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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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This project is evolving. Our daily dispatches coverage has been retired. Click here to see what happened in the area between mid October and January 1, 2006.

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BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. — Everything is different here since the storm, but in the effort to get back to normal, Friday night football has a clear lead. Even though the high school itself will not reopen for another week, the Bay St. Louis-Waveland Tigers are playing their fifth game of the season, going into it with an impressive 3-1 record. This time it’s a home game against the Tylertown Chiefs.

Under these bright lights, in a town that is largely dark, you can almost imagine it is like the old days, before Katrina. The home team bleachers are full, the cheerleaders and the dance team are back. Spectators hold infants and toddlers in their laps, while clutches of teens mill around. There’s cheering for the Tigers, and occasionally screams of abuse at the last bad call or the player who fumbled.

Click "Play" above to hear Samantha Walley explain why Friday night high school football is so important to the community.

“Most of us don’t have homes and if we do have homes we’re just trying to put them together,” says Samantha Walley, a longtime resident who owned a small business here. “It’s kind of like this is three hours on Friday night when things are back to normal. (It’s as if) we’re not out of school and out of homes.”

More than a game

More than a game, it is testament to the power of football in these parts. Little more than a week after Katrina, while most residents were just beginning to grasp the destruction of their homes, businesses, cars -- most of their community -- Bay-Waveland head coach Brennan Compretta started rounding up his team members. One by one he tracked them down and persuaded most to come back for the season. Some even left schools where they enrolled after their families evacuated in order to come back and play.

The football field was cleared, uniforms donated by a school district in North Carolina, and they kicked off, albeit lacking some of the usual amenities, like a scoreboard.

Standing along the fence, Terri Johnson is watching the field as only a mother could, keeping an eye on her son, Destin, a towering 10th-grader playing linebacker. Her family’s house on Tippen Street is gone, so they are living in Westpoint, Miss., four hours from here, while waiting for a FEMA trailer.

But in the meantime, the coach personally came to get Destin so he could rejoin the team. The practical reason is the pursuit of a college football scholarship. But she says it also helped ease the pain of loss that dogged them.

“We were all depressed,” says Johnson. “When coach came and got him… it perked him up.”

Can’t stop the spirit

Not long after the football team began playing, the dance team resumed practice even though their coach Natalie Skinner had not yet returned. Tonight, as the High Steppers perform for their first half-time at home this year, Skinner is teary-eyed. Last year this team won the state-championship in their division, and this year, as she was coming back, she feared the season might be a complete loss. It turned out that the team captain had actually called everyone before evacuation and convinced them to take their main uniforms with them -- thus, at least those were not lost in the flooding.

“When I heard it, I didn’t believe it,” she says. “It’s unreal.”

Although you would not guess it by looking at these cheerful, impossibly well groomed girls, most have lost their homes. While many are now in FEMA trailers, some, says Skinner, are still sleeping in houses without walls. She’s dedicated herself to finding a dance team to sponsor them so they can get back on track for competition in December.

Welcome diversion
Football is social glue in Bay St. Louis and Waveland. When the first game took place, there was a frenzy of hugging and tears, as many residents saw each other for the first time since the storm. Now the mood is more settled, but still one of the few gatherings -- along with churches -- that is not a soup kitchen or supply distribution point.

On the surface, it is familiar, comfortable. But talk to anyone in this crowd and they likely have a hair-raising story to tell. Take Evelyn Yarborough, a woman in the front row of the bleachers who escaped through five-foot flood waters with her two tiny grandchildren.

The Tigers lag behind -- and finally lose 22-10 -- but they score big points as a diversion from disaster.

“I’m glad they’ve got football,” says David Gillum, a 43-year-old iron worker who lost his home and for now, his job. He is staying with a friend while waiting for a FEMA trailer. “It gets us out of the house. Otherwise we’d just sit around and go crazy.”

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19 COMMENTS

Where are the people of diversity - I did not see any in the picture to this story. Is this town all white?

It's great to see community spirit as our citizens pull together help our teens begin moving closer to normalcy. Thank you to the school district in North Carolina that donated uniforms for our players. I've been overwhelmed by the amount of our country's outreach to help our small but wonderful community.

IN RESPONSE TO WENDY'S COMMENT, THE BAY IS A PLACE WITH BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE. THE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF PEOPLE ARE NOT PERFECT BUT VERY DEEP AND CARING. I GREW UP THERE AND HAVE LIVED IN MANY DIFFERENT AREAS IN THE U.S. I HAVE NEVER EXPERIENCED MORE FAMILY STYLE RELATIONSHIPS WITH DIFFERENT WALKS OF LIFE. I WOULD NOT TRADE MY RELATIONSHIPS WITH DIFFERENT CULTURES FOR ANYTHING,I CONSIDER THEM FAMILY AS MUCH AS EVERYONE ELSE. REMEMBER THE CROWDS ARE NOT A TRUE REPRESENTATION BECAUSE OF MANY DIFFERENT FACTORS DETERMINED BY KATRINA AND NOT THE BAY. EVERYONE IS FAMILY DOWN THERE.

How could you ask such a question regarding the town being completely white? This is based on a natural disaster that tore apart communities. Play the slide show above. You will see a variety of ethnicities, cultures and races displayed. We are a community that had a great majority of it's homes, businesses and families torn apart. Please don't try to make this into anything other than that.
I appreciate all of the coverage and help that we have received from all.

Wendy, If you'll watch the video, you'll see the people of diversity! I don't know what you're trying to get at, but this is a community trying to have some kind of normalcy. You'll never know what it's like unless you're living here.

Wendy -

Diversity? Please, please this is a feature of people not diversity. If we all would forget about "diversity" and look at the world in one light. All of mankind would be better off.

Jim

I recently came back from volunteering in Hancock County and was surprised to see soo many confederate flags!

Thank you for not forgetting us! Interest can be lost so quickly. Also, you guys should see this video www.priceferrell.com but get the kleenex 1st. Incredible. Speaking of getting back to normal. Our Hospital was able to start admitting patients again last Friday. Granted with less services but trudging onward. We are definetly bent but WE ARE NOT BROKEN. Oh and B if the number of confederate flags were all you noticed and all you got out of your trip then................

In every community you will find diversity: people have diverse interests, personalities, hobbies, backgrouds. Diversity has NOTHING to do with appearance because we are all people. Do you feel differently about a calico cat than you do about a tiger striped cat? Should they be treated differently? Are you worried that there are more tiger striped cats than calico cats? Probably not, cats are cats. Open your mind and see the parallels.

I think the point is the return of some normalcy to our community. A community that has been largely overlooked by most of the country. Those of us that live here know our diversity, we also know our neighbors and the charm OUR community has to offer. Our community is diverse and anyone who lives here would know that. Now if certain people want to start a blog about adversity, then do it somewhere else we have enough to deal with (FEMA, SBA, Insurance). Now I for one enjoyed the story and the game though a little on the cold side the Tigers played a heck of a game against a better team that if I am not wrong has played a full schedule. Keep up the good work MSNBC

So, B, what's the problem? Why were you surprised to see Confederate flags? Maybe you don't remember, but both MS and LA were BIG in the Confederacy. Whether you agree with it or not, history and historical worship tend to flourish there and throughout the South. Doesn't mean they are bad people. It's just part of their history ...much like "8 Mile" and ghetto bling tends to trive in Detroit and other Northern cities. Seems like a non-issue to me ...these people lost nearly their whole lives. Let them have a few Confederate flags without heaping judgment on them or expressing "surprise" ...PLEASE

You have got to be kidding me! Such issues being brought up...these people are trying to get their lives back to "normal". Can't you see that no matter what ethnicity these people are, they were ALL affected by this terrible destruction??

Just wanted to let ALL of you wonderful people on the Gulf Coast know that you are in my thoughts and prayers daily as you come out of this terrible catastrophe. I have family who live in both Waveland and Bay St. Louis (Buehler's, Duvieihl's and Emerick)who have lost everything but they are very strong people and will be back. I went to help about a month after the storm hit and was amazed at how all of the people were working together to help each other. I made a second trip this past weekend which would be two months after the storm has hit and I can see (maybe you can't because you live amongst the devastation)the progress your community has made. Keep up the spirit!

I think the photographer was going for the pretty girls!

I am certain that the photographer was going after the pretty girls. I married Samantha!

I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank the reporters of MSNBC for all the great work they're doing. Our small towns have been overlooked for a while now and we really appreciate them helping get the word out about all that we're going through in these hard times. I'd also like to thank the millions of people world-wide who have opened their hearts to us and showered us with their love, support, prayers, and aid in many ways. It is all greatly appreciated! I would also like to commend the people of my wonderful hometown for their unwavering faith and tremendous spirit. We've made it through the worst you guys, the best is yet to come for us!!

As Mississippians, we have always been plagued by stereotypes. It is frustrating how people always want to label us according to those age-old stereotypes- so badly that they look for proof of them in a photo taken at a high school football game. One of the positives that I hope will come out of this god awful hurricane is that the people here helping(for which we are immensely grateful) will see our community and its people for who we really are- kind and hard-working. We are a community where people get along no matter what color your skin is, what you do for a living, or how much money you make. We work together, play together, worship together, and support one another through the good and the bad. We don't have high crime rates instead we have community. We don't have metal detectors in our schools. Instead, we have level five ratings as well as teachers (and counselors :) who care and contributs endless hours to our kids. If you people out there don't beleve this place really is as wonderful as everyone here says then consider this, after a hurricane like Katrina, would so many come back and work so hard to rebuild a place that wasn't?

Now listen people, you all worry about races and confederate flags and you miss the point of hurricane katrina...and no its not a bad thing, it brought us together as a family, as one, not seperated us by the color of our skin or the flags we fly over head. Alot of people think that the south is all about the kkk and racists and things of that nature but thats all changed...yall look at the things you can argue about and not the things that change peoples lifes

I just want to say to the people that have said ,Is this town all white? And all I saw was Confederate flags when I was down there helping out, have totally missed the point of this article . How dare any one get on here and give their comments on our community that was just destroyed by the biggest natural disaster . I am a senior at Bay High School , and this was just showing you the support we give our community, school and friends and how we appreciate everything people have done for us . But some how people still amaze me with their rude comments I can't believe any one would ever say such a thing . I guess you didn't see much when you were down here eccept confederate flags huh, because the difference between black and whites here are half and half at my school and in my community. We treat everyone equal here and we love our town . Bay will be better than before the hurricane hit and we will rebuild with the support of our community and people who have hepled us a God knows we appreciate all the help we can get , So when you want to come experience southern hospitality just remember your rude comments.
Thank you ,and Im praying for you .

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