VALPARAISO | Alec Peters saw the pictures, but there was nothing that could prepare him for what he saw when he returned home on Monday morning.
The Valparaiso freshman hails from Washington, Ill., the site of Sunday’s deadly EF-4 tornado that claimed at least six lives and damaged as many as 500 homes in the area.
Peters, who lives roughly three miles from the damaged area, spent all day Monday helping friends literally pick up the pieces.
“I got to town and the first thing I did was change into work clothes and get in my dad’s pickup truck so we could get to work,” Peters said. “I thought I knew what it would be because I looked at pictures, but until you go through it, you really have no idea what to expect.
"It feels like you stepped in a war zone.”
Peters was just finishing his post-game shower following Sunday’s 76-72 loss to Ohio when assistant coach Roger Powell told him the news.
“My emotions are still running high from the loss and Coach Powell comes up to me with this look and I know something is immediately wrong,” Peters said. “We got my mom on the phone and I found out my family is fine, but plenty of my friends were affected.
"I just broke down. I didn’t know what else to think or what to do.”
Peters spent the entire six-hour bus trip back from Athens on the phone trying to track down the whereabouts of friends and family. While he doesn’t know anyone who died in the tornado, each report of a different damaged house was like a punch to the gut.
By the end of the bus trip, Peters told the coaches that he was going home on Monday morning.
“It was very emotional,” Powell said. “I just hugged him and prayed with him. We’ve spent a lot of time talking. It was important for Alec, and for us, that he be able to get home and see his family and friends.”
Peters’ house remained unscathed and his parents were quick to open their home to some family friends who lost everything.
The hardest part for Peters was seeing the decimated houses of former high school teammates.
“It was a traumatizing experience,” Peters said. “My childhood best friend, I can remember playing on a Little Tikes basketball hoop in his basement and now it’s just not there.”
Peters returned to campus Tuesday morning and accompanied the team on its charter flight to Evansville.
The freshman has no doubts about playing tonight and he’ll be doing so with new motivation.
“The community is on my mind and that gives me more reason to go out there and play well,” Peters said. “They need something to rally behind and if I can do anything to help with that, I’m going to give it my all.
"I’m just trying to stay strong for all the people that have been affected.”