Programs Scramble to Adjust, Assist

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 2, 2005

As the scope of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina continued to widen yesterday, the sports world responded with scrambling efforts to relocate the displaced and restructure its schedules and rules for circumstances few could have imagined.

Colleges and universities in several southern states sought to help those unable to return home or with no homes to return to. On the Louisiana State campus in Baton Rouge, representatives of all 20 of the school's athletic teams have assisted the Red Cross tend to victims, and the athletic departments at Alabama and Mississippi State urged fans planning to attend games on those campuses tomorrow to relinquish their hotel reservations so the rooms could be used to shelter refugees.

LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center has been turned into a triage unit, where at least one men's basketball player stayed until 3 a.m. to work with injured people who were taken out of dozens of ambulances, the school said. Inside the center, coaches washed linens and clothes for victims. Representatives from others teams folded clothes. Greg Stringfellow, an LSU equipment manager, estimated he washed 4,000 pounds of linens Tuesday and 10,000 pounds Wednesday.

The LSU football team, whose home game Saturday against North Texas has been canceled, visited Baton Rouge River Center to spend time with displaced families. Players brought T-shirts, posters and signed autographs for children.

"We had a Red Cross lady come up to us and talk about what a great thing it was that we were there," senior center Rudy Niswanger said in a statement. "It really made me think that we were only there for 45 minutes signing things and passing out shirts and this lady is going to be there 24 hours a day for the next three weeks probably. And she is talking about what a great thing it is we are doing?"

At the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Athletic Director Mal Moore sent an e-mail Wednesday asking 50,000 Alabama fans and season ticket holders to assist evacuees who may be trying to stay in area hotels. Like many football programs, Alabama houses its players in a hotel the night before a home game, but Moore said that only about half of the team will stay in a hotel tonight to allow more rooms for the displaced.

"Everyone is starting to accept the fact that this is a long-term deal and these people are in a tough situation," Moore said by telephone. "The whole city, the university included, is doing everything we can in support."

Moore estimated that some 500 displaced individuals are staying at Alabama Student Recreation Center, which typically is used for pickup basketball games and other sports. The campus shelter was set up Sunday, and Moore plans to set up a big-screen television in the recreation area for tomorrow's football game.

The football teams from Tulane and Southern Mississippi, whose game Sunday has been postponed, also find themselves in temporary homes. Tulane's football team has relocated to Dallas, sharing facilities with Southern Methodist; Southern Mississippi relocated to the University of Memphis.

Early assessments of Southern Mississippi's M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg indicate it is not significantly damaged, Conference USA spokeswoman Courtney Archer said. The Golden Eagles' next game, at Alabama on Sept. 10, will be played as scheduled, officials from Alabama and Conference USA said.

The future of the Sugar Bowl, held annually in the Superdome in New Orleans, is less certain. Bowl Championship Series spokesman Bob Burda said BCS Commissioner Kevin Weiberg has communicated with Sugar Bowl President Mark Romig about the feasibility of playing the game, scheduled for Jan. 2, this season.

"Their hope," Burda said, "is to still be able to play the game in the dome, but it's too early to tell if that is going to be possible."

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