When much of Baton Rouge was destroyed by flooding in August following record rainfall, an entire region was irrevocably altered.
That included nearby Denham Springs High, which was put under three and half feet of water, and its cross country and track and field programs, which saw damage totaling over $25,000 to its equipment and facilities. The Los Angeles Times reported that rainfall caused the Amite River, which runs through Denham Springs, to rise to record-setting levels.
The road back still hasn't been easy for those living in the Baton Rouge area, some of whom are still displaced in hotels and temporary housing, but the community has taken comfort in the support it's received.
The track and field team has gotten its program up and running again, too, starting first with insurance money that helped the school buy new pole vault, long jump and high jump pits, and then with a $2,500 donation from the Louisiana Marathon, which helped the team buy new uniforms, Denham Springs track and field boys coach Josh Neal said.
"They came out and presented us with a check for $2,500, which blew my mind," said Sarah Batty, who was teaching and coaching with Denham Springs when the flood hit and continues to aid in recovery efforts for the school even after a recent job transition to nearby Zachary High. "We needed so much and the generosity was awesome."
Another local business, Varsity Sports, which has three stores in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Mandeville, was important early on, working with Brooks Running to provide loads of shoes, t-shirts, shorts and jackets to the school's program.
"That was really important," Batty said.
On Sunday, Batty was with her former Denham Springs athletes at the Louisiana Marathon, where she and her athletes manned a water table and supported runners through Baton Rouge.
"I made that commitment to my kids before I knew I would come to Zachary," Batty said. "Whether or not I was still there, there was no doubt I would be there. Here in this area, it's our unity that's most important."
Varsity Sports and the Louisiana Marathon continue to support local programs in the area, including nearby Live Oak High, which received a $1,500 check from the Louisiana Marathon as well -- the school had about half the amount of damage as Denham Springs did.
"Every little bit has helped," Denham Springs boys coach Josh Neal said of the Louisiana Marathon's donation.
"They're the hub of the running community," Batty said of Varsity Sports. "They sponsor cross country meets in the fall and are a big charitable organization."
In December, the Baton Rouge Advocate reported that Denham Springs had lost 18 shot puts, 18 pairs of uniform tights, 12 shorts, 18 equipment bags, 24 hurdles and 10 starting blocks. All of its pits were ruined.
Nearly everything was waterlogged.
"We could have handled it terrible," Neal said. "But it brought our city and our school together more than it hurt it. Things aren't the same right now, but they're getting back to being normal."
Neal was fortunate, as the flood didn't hit his home. But that was only a bittersweet outcome. His parents' house was put under water, not to mention Denham Springs, a school of over 1,500 that has stood for over 100 years in Livingston Parish.
The flooding was so bad, Neal said, that the school and its students were forced to relocate to rival Live Oak High for an indefinite period.
For three months, the schools traded the building, with students at Denham being forced to attend school from 12 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
"Nothing like that has ever happened here," Neal said.
Today, Denham Springs students are back to their hallways.
On Tuesday, the track team will head back to practice for the remaining indoor season.
Senior Abigail O'Donoghue, a high jumper signed to LSU, will look to earn her second state title in the event this February.
Neal said it will be good for the team to resume things.
"We're all trying to rebuild right now," Neal said. ""It's still coming together, but we're making the best of it."
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