is in his 19th season as head coach at Florida Atlantic University, where
he has compiled a record of 650-403-4. Overall, he has a record of 790-453-9 - a
.631 winning percentage - in 22 years. FAU has reached the NCAA regionals seven
times under Cooney, including each of the past four seasons. This is the third year
Cooney has offered his
thoughts on baseball - and other things - for CollegeBaseballInsider.com.
Oct. 31, 2005
That piercing cry of Fred Flintstone would echo through the town of
Bedrock, signaling some new predicament for Fred and Barney, but for South
Florida this past week, it was an angry outburst from people fed up with the
effects of Hurricane Wilma.
More than 3 million people have been without power since the storm arrived
this last week. Traffic lights make our already infamous intersections an
exercise in caution, bravery and dumb luck. People have, for the most part,
shown admirable patience as the roads return to use.
Our neighborhood regained electrical power late in the day on Friday. People
were in the streets cheering as they realized FPL crews had returned us to the
world of hot showers, television and night lights. It was just in time for me -
I had more hot wax spilled on me during this period of darkness than at any time
since I was an altar boy 40 years ago.
A byproduct of the storm was the bonding that developed within neighborhoods.
Everywhere, there were stories of people gathering together to grill food
that would soon go bad. Coach John McCormack said he couldn't remember eating so
On our street each night, families would gather at my neighbor Frank’s and
hang out as the kids would roast marshmallows over a fire pit. It was Maggie and
Luke’s first experience making S’mores ‘round a fire. Those nightly gatherings
soon became the discipline threat during the day - “If you don’t stop fighting,
there’ll be no marshmallow roast!”
The bonding process began during the preparation period prior to Wilma’s
arrival. My son Jim came down to help me finish putting up our shutters and then
help my 78-year-old neighbor with his. Jim Gilchrist was a Masters Champion
hurdler and high jumper when we first moved here. He would drag out his foam
rubber pit and high jump bar and do the Fosbury Flop for young Jim and Jeff. But
Mr. Gilchrist’s jumping days are over, and he grudgingly relented to let us help
Thinking our workday was done, Jim and I sat on our front porch debating if
it was too early for a cold Yuengling, as we watched our cross-street neighbors
starting on their house. Melissa and Carl both teach at FAU but have the
misfortune of owning a two-story house in Florida. As I saw them dragging out
two huge pieces of plywood, I realized Jim and I should have taken our rest on
the back porch. Next thing you know, we’re sky high on extension ladders
juggling sheets of plywood and trying to drill holes and screw the protective
plywood in place.
One nice thing about Wilma was that she had the courtesy to arrive during
daylight hours. Not that you could see much with the shutters in place, but at
least we weren’t losing a night’s sleep as the wind howled and the shutters
shook. We have a back door that is under the roof in our back patio and pool
area, so we would periodically peek outside to watch the trees whipping in the
I heard a loud metallic noise after a time and opened the door to see the
pool enclosure - basically a big screen house - sagging down in the center. As I
watched, a 6-foot metal support piece broke loose and flew 10 feet directly into
the sliding glass door of our guest room. Fortunately, the hurricane shutters we
purchased after Hurricane Andrew held firm, and the doors were fine. The wind
was out of the East, contrary to what had been predicted. Jim and I had debated
whether to put up those particular shutters because they were on the East side
of the house and were a pain to hang. I’m glad we took the time. A few minutes
later, there was another noise, and the entire screen enclosure collapsed into
the pool and all over the pool deck and back yard.
After some time, the winds died down and the street was alive with people
surveying the damage. We were now in the eye of the storm, the point at which
all the experts urge you to stay inside. Naturally, none of us heeded their
Everyone was sharing their stories and damage reports. It was my chance to
take our dog Trouble out for a second time. She was acting anxious to get out
earlier, and I figured the shuttered house might be more habitable if she did
her business out in the storm. I felt like one of The Weather Channel guys as
Trouble and I leaned into the wind and looked for a dog rest area. Trouble
wasted little time, and we were back inside soaking wet - and vowing never to do
The problem with being out during the calm of the eye is that you don’t know
when the winds will resume. If you venture too far from shelter, you may not
make it back. There were actually a couple of cars driving around the block. I
wasn’t that anxious to sightsee, so when the first winds picked up, we hustled
inside. In minutes, the storm was again roaring, this time from the West. The
area right outside our front door is blocked on the West by part of the garage,
so I grabbed our porch chairs, and we sat out there for awhile watching
branches, roof tiles, mail boxes and assorted other debris fly down our street
faster than Mike McBryde goes from first to third!
Around three or four o’clock it was over.
It was then that we realized South Florida had caught a big break in the
midst of all this damage and loss of power. A cold front barreled in behind the
storm and sucked out all our nasty humidity as temperatures fell into the 60s
and then 50s at night. That weather change made this past week tolerable for 3
million people who would be coping with little water and no showers or AC.
The clean up began right away; the sound of chain saws serving as the all
clear signal. Generators were fired up by many of us who experienced last
summer’s storms and found the gas-guzzling saviors under our Christmas trees
last year. We have a double-door freezer stocked with meat that we buy in bulk,
our refrigerator and its freezer and another low freezer in our garage. Those
were the first to be plugged in, along with one lamp at night, and the coffee
pot in the morning. Our garage freezer stored ice for a neighbor, and people
without generators gave us some of their milk, butter and other perishables.
Everyone worked together to try and clean up the debris, and then sat outside
at night and enjoyed a rare sight in South Florida - the sky was illuminated,
not with the glowing street lights and strip malls, but by the beauty of God’s
creation. Every constellation you could name was visible over the Palm Beach
County darkness! It was a beautiful sight.
Mary Beth said it made her feel we were back on the farm in Tennessee.
The next day was more of the same, as we continued cutting trees and hauling
limbs, coconuts and broken fences out to the curb. The generators were pouring
pollutants into the air, but none of us seemed to mind.
Near the end of the day, I saw a familiar figure walking slowly down the
street, looking sadly at all the mess and debris. Miss Daisy was on her way home
from feeding the ducks.
Miss Daisy is a beautiful little woman, perhaps in her 70s, who lives on the
other side of FAU, about 4 miles from here. For years, I have seen her walking
along, her beautiful ebony face peeking out from under an ever-present sun
bonnet as she makes her way through the area with bread or bagels she has
retrieved from a dumpster to feed the ducks who live in the canal near the Boca
Hospital, the Middle School and the canal beyond my neighborhood.
Miss Daisy is originally from England and lives alone in a small, one-room
apartment behind a gas station. She likes to stop and talk to Luke, whom she
usually calls Dookie, and Maggie, often referred to as Katie (the name of our
deceased dog). If I’m home, I usually drive her home and often dumpster-dive for
her to get bagels for the next day’s feeding.
The ducks don’t like onion bagels, even if they’re on the top of the garbage
Miss Daisy had nothing at home to eat and no method of cooking anything if
she did. So Mary Beth put some casserole and corn bread on the grill, and we
packed some water bottles and drove Miss Daisy home. I offered to take her to a
store but she said she didn’t like canned food. She was instructed to stop the
next day and have dinner. We were having Linda Field and her daughter Suzie over
anyway. They had given me the gas from their broken generator, so we grilled
them a nice chicken dinner.
Miss Daisy didn’t show, so Maggie and I broke curfew (probably not the last
time she’ll do that) and brought a plate of chicken and sweet potato casserole
over to Miss Daisy.
While there, I noticed her only source of light - a flashlight - seemed low
on power. Miss Daisy explained that she can’t sleep in the dark, so the
flashlight is her nightlight. I left her our flashlight.
Each night has been the same, as Miss Daisy’s apartment complex still is
without power. I think there is a definite socioeconomic aspect to these power
grids. The hospital, FAU and the mall were the first to be back on line. Dixie
Manors, a low-income housing complex near Miss Daisy is still without power,
three blocks from FAU.
Gasoline was nearly impossible to find. Rumors were flying about where
stations might be open and pumping the liquid needed to fuel generators and
people’s cars. I took stock on the third day and realized we had one day’s gas
left. Efforts to siphon our Expedition failed, and MB came out and told me we
were out of propane. Great job of preparation by me. I had forgotten to get
propane and was reluctant to store too much gas in our garage.
A strange feeling crept into my stomach. It was just a twinge of panic. We
had a lot of frozen food that would spoil, nothing with which to cook and the
radio was saying power may not be restored until mid-November.
We needed to make a gas run and soon. My neighbor Chuck had sat in line for
seven hours and was limited to $20 in gas. That wouldn’t cut it. I decided to
head for Vero Beach. It was a two-hour drive, so I would burn four hours of gas,
but I heard there were no lines or limits. My neighbors all brought their empty
gas cans, and we loaded up the Expedition. My pickup was near empty.
One neighbor took me aside and whispered, “Take your wife and kids to the
Lenny is considered a little eccentric, but he was the only one nice enough
to suggest that transporting 18 containers of various designs, filled with
gasoline wasn’t the safest thing a father of four could be doing. He told me it
was a bad idea. I said it wasn’t my first...hadn’t he seen me coach?
Armed with a ham sandwich, a drink and Lenny’s seed of fear planted firmly in
my gut, I headed up I-95. At Port St. Lucie, I exited and found two stations
pumping gas, each with about 20 cars in line. I pulled in and was told it was a
three-container limit. But the place was a zoo, and I was lost in the middle
pumps so I just filled cans as fast as I could.
After I got eight filled, I felt a tap on my shoulder. A big State Trooper
(are there any small ones?) asked me how many I had done. The truth is always
better so I stuttered “e e e eight,” and he told me to hit the road.
Twenty miles later, I was in Fort Pierce at a Racetrack station with another
20-car line, but no container limit. I finished my last 10 and headed for the
Wal-Mart to fill Linda and my propane tanks.
Loaded with enough combustible material to blow me sky high, I headed South
The ride gave me a lot of time to think about our situation. I reflected on
our good fortune in comparison to the people in New Orleans and Alabama. But
even though our area is not as bad, it is devastating for thousands of people.
My neighbors and I have generators and chain saws. We have roofs, some damaged,
over our heads, and for the most part, our homes survived. But the poorer class
of people who make up so much more of our country’s population than Washington,
and our society in general, care to admit, pay a much steeper price than any of
our homeowners’ hurricane deductions.
There are poor people who work hard and live in substandard housing whose
homes didn’t fare as well. I hope their kids are happily roasting marshmallows,
but I doubt it.
Those people need to be remembered in our prayers each night.
Once I got out of the county on my gas run, a peaceful feeling returned. I
then realized how stressful just being in the area affected by the storm felt to
me. Doing whatever you needed to help your family became more than just having a
job and providing for your kids first. The pictures of “looters” in New Orleans
flashed through my mind, and I realized that if my family’s survival depended on
me taking something from an abandoned Wal-Mart...I know what I would do.
As I drove home more carefully than ever before, and observed a large number
of pickups filled with gas cans, the chorus of Springsteen’s Devils And Dust
played in my head:
I got God on my side
I’m just trying to survive
What if what you do to survive
Kills the things you love
Fear’s a powerful thing
It can turn your heart black, you can
It’ll take your God filled soul
And fill it with devils and dust
Everyone needs to think about what they do to survive.
Today, the weather is still mercifully cool, and more houses should get power
restored. St. Jude’s is the only school in Palm Beach County holding classes -
much to the disappointment of Luke and Maggie. FAU is set to reopen on
storm has passed.
When You're Alone (10/11/05)
Another Beginning, a New Beginning, Never Forgetting (9/12/05)
Deja vu all over again (9/1/05)
(photo courtesy of FAU Media Relations Office)