart of Clark County in southern Indiana to lend a hand.
The "Greencastle 13" consisting of Nick Gilliam, Carter Lewis, Hunter Smith, Mac Shuee, Caleb Robinson, T.J. Bollman, Dustin Williams, Jordan Froderman, Tyler Scott, Tanner Wood, Evan Coble, Grant Mundy and Johnny Newgent were able to see first-hand the devastation.
"I've never been more proud of a group of young men. To go down there and the way they performed and the way they handled themselves -- it was amazing to watch those kids do what they did," Buis said.
Buis said more players wanted to go, but his transportation only allowed for 18 passengers.
Asked to describe what the scene was like in person, Buis put it in terms that local residents could understand.
"You talk about destruction," Buis said. "Imagine two tornadoes side by side, they were both category 2, imagine it touching down in Chad Valley and just ripping straight by the factories, in front of Walmart, over the courthouse and keep going. That's the path it took to compare it to Greencastle that would be the best comparison.
"It was very humbling," he added.
While the heart of the clean-up efforts are in Henryville, the group made its way to a farm in Borden. Buis said the ride to the farm was similar to taking a drive out West Walnut and showed little signs of damage. However, that perspective changed when they came over Daisy Hill Road and were confronted with the reality they were stepping into.
He described a scene with fire trucks, ambulances and burn piles. The gravity of the moment and the circumstances weren't lost on his team.
"That's when our kids really started to sit down in their seats," Buis said. "You know how young kids are on a bus early in the morning. They're all wound up and then all of a sudden it was total silence. Those kids couldn't believe it.
"When we pulled up to a farm in Borden. It's a family farm that's been there forever and both houses were completely gone. The woman who lived there had to be 80 years old and she could not stop coming up and giving our players hugs," he added.
The farm consisted of two homes that were lost in the storm. The woman and her son escaped injury themselves by seeking shelter in an old fallout shelter on the property.
Instead of sitting back and waiting for directions, the GHS players rolled off the bus, rolled up their sleeves and got down to business.
"We go into Borden and she pulls up and our kids just get out of the bus, heads held high and 'yes, ma'am' 'no sir', just completely handled themselves with respect and understood the magnitude of the situation," he said.
"I didn't even have to ask. They immediately started picking up trash, picking up debris. Coach Wood, Doug Gilliam and myself immediately picked up chainsaws and went to the hill. We were running chainsaws all day long. We had a pile of brush the size of a football field," Buis said.
The small group of players wasn't the only Greencastle natives in Clark County. Greencastle Fire Chief Bill Newgent was directing efforts in Henryville and it was that connection that allowed Buis and his players the chance to make a difference. Once they finished their day in Borden, the group of GHS players joined Newgent in Henryville.
Buis described a scene that sounded like something out of a movie.
"The thing is when we left Borden, Bill Newgent, who was stationed in Henryville, called us and said 'we would like for you to stop by Henryville.' It's almost like the town is on quarantine. When you get off on that exit, you'd better have a pass."
He said the exit was filled with law enforcement ensuring that only responders and those there to assist in the clean-up efforts are allowed to enter. It was there that Newgent met them and escorted them into town. Buis said the team learned the individual price paid from the effects of the storm, but it was in Henryville where the weight of everything hit them.
"In Borden, we got to experience firsthand what the devastation had on a family," Buis said. "And when I say family, I mean first generation, second generation and third generation. You got to see the impact on how it impacted a family.
"So that was quite an experience there. It was unbelievable for our kids to see that. But when we left Borden, we got a call from Bill Newgent who was in charge of the command center there (Henryville) in regards to the fire department and he met us at the exit and we drove through," he added.
Of all the devastation the students witness, the one structure that Buis said he believes stood out the most for them was the Henryville High School. It was something they could relate to personally and the dream they all shared it one the Henryville Class of 2012 won't be able to enjoy.
"I think that's what stuck with our kids the most. There's a lot of victims in Henryville, but I think the thing that related to our kids the most is that senior class in Henryville won't graduate in Henryville High School," Buis said.
For himself, it was the coming together of people and resources that struck a cord with Buis. He noted that news is seemingly dominated by negative stories, and while the story of the destruction of communities in southern Indiana if tragic, the collective effort to make things the way they were was inspiring.
"From an adult standpoint, what stands out to me the most is that you see all these negative things in the news, you just see it all the time, but to go into Henryville -- they actually have to turn away volunteers," he explained. "To pull up into Henryville and Tide has a big tent with washers and dryers set up. Little Caesar's Pizza has a huge semi-trailer cooking pizza and Little Caesar's employees walking all over the town handing our free pizza."
He even went one better and said if you're looking for the heart of America and what it means to be an American, you needn't look any further than southern Indiana.
"You want to see patriotism and what it means to be an American and what it means to help other human beings? It's dead smack in southern Indiana right now. You're talking about people that lay it on the line every day from local law enforcement. Guys like Bill Newgent from Greencastle immediately hopping in the car and spending two weeks away from his family. It's amazing," he said.
Buis spoke at length about the caliber of individuals he witnessed in the Henryville area. But for as much as he spoke about the entire effort, his focus always return to Newgent.
"When you go into Henryville, you see leaders," Buis said. "You're like 'man, I want my son to grow up and be like that guy'. I'm telling you what, Bill Newgent is amazing. He's just unbelievable. You talk about someone under pressure with all that carnage going on in Henryville. He's just as smooth as ice.
"To see him in the work force with his uniform on and how he demanded respect, how he handled himself and how he spoke to our kids -- now that's a leader," he continued. "I'm just a football coach, I just call plays on gameday, but with what he was doing, I would have cracked in a second."
Buis also gave credit to some key members of the Greencastle Community School system who made the trip happen. He said Superintendent Dr. Lori Richmond, Assistant Principal Russ Hesler and Transportation Director Danny Green were quick in responding to his request and saw how important the trip was.
He also said he didn't know if the trip would translate to anything on the field, but he knew that it would be an experience that would shape them into better men in the future.
After spending the day running a chainsaw, Buis said he went to bed Saturday night with a tired body, but awoke Sunday with a rejuvenated spirit.
"When I woke up Sunday morning I was sore, but I tell you what, if I could wake up feeling like I did everyday the rest of my life, I'll be OK," Buis said.a