This year, back to school has a whole different meaning for Murphy High School students.
It was Christmas Day 2012 and Savannah St. Clair was at home with her family in West Mobile. She knew it was bad weather out but didn’t know just how severe it was. She didn’t know a tornado was tearing through Midtown –destroying homes, churches and the place she had come to know so well over the past four years – her high school.
“I didn’t find out until the next day, through social media and my parents,” St. Clair said, who was a senior at the time. “My heart dropped to the bottom of my stomach. I became very upset. And, I cried.”
Savannah never went inside her school again.
When the spring semester began, St. Clair woke up 30 minutes earlier than she was accustomed to and made the drive to Murphy. There she waited in line with fellow students for a bus that shuttled them to Clark-Shaw Magnet School. This is where the 2013 graduating class of Murphy completed their high school education.
“It was rough,” she said. “Transportation was the worst part. We couldn’t drive. Even the people who lived in the area had to get a sticker to prove their residency because students from Murphy were initially trying to park all over the area.”
William Smith, Murphy’s principal, said the transportation of students did present the most challenges, but commended both the students and his staff for their efforts and cooperation.
“The move was one of the most amazing things I have witnessed,” Smith said. “My teachers and staff worked on both school sites to direct traffic and load busses. The teachers, bus drivers and police officers really went the extra mile. I am very proud of our students as well. They were true examples of what we call Panther Pride.”
Many of the seniors initially thought they would be moving back to Carlen Street to end the year, but Smith had to break the news that it was not possible. He said they accepted it and found ways to make Clark Shaw home. However, some seniors, like St. Clair, would never truly call it home. How could they, when so much of their Panther Pride had been fostered in a place now buried underneath the aftermath of a tornado?
Some of Savannah’s favorite memories took place on the softball practice field, located on Murphy’s campus. She and her teammates, with the help of some parents, had dug up the field and replaced the dirt a few years earlier. But it was destroyed during the storm. The school band had a lot of their instruments destroyed and the track was left in bad shape along with the auditorium.
Everyone was affected in some way.
“We reminded them (class of 2013) that they would always be special for having to endure this setback,” Smith said. “The class of 2013 graduated with style. We had the best graduation that I have been involved with at Murphy.”
Looking back on the experience of losing her school, Savannah acknowledges some good did come from the tragedy.
“As upsetting as it was, I think in some ways it was a blessing in disguise,” St. Clair sincerely said. “There were things that needed work and some redoing. The incoming freshman and returning students will have things we didn’t. They should take pride in the new additions.”
Caroline Raley will be a senior this year and could not be more excited to get back.
“I think it will be kind of crazy when it starts,” Raley said. “I know the auditorium might not be ready, and I heard the pep rallies are going to be on the football field if that’s the case. But, I’m really excited to be back in my own school.”
“I am sure students and staff will be emotional,” Smith said. “The band and football team have been on campus this summer. There is a buzz that you can feel when you see a football workout or hear the band playing. It is very exciting. We are looking forward to being home.”
For all of the returning students and the newbies, Savannah St. Clair, the former Murphy senior and now freshman at The University of Alabama, has left you with a few words:
“Appreciate everything about this place. Seniors, appreciate it more. I never did. I took it for granted. You never know what can happen.”