Ashlyn Evans-Thompson stood in the middle of her family’s kitchen with a dazed look on her face, calmly stirring the creamer she had just poured into a foam cup full of coffee.
Like hundreds of other El Reno High School students, she had just completed her last day of classes.
However, instead of making summer plans and reflecting on her freshman year, Evans-Thompson stood there in the middle of her East Elm Street home feeling clueless.
“My priorities have sure changed. Before, basketball was always my life. It’s what we did in the summer and it’s a lot of money.
“Now, thinking about what all has happened, I don’t know what I'm going to do,” said Evans-Thompson.
She quietly takes a sip of her coffee as she looks at all the friends, family and First Christian Church members working to clear out the water which a day earlier had flooded her home.
As point guard on the team which produced El Reno High School’s first-ever trip to the state championship game, Evans-Thompson learned to deal with the unexpected on the basketball court.
Yet this was just overwhelming.
“It’s a life punch in the gut and I’m not sure what we are going to do. A lot of people have reached out to help us and give us what we need,” said Evans-Thompson.
Her family did not have flood insurance on the home her great-grandfather built over 50 years ago.
“We are surrounded by creeks but it never floods the whole yard. It might flood the road or the ditch like it did a few weeks ago but it’s never flooded the house in over 50 years.”
However, that changed in just a matter of hours as El Reno and parts of Canadian County were engulfed by more than 6 inches of rain.
Evans-Thompson went to bed thinking it was just another stormy Oklahoma night, but awoke to a shocking reality.
“It started raining around 9 p.m. Where my room is I could hear everything howling around me. When I woke up it was around 6 a.m. and my family had been up since 5 because the back room had flooded.
“It started coming in the doors and into the entire house. In about 40 minutes the whole house was flooded to our ankles,” said Evans-Thompson.
The rain did not let up and neither did the water level, forcing her family to call for help.
“We called 911 to tell them we needed a boat to get out. The El Reno and Yukon fire departments could not get there right away and by then the water was up to our thighs.
“There was a tactical team from Richland that came through and they put life jackets on us and helped us get our stuff, lock up the house and take care of the dogs. You could tell when they got out of their boat the water was up past their waists,” said Evans-Thompson.
The whole rescue played out on live video from an Oklahoma City television station helicopter.
“I was very awestruck. You always see this stuff on television but never expect it to happen to you. It's a shock when you realize it's happening to you.”
Rushing to help
When rescue vehicles arrived to safety, among the first to help were the families of Julie and Jerry Lingo and Jay and Lisa Kindsvater – both parents of former EHS athletes.
They helped the family get out of the weather and into dry clothing and provided shelter for the day as efforts began to get basic needs flowing.
It was a feeling of helplessness, said Evans-Thompson.
“I never expected to be on this side. I’ve always been the one to try and help others. Now that it was us, I really didn’t know what to do. It’s confusing and it's very humbling.”
Another person who arrived to help, which caught her off guard, was EHS head coach Jennifer Douglas.
“I walked in and the first thing Ashlyn said was, ‘What are you doing here?’ I told her anything you need,” said Douglas.
Douglas drove her back into town to visit with the Red Cross where she got a case of water and blankets. Then it was off to the store where Douglas bought the family more water and other drinks and got a gift card to a Yukon eatery.
All the time, Douglas was working the phone trying to get more help. Blake Dewberry, owner of Pizza Express, donated five pizzas and began a drive to help other flood victims with free pizza.
Two other Yukon restaurants, including Primo’s Italian, donated gift cards to the family.
More help came from an unlikely source as Piedmont assistant coach Joe Crawford arrived to show the family the steps they needed to take with insurance.
Crawford has two daughters who played against Evans-Thompson in the Class 5A title game just two months ago, but serves as disaster relief minister for Memorial Road Church of Christ. His church gave the family $300 worth of Walmart gift cards.
“I could not believe how many people she (Douglas) knew to call,” said Evans-Thompson.
She said the help from everyone has been soothing.
“All the support we are getting is really picking me up. No one got hurt, no one is in the hospital and no one passed away. That is relaxing to know.
“You never think about people doing this for you, but we’ve got people asking if we are OK and sending prayers and coming out to clean up the damage. To know people are there to help, even your worst enemies, I’m very thankful to everyone in El Reno,” said Evans-Thompson.
Also relaxing is knowing she has a coach who is willing to put her own problems aside to help. Not only is Douglas grieving from the recent loss of her father, but got a text while helping that her grandmother had just passed away.
“Coach Douglas always goes the extra mile for her players and she calls us her babies. But when she came out to help my family, I said wow, she really does care. It’s not just one of those player/coach bonds during the school year, it’s just like family with everyone in El Reno.
“She got that text that her grandmother had passed away and she still stayed with us. She could have gone on to be with her family and comfort them, but the fact she stayed here and helped us is very comforting,” said Evans-Thompson.
When the water finally receded
Just over 24 hours after being boated away from her home, Evans-Thompson returned to find most of the contents having already been removed by her mom and dad and family and with help from her First Christian Church family.
It was a sharp contrast from when she left the only home she has known.
“It’s so emotional because I’ve never been to the point of not having nowhere to live. I’ve never not had that space, like my room, where you can go relax. I’m glad everyone is safe but this is where I grew up.
“I put most of the important stuff, like all my newspaper stuff, on top of my sister’s bunk bed. Those are a big part of my life and to see them floating around is very emotional. We’ve worked so hard for everything and I don’t know where we go from this point,” said Evans-Thompson.
The family was able to salvage some items which were collected into the garage or in the backs of cars. Lost for good were furniture, kids toys, hand-crafted cabinets and many other family heirlooms.
Helpers cut out 2-foot-high sections of Sheetrock from the walls and ripped out all the insulation touched by water.
“I’m thankful for everyone who has helped and those who have opened up their homes to let us stay because this is going to be a long process and it’s comforting to have the whole family together.
“We lost a lot and it may take the rest of the summer or even more to get everything back to normal. It’s going to be a struggle because everything from here on out will be out of pocket because there is no flood insurance,” said Evans-Thompson.
Pulling herself out of the game
Summer is a busy time for any budding basketball player and Evans-Thompson was looking forward to playing with her EHS teammates and her club team Swish Oklahoma.
However, knowing the financial strain her family is now facing, she made a very grown-up request to her parents, Tiffany and Wendall Thompson.
“I told them I would quit summer ball so we could have money to pay for everything. I don’t want my family to struggle for money so they can send me to summer ball. I can still play school ball, but my mom was like, no, we’ve already paid for your stuff and you’re going somewhere someday and you need to play," said Evans-Thompson.
It was a response she didn't expect.
“I’m very thankful for my parents. They put me in a spot to where I can be successful. I’m where I need to be because school, basketball and grades are going to take me somewhere.
“They don't want me to be another great El Reno basketball player that could have been someone that got sucked into all the off-the-court stuff. I need to prove to them I’m not going to be messing around and that basketball is what I want to do with my life,” said Evans-Thompson.
She admits basketball will have a different meaning this summer.
“Basketball this summer is going to be my happy place. It’s where I’m going to take my mind off of stuff. It was that way before, but now after all this stuff, it’s going to be my best stress reliever.”
She also plans to work even harder.
“I’ve always worked hard at basketball but now I’m going to work 10 times harder because my mom and dad are putting in this money for me to go somewhere. They’re not doing it for me to goof around and make stupid mistakes. I feel like I need to prove that I can go out there and make it.”