JOPLIN — Fans wearing Missouri Southern State University’s green and gold sat side-by-side with fans wearing Missouri’s black and gold and cheered for something more than just a basketball game.
Every ticket sold to Sunday's One State, One Spirit Classic at the Leggett and Platt Athletic Center in Joplin was to support the rebuilding of a community devastated by the May 22 tornado.
Best friends Mason Baker, 12, and Kyle Good, 11, held up signs rooting for both teams. Mason’s sign bore the green and gold of Missouri Southern State and read “MSSU One Spirit,” and Kyle’s sign in black and gold read “M-I-Z Z-O-U.”
Both attend College Heights Christian School in Joplin and came with Kyle’s dad, Terry Good.
“I was just thrilled that Mizzou would come to Joplin and do this. It brings a lot of national attention, and that helps Joplin stay in the spotlight,” Terry Good said.
Before the game began, a moment of silence was observed to reflect on the 162 lives lost in the Joplin tornado. Tornado survivor Desi Hickman was then introduced to sing the national anthem. Her story typified what many survivors experienced.
Hickman graduated from MSSU on May 21 with a degree in biology and pre-pharmacy. The day after her graduation, she arrived at her job at the pharmacy near St. John’s Hospital. That night, she was on the evening shift and began work at 4 p.m.
Between 5:15 and 5:30 p.m., she heard the sirens sound, then stop and sound again. She was beginning to get nervous and went to the gas station next to the pharmacy to see where the woman working there would be taking shelter. Along with her boss at the pharmacy and the gas station employee, Hickman crouched in the gas station’s bathroom and clung to the toilet. When the tornado hit, the building crumbled around her.
“I thought we were going to die. I really did,” Hickman said.
She was trapped under the rubble. The woman working at the gas station was able to free herself and help Hickman and her boss climb out from underneath the bits of the destroyed building. They found that the tornado had destroyed their cars in the parking lot, so they walked to St. John’s Hospital to see if they could get any help.
“It was absolutely crazy at the hospital,” Hickman said. “Nobody was able to help us because they were so busy helping everybody else.”
The group walked back to the pharmacy, and a stranger looking for her own family offered a ride. Because of the kindness of the stranger, Hickman returned home to her 85-year-old grandmother who was in town visiting for Hickman’s graduation. Her parents had gone out looking for her, and for four hours after the tornado hit, they didn’t know whether she was alive or dead.
When they finally received a phone call from her, Hickman said they were completely relieved.
“They were just happy I was alive. They thought we were dead seeing that building in a pile of rubble,” she said.
A few months later, she recorded a song called “Take My Hand Joplin” and was thrilled to find out she would be singing the national anthem for the One State, One Spirit game. She has sung the national anthem before for MSSU games at Leggett and Platt Athletic Center, but this opportunity had special meaning for her.
“It was a great honor to be able to do something like this,” she said.