GULF SHORES, Ala. — Gulf Shores High School was back. Classes were in session, albeit with masked teachers and masked students. Football games were played with masked cheerleaders and masked band members and fans who were told to avoid crowding together.
Then Hurricane Sally came to town.
The powerful storm plowed into Gulf Shores, Ala., early Wednesday morning, flooding houses, damaging roofs, cutting electricity to thousands of homes — and canceling classes and postponing Friday's football game.
"I was extra excited because it was feeling normal for once," said Halee Sharkey, 17, a senior who had been decorating the hall on Sunday for Friday's homecoming matchup against the Robertsdale Golden Bears and whose family's home had flooding and roof damage.
The coronavirus had cut short Halee's junior year and eliminated a high school tennis season that she had been looking forward to. Last week, she learned she had been elected to the homecoming court.
But she and the others at Gulf Shores High are taking an Advanced Placement class in perseverance.
On Thursday, Gulf Shores, a beach community of roughly 13,000 people, was taking stock of the aftermath of Sally, yet another disruption of the school year. Matt Blake, the athletic director and high school football coach, said he did not know when players would return to the waterlogged field; it depends on the extent of the storm's toll and how long it takes to restore power.
"We are just trying to restore our community to normalcy," he said, "but I don't think that that's going to happen for a while."
The roads leading to Gulf Shores on Thursday were a traffic-choked mess: work vans, pickup trucks lugging small tractors and trailers with tools, S.U.V.s hauling gas cans and generators. Many residents, nearly all of them without electricity, were roaming to figure out what was open.
The Gulf Shores school district, which has 2,500 students in its elementary, middle and high schools, thought it had worked its way through the coronavirus. When school opened last month, students had the option of learning online or going back to classrooms if they followed the rules. Field trips, pep rallies, assemblies and award ceremonies were not allowed.
But the halls were decorated with blue and sea green streamers, the school's colors, and posters rooting for the Dolphins, the school's mascot. Some students wore masks stamped with the school logo and looked to football as a sign that their teenage years were back on track.
At a faculty meeting, the principal and her husband performed a coronavirus-themed parody of the Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers duet "Islands in the Stream."
"We've been quarantined, that is where we've been," she sang, beaming as she belted into a microphone. "Social distancing, we can't see our friends. Stay away from me, you're not family, or we'll give 'rona to each other, uh-uh. Six feet away from one another, uh-uh."
A football game in the first week of September was canceled because of possible Covid-19 exposure among some of the players. But no one ended up testing positive and games resumed shortly after.
Days before the hurricane was set to make landfall, athletes and other students, many in their Gulf Shores masks, helped secure the school, covering windows and putting away anything that could become a projectile in the wind.
"It's a double tragedy that just as things were getting rolling and the school year was going really well in Gulf Shores and Baldwin County, and now they've got a major disruption," said Eric G. Mackey, the state superintendent of schools. "It will take months to clean up from this."
Mr. Blake, the football coach, spent Thursday trying to check in with his students, but he had only heard from a few. Cellphone reception has been spotty, for one thing, and electricity had been knocked out to most homes and businesses in Baldwin County and across the coast.
So far, the football team has played three games. During an otherwise lonely and awkward year for many young students dealing with the pandemic, football had provided a much-needed bright spot, Mr. Blake said, especially with the prolonged absence of college football, a sacred part of life in Alabama.
"You really don't realize how much you miss it until you can't go," Ryan Carlton, a cornerback on the Gulf Shores football team, said of games and practices. "The sport for me, it's going to go down as my greatest thing I've ever done in high school."
Yancey Walker's junior year at Gulf Shores High was abnormal even before the storm.
Like all of her classmates, she was sent home last spring to finish the school year at home. Her mother wanted her to go back to Gulf Shores High in the fall. But Yancey chose to return virtually. She had bought a car recently and now had a job at a local fish market.
It was going well until this week. Yancey could knock out her schoolwork in a few hours each day. She took a second job at a women's boutique.
On Wednesday morning, in the dark, the little sea foam green house where she lives with her parents shuddered and shook. The family fortified the front door with sandbags. But the water came in from all sides. Yancey was lying on the floor and felt the water first, on her foot. It kept coming in, about 18 inches of it.
On Thursday, Yancey helped her mother, Tammy Moudy, clean up the place. Ms. Moudy said all of the trauma was having an effect on her daughter. "I already see it," she said. "The stress of dealing with life has been hard as it is already."
Yancey's car, a Kia sedan, was ruined in the flood. Her phone, the teenager's lifeline to the wider world, only seemed to work when she was at her second-story window.
She and her mother said they were unsure how she would continue with her remote learning schedule with no electricity and no internet. The house has started to stink with rot. The Sheetrock would have to be torn down to the studs. There was no air-conditioning, and on Thursday, being inside or outside meant choosing between different kinds of hot.
Yancey said she did not mourn for a normal high school experience. Disaster had become a consistent part of her youth.
"I feel like, after one thing after another, you just kind of keep expecting things to happen," she said. "And then it happened."
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