RATS. (Kazuhiro NOGI/AFP)

At first, the rats just lived around Kirby High School’s greenhouse in Memphis. But renovations to the greenhouse that began before the school year “disturbed” the rats' nest, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

The rodents went wild and wound up inside the main school building. Over Labor Day weekend, pest control workers captured as many as 80 rats, according to a county schools official, and set out poison and traps for those that remained.

Students returned to the school and a most unpleasant scene. A foul stench overtook the building after several days, the Commercial Appeal reported: “Rats that had been earlier poisoned were starting to die within the walls.”

WREG News Channel 3 in Memphis reported the smell of rat urine was “so bad” and “overwhelmed the halls.”

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson called the situation an “unavoidable act of nature.”

School administrators classified the issue as an emergency and shut the campus down, which will remain shuttered for at least six weeks, likely until the end of the fall semester. In the meantime, the Shelby County school system began shuttling students to three locations around the county for their classes.

That’s caused some trouble for the Kirby football team, which has to convene after class each day at a field next to a condemned school house.

The Cougars can still use the locker room, Coach Chester Flowers told the Commercial Appeal, but can’t access the school’s weight room. Fans from opposing schools have brought signs to games that make fun of rodent infestation.

Even non-athletes — regular students who are transferring to other area schools for the semester — have found themselves subject to verbal and online taunts.

“They’re saying, ‘Don’t bring them [Kirby students] over here,’ or, ‘If they transfer, don’t bring those rodents to us,’ " one student recounted to Commercial Appeal columnist Tonyaa Weathersbee.

But after Kirby’s hot start — the football team is a surprise playoff contender at 6-1, its best start in a decade, and has outscored in-state opponents 310-43 — Flowers has a warning to future foes:

“Don’t bring those non-creative signs to our contest trying to get a cheap laugh,” he said. “Because the price you pay may not be as inexpensive as you think.”

“It’s funny, because the teams that did it, they can’t beat us,” running back Marshun Douglas told the paper.

The Cougars take those slights personally, Flowers said, and they’ve united around serving payback to teams that look down on the school because of its rat problem.

Members of the community have embraced the football team, too. The general manager of a nearby LA Fitness is allowing players to work out at his facility free of charge.

“What we do at Kirby on Friday nights involves the student body, the faculty, and this community,” Flowers told the Commercial Appeal. “We come together with a common goal, and that’s our rallying point.

“Us against the world. And we can get away from everything we’ve been going through, the challenges, the displacement of our students. On Friday night this stadium is our sanctuary and our place where we can go and say, ‘Hey we’re not going to be broken.' ”

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