In March of 2007, Nick Forti was 10 years old and in the fifth grade at Holly Hill Elementary School when an EF4 tornado ripped through his small hometown of Enterprise, Ala. Immediately the tornado was labeled the worst the city had ever seen.
Enterprise High School, one of the state’s largest schools based on enrollment, was severely damaged by the tornado. While the damage was eventually replaced, the eight lives lost were not.
“It was kind of unexpected,” Forti remembers from that day. “Tornadoes happen pretty often in the (Enterprise) community. Nobody really thought it was going to happen. We thought it would be a regular storm, and then it hit.”
Due to the extensive damage, athletics were put on an indefinite hold. Some sports, such as football and basketball, were able to return quickly. Other sports, such as track and field, which had always struggled to meet funding to field a consistent team, were eliminated from the school's offerings.
“The school disbanded the track team because of expenses,” Nick said. “(Forti’s brother) Matt participated for one year before they cut the track team. Matt looked up techniques on how to throw on YouTube. After that, he started mentoring me in techniques last year.”
Even though Nick Forti has been waiting three years to compete with a team, he has been competing independently since his sophomore year. Alabama, like most states, has a waiver which allows student-athletes the chance to compete even if they are not affiliated with a school.
Lack of organized coaching and training has not dampened the junior’s spirits. Matt, who is two years older and attending Auburn University, mentors and trains Nick. Despite a coach, Forti consistently finishes near the top against athletes in developed programs. His highest finish was fourth at a local meet.
Six years later, Nick Forti knew there would be many challenges when the track and field team was brought back. However, he saw the challenges as opportunities. His latest opportunity is to build a shot put and discus facility to prepare for competitions.
“I’m extremely excited to help my community,” Forti said. “It has always been a dream for me to do something which would leave a legacy at my school.”
To help make his dream come true he sought out the help of the professionals at Gill Athletics, a seller of track and field and conditioning equipment and the official equipment supplier of USA Track & Field.
“I sent a letter to CEO and President David Hodge of Gill Athletics,” Forti said. “Mr. Hodge sent the letter to Jim Pugh [owner of T&F Equipment Specialists based in Birmingham, Ala]. Mr. Pugh emailed me and we talked about him sponsoring my Eagle Scout project. He was very supportive and helped me out greatly.
“I just received the supplies last week,” Forti continued. “When the school clears off a spot of land, I’ll be able to start building the project.”
Initially, he did not know if there would be any interest in the project. He thought gaining support from such a large company can be extremely difficult.
“My initial intention was just to hope for the best,” Forti said. “My high goal was for Mr. Hodge to totally support my project and help me complete it. He did everything he could and it worked out perfectly.”
This brought the next challenge. Forti has never constructed an entire throwing facility. Pugh has sent him a few helpful links on the construction, but once on the field he will rely on help from his family and a couple members of his Boy Scout Troop 77.
Throwing areas consist of a white, circular plate with a seven-foot diameter known as the throwing area and a white, wooden stopboard four inches high enclosed by a 14-foot high netting. Edges of the plate are pronounced by a 2.5-inch white circular line. Also, most have a cement square surrounding the throwing area, although this is not required.
Once the construction of the throwing area is complete, not only will Nick provide his peers with a proper area to practice throws, but he will take the next big step toward becoming an Eagle Scout. Becoming an Eagle Scout is a very prestigious and distinguished honor among Boy Scouts, as only five percent of Boy Scouts receive the designation each year.
This year’s boy's track and field team of 20 athletes will be led by a familiar face to Nick, coach Denton Johnson. Johnson also serves as an assistant basketball coach on the varsity basketball squad which just won its fourth consecutive area championship. Nick played forward as they made it to the second round of the 6-A state playoffs.
“One lesson I have learned is how to cooperate with others,” Forti said, “specifically, how to plan a project. It is not so much doing it. It is learning the steps it takes to complete a project of this size.”
With the help of Nick Forti, Enterprise High School will move one step closer to returning to the school the community knew before tragedy struck.