Other Football Survivors Remember Lightning Strikes

While what happened in Grapeland was tragic, sadly Tuesday was not the first time lightning struck at an East Texas football practice.

Back in 1987, a bolt of lightning hit at a Robert E. Lee practice as the team was trying to leave the field, and seriously injured a junior varsity player. Current TISD school board president Andy Bergfeld was a senior on that Lee squad, and he remembers that practice vividly.

"I know it was 16 years ago, but its one of those things you never forget," Bergfeld says. "I know it wasn't the magnitude of Grapeland. It struck, and half the team hit the ground. It knocked half the team down, everybody was stunned. You never expect something like this to happen, and especially when skies were clear and things are fine a minute before and that one bolt hits. School gets out, and you've got an ambulance here and a helicopter here and all the kids from school are coming to see what's going on."

Bergfeld says they actually had the football team help block out the rest of the students so the emergency crews would have room to get to the field. He also said that one of his coaches was so affected by what happened, he left the profession and went into working with a life-flight company, the same kind that he flew in with his player.

Another incident occurred in Forney in 1997, when lightning struck and killed sophomore Clay Jones. The coach who was on the field that day beside Jones spent Wednesday reliving unpleasant memories.

Brad Turner was Forney's defensive backs coach in 1995, today he's the head football coach at Sulphur Springs high school. When he heard about Grapeland, he said he couldn't help but think of that August practice. Turner and thirteen others were also injured by the lightning, he said even the indirect shock he took felt like someone had hit him in the head with a hammer.

"The biggest thing is staying together," Turner explains. "Love one another, support one another, because its a bad situation. Fussing and pointing fingers is not going to make it any better. I think it'll help that team come together, that comunity come together, the more they stay together."

Turner said he was amazed by the support not just from the people of Forney, but the cards and letters they received from other coaches in the days after Jones' death. Even nine years later, he's still close with Clay's family.

Reid Kerr (rkerr@kltv.com) reporting.