Chiefs players remember Joplin one year later, plan return trip

Posted May 22, 2012

A number of Chiefs are planning to make a return to Joplin following the conclusion of the team’s offseason program

Even a year later, Matt Cassel still can’t shake his sobering first glimpse of downtown Joplin.

The crumbling skeletons of uprooted homes and businesses had lined what remained of Main St. Overturned cars and scattered debris littered the sidewalks as far as Cassel could see. And as one of the three buses carrying Chiefs volunteers drove past it all, the quarterback smelled the lingering odor of gasoline hanging over the tornado-ravaged Missouri town.

 “I grew up in Southern California, so our natural disasters were earthquakes, but (with earthquakes) everything stays in the same place,” said Cassel. “I’ve never been around tornadoes. It was a crazy experience for me.”

Helping Joplin residents was an experience that stuck with more Chiefs players than just Cassel.  After the first Organized Team Activities (OTAs) concluded on Monday, many Chiefs players that saw what remained of post-tornado Joplin recalled their volunteering experience and pledged further support.

Running back Dexter McCluster saw said that he and many of his teammates were “greatly, greatly affected” after seeing the disaster scene.

So when team OTAs conclude in June, McCluster said he’ll join Cassel,  Coach Romeo Crennel, the entire 2012 rookie class, and other Chiefs volunteers in a return volunteer trip, picking up where they left off a year ago.

“I think it’s a good thing going down there and showing that it may be a year later, but we’re still thinking about (Joplin),” McCluster said. “We need to bring that community back on top.”

Kendrick Lewis knows that a little volunteering by McCluster and the Chiefs can go a long way. The third year safety said the Joplin tornado struck a personal chord with him because he was displaced by an equally devastating disaster.

In 2005, Lewis, a New Orleans native, had to leave his home and family in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He settled in Gainesville, GA, but said he knew his hometown was suffering.

Lewis said he’s thankful that the Chiefs helped Joplin residents evade that level of anguish.

 “It’s great the Chiefs are opening with welcome hands, going down there and supporting every way we can,” said Lewis. “I experienced one of those (scenarios) with Hurricane Katrina and I know the situation those people are in (in Joplin, Mo.).”

Other Chiefs players had never been exposed to that level of destruction. Jonathan Baldwin said he couldn’t believe what Joplin looked like when he volunteered with Cassel last year. But the second-year wide receiver was shocked all over again when he discovered the living conditions of the Joplin residents that stayed.

“A lot of people’s houses weren’t livable anymore,” said Baldwin. “We just wanted to do anything we could to collect as much stuff from their homes as we could.”

Cassel said each new neighborhood that the Chiefs volunteers entered looked worse than the last.

“(We went) from one neighborhood to the next and tried to help,” Cassel said. “We saw that people lost a lot of things.”

Cassel and Baldwin both saw that Joplin citizens had next to nothing and decided to help even more, playing a role in Joplin High School’s unique road football game in Arrowhead Stadium.

On Oct. 21, Joplin High School took on Raymore-Peculiar under the Arrowhead Stadium lights. Of the 53 players that comprised Joplin’s high school roster, 17 lost their homes in the tornado. Joplin head coach Chris Shields and two other coaches were homeless, too.

Baldwin and Cassel helped the Chiefs give Joplin players--and the 6,000 fans in attendance--a night off from thinking about the tornado’s destruction. Cassel surprised Joplin’s players in the locker room and delivered a pregame speech to the Eagles. And once on the field, Baldwin greeted Joplin players and took part in the pre-game coin toss.

 “It was a big impact just to see those kids,” remembered Baldwin.  “They were really excited to see us. To show our appreciation and that we actually care had a big impact on me.”

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