18 Under 18: Quinton Anderson

Inspired football team after narrowly surviving tornado that devastated Joplin

Updated: February 28, 2012, 8:59 PM ET
By Ryan Canner-O'Mealy | ESPNHS Magazine

ESPNHS honors 18 male teen athletes who are doing remarkable things on the field, in the classroom and in their communities. Click here to read about them.

People in Joplin, Mo., are used to tornado warnings. They're almost always false alarms. But on May 22, they were anything but.

An EF5 tornado ripped through Joplin -- just after high school graduation -- killing 160 people, injuring hundreds more, destroying countless homes and changing the lives of everyone who lived through it.

"It was mind-numbing," Joplin (Mo.) football coach Chris Shields said. "No picture could prepare you one bit for what we saw."

Initially, Quinton Anderson was among those feared dead. The tornado killed his parents, and he was missing for three days. He was eventually rescued, but had a long recovery from a fractured skull, broken back and shattered eye socket. Despite that, the 18-year-old Anderson was back at school in August -- the juniors and seniors were using a converted shopping mall, while freshman and sophomores used a middle school -- and rooting on his teammates on the football field. His injuries prevented him from playing, but the senior was named a team captain and served as inspiration during the games.

The school's football field was undamaged by the storm, and the home opener on Sept. 10 was a huge event. Joplin brought in an additional 2,000 seats (the stadium's capacity is 4,500), and it was still standing-room only. The Eagles lost the game, but that was almost beside the point. It raised a ton of money for the school's athletic department and provided the entire town, and especially Anderson, with a chance to have fun for a few hours.