JACKSONVILLE — Brooke Robinson has basically been a Gamecock since she was 12 years old. She wasn’t about to let a tornado change that for her.
“My family comes here and my brother is on the baseball team as well … I’ve been coming here since I was 12,” Robinson said of Jacksonville State University. “I’ve always been a Gamecock.”
JSU welcomed Robinson and about 1,000 of her freshman classmates at JSU Stadium on Monday before the start of fall classes on Tuesday. The event gave administrators and faculty a chance to show support for the first freshman class since the March 19 tornado slammed the campus, and to assure the students that despite ongoing recovery work, the university was there and ready for them.
“This is a very special freshman class,” President John Beehler told the students as they sat on the home side of the stadium. “You get the opportunity to help us rebuild JSU … we’re going to be stronger and better than ever.”
The annual convocation, which featured the Marching Southerners band and the JSU cheerleaders, gave students the chance to learn fight songs and cheers. After taking a class picture on the football field, the students were treated to free food.
The event and start of fall classes comes five months after the tornado damaged or destroyed multiple buildings; JSU has been in recovery mode ever since. Roofers in bright orange jackets were atop Daugette Hall behind the stadium, adding shingles as students listened to speakers. Meanwhile, construction equipment was parked around the stadium.
“We should have all the roofs done except maybe the library done by homecoming week on Sept. 24,” Beehler said.
Images from a freshman convocation event Monday night at Jacksonville State University.
Besides reroofing different dorms and facilities, the university has had to relocate some classes and departments, such as the school of business and industry, because their buildings were too badly damaged.
Robinson said she didn’t have the words to describe how she felt when she learned JSU was badly damaged by the tornado. Still, she’s ready to be a Gamecock regardless of any ongoing construction.
“It’s been tremendous … they’ve picked up and done such a great job,” Robinson said of the JSU recovery.
Freshman Carson Crowe said he enrolled and joined the JSU baseball team after the tornado hit. Crowe said the damage didn’t worry him because he was convinced JSU would come back better.
“I knew that JSU was getting a new baseball stadium and just upping everything,” Crowe said, referring to the new baseball stadium being dedicated next month. “It’s going to be really nice.”
Crowe said he was impressed by all the progress JSU has made so far.
“From what I can tell, the whole town has come together as one and rebuilt a lot of things,” he said.
Jherica Kirkland of Rome, Ga., and a freshman member of the Southerners colorguard, said she chose JSU because everyone on campus seemed helpful and friendly. The tornado didn’t make her second-guess her decision.
“I was only really worried about the people who lived there,” Kirkland said when she heard about the tornado.
Kristi Dutton of Sand Rock attended the event Monday to support her freshman son Jacob Dutton. Dutton said she wasn’t concerned about Jacob or her other son, Jay Dutton, a JSU junior, despite all the ongoing repairs and changes.
“When we came to orientation, I felt very at home and my son felt comfortable here,” Dutton said as her son gathered with his fellow students to take their class picture. “I’m impressed with what JSU has done and I think they’re they’ll take care of my kids.”
However, Dutton said both of her sons will live at home this year because of the apparent housing shortage in the city of Jacksonville.
The university has worked hard to find enough housing for students, given that two private, off-campus apartment complexes were severely damaged by the tornado. To help address the off-campus housing shortage, JSU bought 22 mobile homes for students. The university has also asked students to live at home if possible to make room for those who can’t do the same.
“We didn’t even try to find anything,” Dutton said.