TAYLORVILLE — Kevin Breckenridge was tired Tuesday evening, but not tired enough to stay away from Dolph Stanley Court at the Taylorville High School gym.
After two days' worth of dealing with tornado damage at his home, the 42-year-old Breckenridge was ready to cheer for Tornadoes of a different sort.
"At least you can take your mind off things for a while," Breckenridge said prior to the Taylorville boys basketball home game against Charleston.
"I've been working nonstop pretty much. I had a tree on my roof and my two-car garage is gone. My garage roof is embedded in my neighbor's garage.
"But I come to all the games. We got hit bad, but not nearly as bad as some places."
It was an early December night in central Illinois, which often means basketball in a community like Taylorville. So the show went on, just over 72 hours after an EF-3 tornado slammed into town.
School was back in session Tuesday, and athletic director Paul Held said playing this game was another step in returning to a normal school routine. In fact, Taylorville's girls team played its scheduled game at Mattoon on Monday night.
"The kids probably adapt better than the adults sometimes," Held said. "The more focused on school they are, the better they'll be and the more everything else will fall into place.
"That was the main reason for playing."
So Taylorville hosted Apollo Conference rival Charleston, with the Tornadoes winning 85-76 to improve to 5-1.
Taylorville's junior varsity also won, by a 65-50 final.
It was a typical turnout for a Tuesday night, with about 430 fans in the venerable 2,000-seat gym. But there were a few events that revealed it wasn't an entirely normal ballgame.
There were donation buckets for tornado relief at various entrances to the gym. The varsity team ran through a banner prior to pregame warmups that read, "Nothing Can Stop Us . . . #Tvillestrong."
And just prior to the varsity game, Taylorville principal Matthew Hutchison read a statement praising the response of the community, neighboring communities and first responders.
But like Breckenridge, who had to stay at friend Hutchison's house the last few nights, the principal said Tuesday night offered a chance to forget about the tornado and the destruction it left in its wake.
It was, Hutchison said, a night for threes instead of trees.
"We want to get back to normal, but we feel for everyone who's suffered some loss; fortunately it's mostly property loss," Hutchison said. "But it wasn't loss of life, so we're blessed.
"This is about getting away for a while. People can worry more about the threes we hit tonight instead of trees."
Taylorville senior basketball player Justin Wright, one of many THS students who helped clear storm debris on Sunday and Monday, said the disaster that hit his hometown was a reminder they were only playing a game.
But Wright said everyone — players, cheerleaders and fans — had earned some enjoyment time.
"It's a different feeling, absolutely," Wright said prior to the varsity game. "Sports do take a back seat when it comes to something serious like this and how it's affected families around town.
"I just hope there's a good turnout tonight and people can come here and be happy, just to get away from it."
Shelly Rexroad, the cheerleading coach at THS, said there was a greater sense of team and togetherness when her girls got together on Tuesday.
"I think they're just glad to be together," Rexroad said. "And know everyone's safe, just to be back here. This is our home."
Held said the response of other schools, especially those in the Apollo Conference and several other area conferences, has been "overwhelming" with various fundraising efforts.
Rexroad said some of the support has been symbolic but no less appreciated.
"Mattoon posted a picture, and their dance team had purple and gold bows on," said Rexroad, referring to Taylorville's school colors.
"They wanted to show they were thinking about us. It's all been very touching."
Cheerleading captain Maddie Smith said she and some teammates took shelter in a closet at her home Saturday night. Tuesday brought a much happier scenario.
"I think we're just happy to be part of Taylorville tonight," Smith said before the varsity game. "Everyone will be happy to be together and know we're all safe."
And everyone was cheering for the Tornadoes, a nickname that dates back to the late 1930s at Taylorville.
Held said he didn't expect a movement to change the nickname despite the devastation that took place Saturday night.