BURKE, S.D. (KELO) — Heading back to school can be exciting for students and teachers, but this year was even more exciting than usual in the town of Burke. Following two years of rebuilding after a tornado, things are pretty much back to normal.

It’s an exciting week for students as the school crowns its 2022 homecoming king and queen. But for this royalty court, high school hasn’t gone exactly as expected.

In August of 2019, a tornado barreled through town just two weeks before classes were set to begin.

“This whole half of the school was ripped off. We had water everywhere. Ceiling tiles everywhere on the floor,” high school math teacher Jim Moore said.

“I was scared we were going to lose the entire building and thank goodness that we didn’t. My room was kind of in shambles and there was no ceiling in my room. And probably about a third of it was gone, not really blown away, but ruined by rain,” 6th grade and family and consumer sciences teacher Sherry Opbroek said.

Principal Tim Sanderson says the old portion of the school, which is the brick building built in 1937 received little damage, but the area that was added on in the 1960s received most of the damage.

“Our gym, five or six classrooms, and we were unable to start school on time and we had to push that start of school back,” principal Tim Sanderson said. “It needed rebuilding. And then the elementary that’s also on the same city block, it needed a new roof and then some interior work as well,” Sanderson said.

In the meantime, the administration had to get creative.

“Our superintendent at the time, Dr. Eric Pearson, he just kind of put together a plan to keep kids here in Burke. We utilized a church across the street for our music program. We had some construction individuals that split our library up into a couple of classrooms because we weren’t able to use any of our classrooms in the 1960 structure,” Sanderson said.

The gym couldn’t be used all year.

“You could come in, you could see the sky. You could see light, so it got an entire new roof, new insulation. The entire inside up above has been re-drywalled. It’s been painted, both the ceiling and all of the walls. And then our wood floor is all brand new,” Sanderson said.

Which left a big question, where would students play games and practice for sporting events?

“Are we going to just completely go down to our neighboring school in Bonesteel and try to play all our sports there and forget about rebuilding? Or are we going to rebuild? Since our secondary gym, the civics center, was also destroyed that night,” Moore said.

Taking the year to rebuild and traveling to Bonesteel for practice and games was the decision.

“Some of the kids that actually had to go through that, you know, they lost out on that year. Normal home games and their volleyball and their basketball. They missed out on some of those things,” Sanderson said.

“Traveling to Bonesteel everyday, we lost out on practice time everyday. At least 40 minutes, because that’s what it took to drive there and back. We’ve played in Bonesteel before, but still, like it wasn’t our home gym so it was a little different,” senior Elly Witt said

And as out of the ordinary as the year was, students and teachers pushed on.

“Our staff was really good about helping all the kids adjust and kind of adapting to just doing whatever we had to do to not let it take away from our education too much,” Witt said.

Students were back in the rebuilt part of the school in the fall of 2020, but the effects of the destruction can still be felt now — even in brand-new classrooms with new materials.

“There’s still times that I have lessons that I say, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to do that,’ and I go to my new cabinet and the lessons aren’t there, but we have rebuilt. The kids have been very, recovering probably better than we teachers have,” Opbroek said.

“The community joined forces with the school. Offered up funding. Offered up places to have classes. Offered up help to get it cleaned up, so it all worked together as a community, and this is a great thing about Burke. They are a small-knit community and they take care of everything we’ve got here,” Moore said.

And now things are back to normal for students and community members to enjoy homecoming three years later.

“Being a freshman coming into the high school, we didn’t really have one. So it was mostly a lot of different classrooms, and then after COVID happened, then it was still a really weird school year, so we didn’t have a normal school year until about last year,” senior Sawyer Tietgen said.

“It’s really cool that we have a normal school year again. Especially with our tornado and COVID, it’s just been way different and pries not a normal school year and school life that we’ve had. The energy is just kind of, it’s unmatched. You know, we have a lot of school spirit whether we have a whole school or not,” junior Laney Spencer said.

“I think there was really a resurgence in kind of like school pride and community pride. We really came together as a community because of that tornado and we all had to kind of come together to get through it,” Sanderson said.

“I’m just very thankful to be here. I’m thankful for all of the support that not only our community gave, but also my co-workers and my co-teachers from across the state. They were so ever supportive, and I’m very thankful for that,” Opbroek said.

Homecoming in Burke was September 5-9.