Teamwork Beyond the Playing Fields

May 31, 2011 by Gary Heise

Everyone associated with sports understands the value of teamwork. It’s the absolute foundation of team sports.

Having been involved in sports virtually my entire life – first as a young athlete through high school and then for my entire work career as a sports administrator – I thought I was pretty schooled in the word.

But the word took on a new meaning for me recently. And on a far bigger stage than any playing field.

My family recently made the two-hour trek to Joplin, MO to help in the initial clean-up stages as the city started digging out of the historic tornado that shredded what once was an Ozark Missouri town of 50,000.

What I learned about teamwork that day left a lasting impression. We joined forces with Samaritan’s Purse, a disaster relief team. We showed up without any real idea of what we would actually do. Hours later, however, I was amazed at how much a team of 20 people could accomplish together.

But first, let me paint the picture.

Actually, I can’t – there are no words to describe what I saw. If I had to come up with a description, it might be something like this….

The scene looked like somebody took the city of Joplin – the houses, trees, cars, stores, office buildings, billboards, schools – tossed them in a humongous, city-sized blender and pushed the “on” button and then poured it out.

It’s overwhelming.

But for one day, I was reminded about how a team can come together and do great things, whether it’s on the playing field or in life in general.

Most of the volunteers who showed up at the Samaritan’s Purse makeshift site at a Joplin church were a consortium of individuals and small groups. But with a proven system, organization and good leadership, these people were formed into teams that would become the most effective way to attack the job. 

Just like a sports team, it took a wide variety of people performing a wide variety of jobs.  There were the registration people, the trainers, the ones who assessed the jobs and gave the work orders, those who brought food and drink for the volunteers, others with trucks loaded with the necessary equipment and supplies.  And this was all before we even took to the streets.
Each team had a captain – ours was Mike from Arkansas. He traveled with Samaritan’s Purse and knew how to lead the team to get the most out of our time. Mike had recently been in Tuscaloosa, AL working on that city’s tornado clean-up and now turned his attention to Joplin. He was our coach.

Once on site, our team of 20 hit the ground running. Without hesitation, each one assumed a task that fit their size and capability.  There were guys handling the chainsaws – cutting limbs or whatever was left of trees (one even had to cut through what once was a deck). Rakes, shovels, tarps, hands – whatever it took – each person pitched in. It truly was amazing. Two hours after arriving to each location, we had cleared off an entire residence. We finished by presenting a Bible to the homeowner signed by each of our team members along with a word of encouragement and hope.

This was the power of teamwork at its finest.

Our team was quite the assortment:  from business executives to college students, from people who drove from Wisconsin to residents of Joplin who lived in unaffected parts of the city.

But we had one thing in common. We were there – on this team – with one purpose and one goal that day. Nothing else mattered. We were a bunch of individuals who bonded together to form something much greater than anything we could have done individually.

Of course, what we did was only a speckle of what needs to be done in Joplin. The rebuild job will be a major undertaking. It will take years, not months, to rebuild this city.

But we did make a difference in the life of an 87-year-old widow bound to a wheelchair whose home was salvageable.  And to a young family whose house was destroyed and faced the uncertainty of what lies ahead.

Twenty people who didn’t even know each other just hours earlier had come together to form a team that made an impact.

For a guy who has been around sports forever, this was one team experience that put all my others in perspective.


Joplin, Mo Tornado
Photo Credit: Bob Carey/American Red Cross

Premier Sports Management, in conjunction with the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award, is teaming with American Red Cross to launch a campaign to raise disaster relief funds for victims of the 2011 spring storms. To participate, go to the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award American Red Cross Donation Site.