As Tampa cleans up, a return to normalcy — and football

As Tampa cleans up, a return to normalcy — and football

TAMPA, Fla. — Brian Siegrist looked out the windows of the University of South Florida's Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Center on Tuesday morning to see people walking out of the basketball arena and being loaded into shuttles.

Those folks, many with special medical needs, were among the 800 who took shelter in the Sun Dome as Hurricane Irma chugged toward south Florida, threatening to inflict serious damage.

Within a few hours Tuesday, things were back to normal at the Bulls' athletic complex, as football players practiced there for the first time since last week in preparation for Friday's game against Illinois, to be held across town at Raymond James Stadium.

While Irma did damage — namely in downed trees and power lines — it wasn't as devastating to Tampa as many here feared.

The decision to stick with the original plan to play Friday at the city's NFL stadium was reached late Monday by USF President Judy Genshaft and athletic director Mark Harlan and officials with the Tampa Sports Authority.

"They checked in with several communities and first responders and wanted to make sure we weren't a burden on their ability to respond and take away resources from them," said Siegrist, USF's sports information director. "After taking a look at the damage, everybody felt like it would be OK to move ahead, and they were OK to do that, and it's really now mostly getting power back up and running and cleaning up debris in the immediate Tampa area."

And in an effort to show their appreciation to those on the front lines, USF announced Tuesday that it is offering up to four complimentary tickets to Friday's game for first responders and their families.

Florida's high school football teams, many of which had their games canceled as a result of the storm, will also be offered free seats.

"We want to make sure that everyone is working to give back and get their life (together)," USF coach Charlie Strong said. "It's going to take awhile, we know that."

The USF campus, which is located north of downtown Tampa, sustained little damage from the storm. "Tree limbs are all over the place," Siegrist said, but the power stayed on.

"We just had a press conference, and three or four of our media guys were still without power," he said. "In south Tampa, there are several blocks without power still."

'Nothing is normal yet'

It's been unusually quiet for a Monday and Tuesday in mid-September as many students left campus to be with family as the storm approached. Siegrist said Strong and a couple dozen USF players and coaches spent the weekend at the football facility.

Classes will resume on Thursday, and staff members are expected to be back in their offices today.

The businesses around campus are slowly getting back on schedule, though the doors to several area staples — including coffee shop Felicitous on 51st and the P.O.D. Market at Around the Horn — remained closed Tuesday.

University Mall, which had been closed since Friday afternoon, reopened Tuesday.

"Nothing is normal yet," University Mall manager Patrice Gingras said. "I've been in my office all day doing command center work."

Inside the mall, though, employees reported Tuesday was business as usual.

"The mall is normal, just as many people here as there was before the hurricane," said Earnest Jones, who works at the mall's GNC store. "I expected it to be that way. We didn't get much damage where we're at."

Tampa flights TBD

While things are relatively normal near campus, those from central Illinois expecting to attend the game might not be able to get here by flying into Tampa International Airport.

Illinois fan Rachel Schroeder, who won a trip to the game at a Coaches versus Cancer auction earlier this year, found that while the airport is open, service in and out remains limited.

"I'm going to have to talk to the travel agency to find out if our flight is going (today)," she said. "We're supposed to leave from Willard, fly to Chicago and then to Tampa. I called the rental car agency, and they're still closed."

It's a trip Schroeder has been looking forward to all summer, though she now has mixed feelings about going to cheer on the Illini.

"There's devastation in some areas, and many people have had to evacuate their homes and have been displaced and may go back and not find a home," she said.

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Common Sense wrote on September 13, 2017 at 9:09 am

Well THANK GOD we can play football. Most people in Florida have to worrry about getting their lives and homes back together, but as long as we can play football, all is good!

fuddrules wrote on September 14, 2017 at 7:09 am

 "In south Tampa, there are several blocks without power still."

 

Sounds like a typically day in central Illinois.

RatDog wrote on September 18, 2017 at 11:09 am

Enough about football already. Football should be banned as the biggest, most boring waste of time & money in the universe.