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Hurricane Harvey impacting Houston-native Ohio State athletes

Ohio State women’s volleyball middle-blocker Jasmine Koonts and her teammate, setter Becca Mauer are both Houston-area natives. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

A week ago, Ohio State gymnast Alex Wilson’s dad sent a text to the Sugar Land, Texas, native that said a lot of rain was heading their way. Wilson’s mother decided to go home from work early and his 88-year-old grandmother, who lives in a one-room apartment in downtown Houston, headed to the Wilsons’ house.

Wilson, a 2016 All-American on vault and a 2017 Academic All-Big Ten honoree, assumed Houston would be fine since he and his family had experienced torrential rain on many occasions.

But a day after Wilson received the texts, Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas coast. Wilson wasn’t prepared for what he heard just a couple days later from his family, which was hunkered down in their house.

“I was texting my dad on Saturday and Sunday, and he was sending me a bunch of pictures of roads I grew up on right down the street from me, and there was a giant sinkhole in one of the bridges I used to go over,” Wilson said. “I remember going over that bridge every day since I was a kid.”

Wilson was petrified. In Columbus, more than 1,000 miles away from his hometown, there was nothing he could do.

Credit: Courtesy of TNS

“It hurts knowing the best thing I can do is just focus on my school and gym, and really hope that everything ends up OK,” Wilson said. “There’s nothing physical I can do; it’s hard. How do you let your family or friends who you’ve known for your whole life just struggle through that without being able to go down and help them?”

In the meantime, Wilson has tried to stay in semi-constant contact with his parents, just enough to know they’re safe, but not too much so he doesn’t feel overwhelmed.

“My parents and my grandmother being safe is more than enough to make me feel confident and good enough to be able to do the things I need to do on a daily basis,” Wilson said. “That’s honestly the only thing that makes it bearable because I usually have to turn off social media because the pictures and everything is catastrophic, and you always want to go back and do something to help, but what can you really do at that point in time besides just hope?”

Harvey is just the latest in a long line of major storms the family of Ohio State baseball utility man Noah McGowan has faced.

McGowan’s family in Tomball, Texas, has not been forced to evacuate, nor has it sustained heavy damages to its property. He said so far, the electricity has been on and off in the house and floodwater had, at one time, reached his grandmother’s house.

But as the storm subsides, McGowan’s family is now able to at least leave the island that had been their home.

“All of them were actually able to leave the house today and go to the grocery store,” McGowan said. “The water in the street, it was just too high to drive a car through.”

McGowan said his mother’s side of the family used to live in New Orleans, and though most had moved before the devastating Hurricane Katrina, McGowan still had cousins and other family members impacted by the Category 5 storm.

Junior outfielder Noah McGowan steps to the plate during the Scarlet and Gray World Series on October 7, 2016 at Bill Davis Stadium.
Credit: Courtesy of OSU Athletics

They stayed with us for a while during that whole ordeal,” he said.

His family’s past experience with storms, such as Hurricane Ike in 2008, eased McGowan’s mind this week, but he said he still wishes he could be home to help out as much as he can and just be there to support his family.

“It does suck not being able to be able to help my friends and family if I can,” McGowan said. “Just because it’s something that I would like to be down there helping them out obviously. But at the same time, I know that they’re OK right now and that it’s hopefully getting better and they’re going to be fine.”

Another native of Tomball, Texas, Ohio State women’s volleyball middle-blocker Jasmine Koonts, and her teammate Becca Mauer, a native of Houston, have only been able to watch from afar as their hometowns were hit by Harvey.

“I feel bad because they’re experiencing the worst and we’re both experiencing sunshine and 63-degree weather,” Koonts said. “There’s nothing that we can really do physically, but emotionally, give them support.”

Unlike Wilson’s family, which congregated in one house, Koonts’ parents and grandparents remained in their own homes during the storm. At one point, while both grandparents were in their house, a tree fell and hit the house, but didn’t damage anything.

Neither Koonts’ nor Mauer’s families’ houses have suffered any damage. But just a few miles away, there was widespread flooding and devastation.

“From celebrities to sporting team, and specifically J.J. Watt, and how much money he’s raised and how much he’s really done for the city, has been awesome,” Mauer said. “I just think it’s cool how, not only people from Houston and from Texas, but other places have been pitching in to help.”

Wednesday morning, Ohio State’s football team announced it will donate $10,000 to the American Red Cross to help with the relief efforts necessary after the hurricane. The money will be raised by players and coaches and will be donated on Friday. On Tuesday, Ohio State’s men’s and women’s basketball teams tweeted they will be sending shirts and shoes to University of Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, who requested teams send donations.

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