Miami Central’s football team tried to keep things routine Monday morning.
Practicing in a parking lot is far from the norm.
Even less when that parking lot is at a hotel in Las Vegas.
That’s where the Rockets have been stranded the past three days thanks to Hurricane Irma.
And Central still doesn’t know when it will be able to get home.
“We’re hoping to get something by [Tuesday], but a lot of flights have been canceled,” said Central coach Roland Smith, who is among a group of about 65 players, coaches and staff that made the trip to Las Vegas last Wednesday.
But it hasn’t been all bad for the Rockets.
This past Friday, Central (3-0), ranked No. 16 nationally by USA Today, upset three-time defending high school national champion Bishop Gorman 24-20 on its home field.
Ironically thanks to the hospitality of their opponents and the Las Vegas community, Central’s extended stay has been a comfortable one.
“When you talk about a crisis like this, we just feel very thankful and blessed for the way [Gorman] has treated us this whole time,” Smith said.
Bishop Gorman, a Catholic private school located in Summerlin, Nevada, is picking up the tab for the Rockets’ extra nights at their hotel, a SpringHill Suites located near the Las Vegas Convention Center.
On Sunday night, the Rockets were fed at a local pizzeria (Evel Pie) in downtown Las Vegas.
A few Gorman school parents pooled their resources and hired a Mexican food truck to provide meals for the players this weekend as well.
Gorman athletic director Grant Rice said once the threat of Hurricane Irma to South Florida first became a concern, the school reached out to Central and let its faculty know that their school would come to their aid should any complications arise.
Gorman’s charity for hurricane victims didn’t start with the Rockets.
Rice said the school recently raised $11,000 for the victims of Hurricane Harvey.
“As a school and staff and community, just assured him we’d help them in any way possible,” Rice said. “If they couldn’t make the trip, it would have been totally understandable. We felt like it was the least we could do.”
Smith said his team spent around an hour or so Monday trying to do what they would do on a regular basis, which involved going over the previous game and preparing for their next opponent.
But for a lot of the kids and coaches, getting back to their families has still been foremost on their minds.
“A lot of people at your house are going through a tough stage, and you’re not there,” Central linebacker Robert Hicks told local Vegas TV station Fox-5 during a report it ran on the team this past weekend. “They’re always on your mind. It’s raining, thundering, everything. They’re OK though.”
A few family members individually made the trip to Las Vegas to watch the game, but Smith said the majority of his players were in the dark as to how their families handled the storm until Monday, when they began to reach relatives once cellphone signals were slowly restored.
Smith said he got to speak briefly to his mother on Monday thanks to a neighbor of hers letting her borrow his cellphone.
“She was good,” Smith said. “She just had some damage with trees and stuff, but no flooding or roof damage, thankfully.”
The Rockets were still looking for flights home and looking at the possibility of even taking an initial flight to another city to then connect to Fort Lauderdale.
Central, which has a matchup against the No. 2 team in the nation, IMG Academy in Bradenton on Sept. 22, is scheduled to play Miami Edison on Thursday back home.
As of Monday, both Miami-Dade and Broward County officials were still in the process of assessing damages to schools and athletic facilities.
There was no word yet as to when athletic events would resume.
In the meantime, the Rockets are trying to keep busy, grateful for the support they’re receiving from their Las Vegas caretakers and their community back home.
“We just kept telling the kids we’re all going through the same thing together,” Smith said. “I kept showing everyone all the messages we kept getting from people back home and other coaches pulling for them.
“We were the only high school team from South Florida playing, and they were rooting for us. We put the city on our backs, and we got the job done.”