WEST, Texas (AP) — Four months after a fertilizer plant explosion tore through their small Texas community, killing 15 people and damaging buildings for blocks around, the West Trojans opened their football season and recovered a degree of normalcy that's been missing since the blast.
The high school field, which became a triage site immediately after the April 17 blast in the community 100 miles south of Dallas, was replanted and repainted for the game against the Little River-Academy Bumblebees. Few Texas traditions are as celebrated or mythologized as high school football under the lights, but Thursday night's kickoff held particular significance for West's roughly 2,800 residents, who have endured months of struggle and uncertainty.
"Everyone is just really excited that we can do normal things like go to football games, when just a couple of months ago we were hurting so badly," high school English teacher Chelsey Lauer said before the game.
The home stands were packed with excited Trojan fans, including many who attended a pep rally earlier in the day that included former Baylor coach Grant Teaff and a Czech-themed dance group, in a nod to West's immigrant roots more than a century ago. Most remained until the end of a 41-7 loss.
Red-clad Trojan players slapped their teammates' backs like drummers during the final notes of the National Anthem, and generations of West graduates raised their right index fingers in the air while the band played the school song.
"From here to now, we didn't even know if we were going to see a first game," said Monique Hardin, whose nephew, Quentin Dancer, plays for the Trojans and ran more than 70 yards for the team's only touchdown.
"God spared me and the rest of us to live this day," she said.
The blast destroyed parts of three schools, including the high school. Immediately after the blast, hundreds of students had to be bused more than 10 miles away to another school district. Officials in West repeatedly said they wanted to get classes in August back in town, even if they didn't have permanent buildings.