Early in the week prior to an October road matchup, the Hampton (Pennsylvania) High School Talbots football team was busy preparing for what some might call a “trap game.” The 8-0 Talbots were scheduled to travel to 2-6 Knoch High School in Saxonburg in the hopes of solidifying playoff positioning for the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL) playoffs before an eventual Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) state playoff run and not be caught off guard in a winnable game.
Little did the Talbots know parts of Hampton Township would face an unexpected challenge after an evening EF-1 tornado on Thursday, October 21 shook the community with wind speeds up to 105 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service (NWS)/Pittsburgh. Nine other tornadoes impacted western Pennsylvania creating challenges through the area.
The Hampton girls volleyball team had to briefly pause its final home match of the season against Mars (Pennsylvania) High School. Hampton was attempting to finish a strong regular season for what turned out to be an eventual run to the PIAA 3A state volleyball championship match, falling 3-0 to Spring Grove.
Hampton Athletics Director Bill Cardone said the severe weather “created areas of havoc” for about 15 to 20 minutes on that October 21 day with Hampton’s gymnasium being evacuated. According to NWS estimates, that area of havoc spanned a path about 4.8 miles with destruction as wide as 400 yards, and the tornado’s path maintained a distance of just under 1.5 miles from the school.
After all was said and done, some homes in the Hampton Township community were left without a roof. Others, though spared by significant structural damage, had numerous trees littering yards, leaving behind broken branches and various debris scattered throughout the township. Many residents were left scrambling to not only manage the financial damage, but the task at hand in cleaning up the neighborhood. Miraculously, the NWS reported no deaths or injuries as a result of the storm.
One Hampton Township resident told KDKA-Pittsburgh: “(Tornadoes are) not supposed to happen here. We’re in a valley. Tornados don’t come through here.”
Seemingly protected by nearby elevation changes and hills, Hampton Township, a community of more than 18,000 people, was hit after years of several close calls including an outbreak in April 2020 just a few miles northeast of the community, according to NWS data.
Spanning just 16 square miles and located about 25 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh, Cardone described the area as hyper-local with an emphasis on community compared to the surrounding areas.
“We are the only standalone community in the state of Pennsylvania,” Cardone said. “Hampton Township is Hampton Township. We are just one township. We’re tucked in between all of the people around us.”
While Hampton’s football team cruised to a 30-0 win on the road at Knoch one day after the tornado ripped through the community, one might argue the team scored another win the next day.
One neighbor — in a letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette — wrote “… The next day, with no power and many great neighbors, work to repair the damage was in full force. To our surprise and amazement, on Saturday morning, October 23, many cars started arriving.”
In those cars? Talbots. No, not a group of English hunting dogs that represents Hampton’s mascot, but a group of about 30 Hampton football players ready to help — much to the relief of neighbors staring at the day’s daunting task.
“Our football coach saw what happened and the team decided to go down to the areas that were hit very hard on Saturday morning — forgoing their typical Saturday practices,” Cardone said. “The neighbors were very surprised. They thought it was just going to be themselves.”
Hampton football head coach Jacque DeMatteo led his team throughout the neighborhood, cutting, carrying, raking and piling up the remnants of trees broken like toothpicks.
The saying “Many hands make for light work,” held true as Cardone said one neighbor was just hoping to chip away at some of the yard work, but the yard was straightened out in about 35 minutes.
Feeling indebted to the team, a resident made a call to Upper Crust Pizza — a town staple that ended up providing pizzas, hoagies and salads at no charge when the restaurant found out about the team’s good deed. In turn, many of the neighbors turned out at the team’s next game — a regular-season finale victory over Mars.
“Western Pennsylvania on a Friday night, if you’re going anywhere other than a high school football game, you might be by yourself,” Cardone said.
Ultimately, Cardone said he was extremely pleased with the team’s effort off the field, but even more proud it was the team’s coaching staff self-starting the initiative.
“You know coaches. Practice time and film study are important, but that took a backseat to help people in need,” Cardone said.
Two playoff games — a 14-13 win over Plum High School and a 42-14 loss to Thomas Jefferson High School, located in Jefferson Hills — rounded out Hampton ‘s season but it might be something off the field that created the team’s favorite memory.
Luke Modrovsky is the coordinator of publications and communications at the National Federation of State High School Associations.