When Vilonia visited Greenbrier to play for a conference baseball championship last weekend, the Panthers gave the Eagles something they hope will take root for years to come in the Eagles’ tornado-ravaged community.
Before the game, each of the Greenbrier player presented each Vilonia player with a small tree.
"There were oaks and dogwoods and peach trees and apple trees, about any variety you can find around here," said Mareee Coats, a parent of one of the Greenbrier players.
The seeds for the idea were planted when Coats volunteered recently to help in cleanup efforts in Vilonia. She had been part of a cleanup crew in relief efforts after the 2011 tornado.
"The first time, everybody had a chainsaw and were cutting up a lot of trees," she said. "I noticed this second time there weren’t as many trees that needed to be cut up because the tornado had taken out a lot of the trees."
Coats’ parents own a tree farm in Little River County in south Arkansas.
She presented the idea to the Greenbrier players and coaching staff, who supported in wholeheartedly,
"We wanted to come up with something a little different to help them," Coats said. "The baseball players wanted to do something more than just giving out canned goods."
In addition to the trees, the Greenbrier players gave the Vilonia players T-shirts that formed an acrostic on the front with the names of the two schools connected as "friends on rivals." The backs of the T-shirts were inscribed, inside the outline of a tree, with a Biblical verse (Job 14:7) that reads, "For there is hope for a tree if it be cut down that it will sprout again and that its shoots will not cease."
Greenbrier also presented Vilonia with a $1,500 check from a collection by the students toward relief effort. Nearby on the softball field, the Greenbrier softball team gave Vilonia a $2,400 from a similar collection.
"We wanted to show Vilonia that even though we are big rivals that they are our friends and neighbors and we want to help them in a time of need," said Coats. "This is something that should help over the long term."
The two baseball teams split a doubleheader, which gave Vilonia the 5A-West championship.
But the what happened that Saturday afternoon has deeper roots than just a game and a championship.
Greenbrier gave Vilonia a special opportunity for new growth.