TEMPE – Last month, record-setting floods swept through the suburbs of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For some within the Arizona State football program the disaster didn’t just hit home – it was home.
ASU running backs coach John Simon came to Tempe from Baton Rouge and still has family in the area.
“My mom’s house was flooded, four feet of water,” Simon said. “My mom lost her house. My sister lost her house. A lot of the kids that I recruit in that area lost their homes. A lot of my family and friends lost their homes.”
Houses were not the only possessions destroyed by the flood waters. Simon said his best friend was preparing to build a house and had everything the family owned in storage a facility that flooded. The friend’s family lost everything.
“It’s a disaster zone right now and my heart and my passion is there,” Simon said.
From that passion came Simon’s idea to involve the football program in the flood-relief efforts. Staff and players came together last weekend to send bags full of clothes and shoes to a state representative in Baton Rouge to make sure their donations made it into the hands of those in need.
— John Ray Simon Jr. (@johnsimon31) August 27, 2016
Defensive tackle George Lea was among those who donated items to the effort. Lea is from New Orleans, about a two-hour drive southeast of Baton Rouge.
Because he is from Louisiana, the cause meant a lot to Lea. It was little things, such as donating a pair of jeans or making a phone call or two, that made him feel as if he was making a difference.
“A couple of teammates I played with in high school, their families have suffered from the flood in Baton Rouge,” Lea said. “So, I called and checked on them to see how everything was going and to make sure things were good.”
Emotions hit Simon harder because his family was directly affected. He was hit hardest when he learned that the flood had inundated the graveyard near his home where members of his family are buried.
“The graveyard flooded and all the caskets floated up,” Simon said. “So seeing those pictures and everything, though I’m not there, that hits home for me when they send me a picture of my dad’s (casket) just out on the yard.”
Despite the difficulties for his friends and family over the last month, Simon is in high spirits and thankful for where he is today.
“I don’t feel like I’d be here if it wasn’t for where I was and the people that helped me in my life,” Simon said. “My heart is just out for them, and passion. We just wanted to be able to do something for them.”
ASU coach Todd Graham also has family in Louisiana, so when Simon reached out to him about having the Sun Devils pitch in to help people in the Baton Rouge area, Graham didn’t hesitate.
“It’s just a part of having a caring and a giving heart when people are going through tough times,” Graham said. “So it’s just something we should do, and that’s not something we want to draw a lot of attention to, either. We always want to be givers.”
This is not the first time the ASU football program has supported the city of Baton Rouge. Back when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Louisiana State was to host ASU in a home game at Tiger Stadium.
Due to the severity of the storm, the game had to be moved to Sun Devil Stadium on short notice. ASU’s athletic department agreed to allow SEC officials to work the game, and ESPN to televise it to smooth the move.
The game raised about $1 million for a Katrina relief fund.
With both college and high school football under way, Simon said the next step is sending cleats and other equipment down to Baton Rouge to help programs continue their seasons amid the latest disaster there.
And he will continue to follow the progress of the relief movement in Baton Rouge while helping to raise awareness.
“There’s a lot of seniors going into high school,” Simon said. “Just think about your senior year of high school and how excited you were. And you’re starting that year and you don’t have any clothes, you don’t have a house, you don’t have a lot of the things that we take for granted.”