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Batavia's Erin Bayram looks to score with Oswego's Jordan Campbell defending on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media

Typically, when Batavia’s girls basketball team makes its annual pilgrimage to downstate Morton for its Thanksgiving tournament, they have a shoot-around at Eureka College before heading into town.

When that fell through last week, coach Kevin Jensen had another plan.

He has family that lives in the vicinity of Washington, Ill., the town hit the hardest by the tornadoes that swept through Illinois last month. Two minutes outside of town, Jensen pulled over the bus and explained to his girls what the change of plans was going to be.

“They had no idea what was going on,” Jensen said. “I told them, ‘I can’t pass up this opportunity, to have this experience.’ Eleven high school girls are not typically very quiet. They were extremely quiet. Everything that I have told everybody is that there hasn’t been anything, any picture, any video, that does it justice. It changes you.”

In light of that, Friday’s girls and boys doubleheader against rival Geneva at Batavia has been dubbed the “Rivalry to Rebuild Washington.”

All of the proceeds of the games will be donated to the relief fund set up by the Washington Community Bank. Monetary donations will also be taken all night and during the lower level games on Thursday night.

“Driving through Washington didn’t feel real,” Batavia senior Erin Bayram said. “I never thought something like that could actually happen until I saw it with my own eyes. I was extremely emotional and I instantly knew we needed to do something to show our support to the town.”

Jensen did his best to describe the affected area, and even nearly a week later, the amazement of the destruction he witnessed was still in his voice.

“You saw houses where all that was left was their fireplace, or half a house left,” Jensen said. “It didn’t even look real. You don’t quite believe it. We saw lines of people walking through fields looking for their things. I saw mattresses in trees, cars underneath houses.”

The impact the scene had on the Bulldogs will always be felt.

“The sight that we saw in Washington is something I will never forget, and it touched my heart beyond anything that words can explain,” Batavia senior Liza Fruendt said.

“Every day is a new gift and our hearts and prayers go out to the people in Washington. There is so much to be thankful for.”

If you cannot attend the benefit, there are still many ways to help those affected by the tornadoes.

The Salvation Army, Red Cross and Northern Illinois Food Bank are all still accepting donations, as well as the Washington Community Bank fund that has been established.

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