Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Tornado hits close to Burnside's home
Arkansas shortstop Braxton Burnside fields a ball during a game against Boston on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- University of Arkansas softball shortstop Braxton Burnside was visiting with a friend Saturday in her hometown of Paragould in northeastern Arkansas when news of a tornado approaching Craighead and Greene counties began spreading.
Burnside relocated to her boyfriend's grandmother's house to shelter as the tornado ripped through Jonesboro, just a short drive away to the southwest of her location.
"Yeah, it was a little too close for comfort, I'm not going to lie," Burnside said on a teleconference with teammate Sydney Parr of North Little Rock on Wednesday.
Burnside was back home in Paragould instead of facing North Texas for a scheduled doubleheader at Bogle Park with her Razorback teammates because of the suspension of athletic activities caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
"It was pretty scary," Burnside said. "It was heading our way. Jonesboro's no more than 15 minutes from where I'm from, and it absolutely destroyed Jonesboro."
The tornado, later judged to be an EF-3 with winds ranging from 136 mph to 165 mph, tore through a large part of Jonesboro and caused severe damage. According to news reports, 83 homes were destroyed, 66 received major damage and 309 received minor damage. Turtle Creek Mall sustained damage amounting to several hundred thousand dollars. More than 20 people were injured, but there were no fatalities.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson declared Jonesboro as a natural disaster area in order to seek federal assistance.
"There is actually debris everywhere at my house in Paragould," Burnside said. "There's debris all over Paragould, and it was probably a good 10 miles from my house. And to think that debris was taken all the way to my house just kind of accounts for how strong it was."
Burnside said she brought up the tornado and loss of property to her Razorback teammates in the "daily gratitudes" part of a video chat arranged by the team.
"That was my 'thankful for,' " Burnside said. " I'm just thankful for my house and the roof over my head because not everyone was as blessed as I was because their house has been torn down and they're left with nothing.
"And to think we're going through this time with the coronavirus spreading as rapidly as it is, it's just like bad went to worse really fast. I think it just kind of puts into perspective how we take some things for granted. That tornado could have easily destroyed Paragould, where I'm from, my house. Thankfully nobody was hurt too bad and thankfully no lives were taken, but I think it puts in perspective how fast things can go from bad to worse and how fast things can change."
Burnside, a transfer from Missouri who was seeing her first action as a Razorback this season, was off to a hot start. Through 25 games, she was hitting .392 -- second on the team behind Hannah McEwen's .418. Her 5 home runs tied with Ryan Jackson for second on the team, and her 20 RBI was second behind Linnie Malkin (6 HRs, 24 RBI).
Burnside's frustration with the canceled season might run deeper than others after sitting out all of 2019 as a transfer.
"It's pretty devastating," she said. "It's really motivating when you have to sit out a year. You're working, working, working and you come back, and then to have this season ripped away, I'm like, 'Oh my gosh. I'm trying my best just to play softball with the Arkansas Razorbacks, and it has not been meant to be for the last two years, I guess.' "
Burnside said it was "definitely the right decision" for the NCAA to allow schools to restore scholarships to seniors for their lost season. A junior who already has graduated, she has not decided whether she'll spend two more years in softball or move on to her professional career after the 2021 season. Burnside earned a degree in communications in December and began taking classes toward a masters in human resources and workforce development this semester.
Sports on 04/02/2020
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