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The threat of Hurricane Irma led Miami Central High's football team to leave town early, last Wednesday, for its game Friday at Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas).
Five days later and three days after the No. 7-ranked Rockets defeated the No. 12 Gaels 24-20 on ESPNU, Miami Central's traveling party of 69 players, parents and coaches are still in Las Vegas, waiting to see when they'll be able to get home and making phone calls home to check on relatives who stayed behind.
"During the game, I was focused on that, but as soon as the game was over, I started worrying about my family," Miami Central junior outside linebacker and tight end Tatum Bethune said. "I've been able to get through to my mom, and she's OK, though they don't have any electricity. I'm just praying for her right now."
A local hotel has agreed to comp their rooms, and Las Vegas restaurants have given Miami Central free food. On Sunday, the players ate out for free at Evel Pie Pizza. On Monday, the Las Vegas Police Protective Association served lunch to the players using a taco truck.
"Despite the hurricane, they wanted to honor their commitment to the game," Bishop Gorman athletics director Grant Rice said. "When the hurricane kept increasing in intensity, we contacted their hotel to get them to extend their stay and we helped with some meals, along with some people in the Gorman community. The game didn't go as we hoped, but now our goal is to be family to them and do everything we can to let them be comfortable."
The Rockets' next game is scheduled for Thursday with Edison (Miami), though there's a good chance that will be called off. Regardless, the Rockets spent time practicing Monday in the Springhill Suites parking lot.
"We have our concerns back home with our families, and we're waiting it out until we're able to get back home," Central coach Roland Smith said. "It's been quite an experience for our kids that they will remember the rest of their lives. Even though we played here for ourselves, we realized what our community was going through and this wasn't about us as it was our state, our community and all the people in South Florida. I was so proud of our team to get the job done."
Smith, who said his team is still trying to get a flight to somewhere in Florida on Tuesday, said Gorman and the Las Vegas community have been generous in their support of his team.
"Bishop Gorman and the community have been very gracious to us," Smith said. "I couldn't ask to be in a better place. Just to see people come together for other people and show humanity is awesome. We talk about it as coaches all the time, but to see it come to fruition is great. ... We are a high school program; we don't have a budget like a college. They have been gracious is doing whatever they can to help out."
Bethune, who said his great aunt was Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of Bethune-Cookman University, said his favorite meal in Vegas was the free pizza from Evel Pies.
"This town has showed us a lot of love," Bethune said.
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