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Despite Flooding, Louisiana Women Head to Asheville to Heal and Play

August 20, 2016 07:58 PM
The ladies of the Louisiana 3.0 team, from left, front row: Cinda Terral, captain Carole Wilkins, Robyn Amrhein and Claire Vecchio. Back row: Kay Lambert, Gerry Mackay, Suzanne Payne and Rhonda Rayborn.

By Ron Cioffi/USTA Southern

At left, Kris Hamilton's Kentucky women's 3.0 team donated $430 for Louisians flood victims. "We had to do something," she said. Louisiana player Cinda Terral hold the envelope she received from Hamilton after Sunday's match.

In a related development, the Birmingham, Ala. team that played Louisiana promised to send a large relieft team from the Church of the Highlands to help flood victims, said player Beth Ann Daniel.

When is tennis a form of therapy?

For a team of women from flood-stricken Louisiana, weary of battling nature’s fury, fatigue and emotional turmoil, the time for healing is now.

“When I left home, there was two-and-a-half feet of water in my house. We were (living) up on the third floor,” said Kay Lambert, whose team mostly hails from Zachary, about 16 miles north of Baton Rouge.

The Louisiana capital and nearby parishes (the state’s name for counties) have been dealing with eight days of flooding. In one part of nearby Livingston Parish, over 31 inches of rain fell in 15 hours. At least 13 people have died across five parishes, about 20 parishes have been declared disaster areas, over 40,000 homes have been lost and thousands of residents have lost everything in what the Red Cross is calling the worst natural U.S. disaster since Hurricane Sandy four years ago.

And from that devastation – where more rain is forecast – came a women’s 3.0 team, bound for Asheville and the 2016 USTA League Adult 40 & Over Southern Sectional Championships. Herre, they recounted the horror back home without fear of dangerously rising floodwaters.

Carole Wilkins, the team’s captain, had damage to her home, as did teammates Robyn Amrhein, Claire Vecchio, Suzanne Payne and Lambert. Each had a story to tell, and some were tearful while recounting them. But, two team members had too much on their minds to come to Asheville.

In addition to her own home’s flooded first floor, Kim spent most of Monday and Tuesday dealing with a recent family death as well as other family members whose homes were under water. Two sons had floodwaters in their homes, “my son’s mother-in-law lost her house. And a sister-in-law lost a house,” Lambert said, counting off devastated homes like points in a tiebreaker.

“They had my heart,” she said motioning to her chest.

Along with personal turmoil, the floodwaters also propelled three of the teammates to the forefront of the disaster via their jobs or positions.

The First Lady and the Chief of Staff
They call Amrhein the “First Lady” because her husband, David, is in his sixth year as Zachary’s mayor. “He got a call last Friday (Aug. 12) saying the rain was coming,” she said. “People who never saw water before now saw water. … (David) came home late at night emotionally drained, wondering if there were more people who could be helped and more homes that could be saved.”

The team shows off their shirts made especially for Sectionals.

As Wilkins said, “Somebody’s got to be the leader and he was our leader and got us through the flooding.”

Even singles player Vecchio, who played twice on Friday and had just won a three-hour match on Saturday, couldn’t wait to talk about the disaster back home. Vecchio is the West Feliciana Parish Chief of Staff for Parish President Kevin Couhig.

“We were pretty lucky as our parish is mostly on a bluff. So we assisted others in the area like Livingston Parish. It was a huge ‘vil’ (village) effort. No one had a day off and we were working 12-, 16-hour days.

“I’m still in a state of shock about what has happened to our residents. I had to escort Congressman Ralph Abraham around as he reviewed the damage. He was struck by the catastrophe,” Vecchio explained.

Payne, who is the Director of Religious Education at St. John the Baptist Church, talked about the influx of victims the church began seeing a week ago.

“People coming in in bare feet. Wet jeans. We set up a distribution center for people who needed supplies, for free, of course,” she said.

Surrounded by historic flooding, what was the motivation for the players to get on a plane and fly to the 2016 USTA League Adult 40 & Over Southern Sectional Championships?

Payne and Vecchio said they didn’t have a choice. Both said people close to them, who knew about their achievement of qualifying for Asheville, ordered them to play here.

“I didn’t want to come but my husband would have kicked me out of the house,” Payne said.

Vecchio added that she was “ordered to leave the parish and join her team.”

“Yes, for us now, tennis is therapy,” said Wilkins, their captain. “We’re like sisters. The exercise will have put this flooding out of our minds.”

Even in the face of destruction, the women’s spirits were never really dampened. The team is named “Love All Y’all” and they brought a basket brimming with T-shirts for their opponents and newly made friends. Gifts of Louisiana love among the tears.