Burke volleyball helping community heal

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BURKE, S.D. (KSFY) - Three months ago to the day Burke, South Dakota was rocked by a late-night tornado.

It left students without a school and a volleyball team with their future up in the air. Would they have to merge teams? How far would they have to practice?

Through it all, "Burke strong" has brought on a new meaning.

Not all storms come to disrupt your life. Some come to clear a path and make you stronger than what you thought possible.

"Definitely that is what it has done for us, has cleared our path for where we want to be at the end and gotten us through this," said Billie Jo Indahl, Burke head volleyball coach.

"It was just overwhelming is the only word I can come up with," said Mandy Frank, Burke assistant volleyball coach.

The night of August 6th reshaped Burke, South Dakota.

"Absolutely remember the day, even the minute that it happened it was so unexpected, definitely without warning," Indahl said.

"Right as it happened, I knew that was a tornado, it must've been. I don't know what else it would've been," said Taylee Indahl, Burke senior.

An EF-1 tornado touched down in the town of 600. Many buildings were damaged. Burke High School wasn't spared.

"I wanted to cry, I think maybe I did cry," Indahl said. "I don't know. Just seeing it just in shambles was so hard. You know all the memories there with my kids, and with my sports teams."

"And as we walked around the whole town I was just like, I can't believe this actually happened to our little town." said Lainee Schonebaum, Burke senior.

With the season set to start just days following the storm, the Burke volleyball team was left without a home.

"I just sat there and stared at it and was like what are we going to do," Schonebaum said.

"We didn't have much else to offer them besides the use of our sports facilities," said Jeremy Wollman, South Central Superintendent.

That was until South Central School in Bonesteel opened its doors. They had an unused gym and a good idea of how it could be used.

"It was just the most logical choice because they had practiced and played games here in the past," Wollman said.

Burke and South Central have held a co-op for the past 15 years so when tragedy struck, this was just second nature.

"So I was very glad that Bonesteel offered this school and gym to us, so we actually have a place to play our senior year," said Samantha Bull, Burke senior.

But this gym, 20 miles from Burke, was still missing a piece of home.

"I want to get a piece of the wood floor, I want to be able to bring a piece of our home to this gym," Frank said.

Days following the storm, buried beneath the rubble, a part of the 10-foot line of volleyball court was found - undamaged.

"Divine intervention, we walked into the door of that gym and here comes the precision company crew carrying out this huge chunk of wood, and I was like 'that's it, that's what we need'," Frank said.

"We brought that piece down to display for everyone just kind of like a piece of home that we can bring with us and have with us all the time," Indahl said.

This Volleyball team has always been popular but since the tornado, it's become something more bolstering - a real sense of community.

"You attend all the sporting events, because you know everybody," said Tonya Broome, Burke fan. "You see them everyday, they come in our business, they're like our family. It's just heartbreaking."

Throughout the adversity, the Cougars have found ways to win, going 29-5 in the regular season, while receiving votes as one of the top teams in Class B entering the playoffs.

"The positive? We're all here," Indahl said. "And we all get to play this season and it could have been very different."

Three months after the devastation, this small town is adjusting to their new normal and making 'Burke Strong' their motto now and into the future.

"Burke has always been like that and Burke always supports each other and surrounding communities as well," Indahl said. "They're there to pick up no matter what happens, so I definitely think it's brought us closer together."

As Burke's volleyball team continues their playoff push, the Cougars cross country teams placed first and third at this year's state tournament. As for now, the new Burke gymnasium is being rebuilt with talks of it possibly being ready for this spring's graduation.