June 2, 2014
SARATOGA, Wyo. -
Two UW shuttle vehicles crammed with nearly 60 University of Wyoming football student-athletes, along with several other university employees and student workers in university and personal vehicles, headed west across Wyoming Highway 130 on a mission early Friday morning.
The crews volunteered to aid in the efforts to keep the North Platte River in Saratoga at bay, as spring runoff and rains have caused the river to flood, threatening homes and structures in town. The roaring river nearly reached the bottom of the bridge at the town's entrance, and houses along the river were already festooned with sandbags throughout the yard. With the water flowing at 20 feet per second, three teams of National Guard units had been in town for nearly a week. As volunteers arrived daily, the Guard has spent time demonstrating techniques for building retention walls around buildings.
The players started Friday with a debriefing, then split into groups. The first station was the sandbag-filling area. Working in tandem, one player shoveled sand while the other held the bag and tied. After that, it was off to a low part of town to build a retaining wall in a field about 100 yards from the river's edge. Another group went on a tour of the town to see threatened areas and the efforts to keep the water back.
Along with several teammates, senior free safety Darrenn White stacked sandbags near a fence, forming an assembly line to maximize efficiency.
"The reason we came is to help out the people in our community," White said. "We want to support them. I'm really enjoying it and I'm glad to help out any way we can. Whether or not people notice it, we are just glad to help and that's what we're out to do."
Two of the main drivers of the UW volunteer project were Mark Collins, UW Associate Vice President of Operations, and Mike Samp, UW Chief of Police. After the flooding became a real threat, school officials contacted state authorities and campus groups became involved. That's how so many of the university's players ended up spending a day off from voluntary workouts performing a different sort of workout.
Director of Sports Performance and Head Football Strength Coach Zach Duval shouted words of encouragement to his players as he tossed and stacked sandbags to build a berm in a pasture. He and the Cowboys constructed a retaining wall about 100 yards from the river to prevent the water from reaching the roadway.
"It's pretty easy to reward the fans of Wyoming with our work and labor," Duval said. "You know when your players are committed when they sacrifice their day off. It's a pretty easy event - you just put a little bit of time in to help the great state of Wyoming. It's very easy to put an extra 50 percent into throwing these sandbags. These are people's homes. It's not bricks and mortar that change people's lives. It's people."