FULTONDALE, Ala. (WIAT) — Cheers erupted from the stands at the Fultondale High School Tuesday night for the first time in over two years.

A deadly tornado in January 2021 destroyed the school and its athletic complex, took away the Wildcats home field advantage and forced students to travel to Warrior to complete their schoolwork. Tonight’s home game marked a new beginning for students and locals alike.

Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Dr. Walter Gonsoulin said the facility upgrades are even better than originally anticipated because they had started renovations to the fields prior to the tornado.

“All of a sudden the tornado hit,” Gonsoulin said. “It ruined the school and the things we had done with the athletic complex.”

Superfan Shaun Shepherd has a son on the football team but made sure to be there Tuesday night to cheer for everyone.

“We are super excited to be back on our own facilities – baseball, softball, soccer, and in August our football team will be back out here,” Shepherd said. “Our kids are feeling pumped, they’re ready, they’re excited to be back in their neighborhoods.”

Her son, Anthony Hicks, never thought it would be possible to play under the lights on the gridiron. He was in eighth grade when the tornado hit.

“We all got in our safe place and then the next morning, wake up, bad news happened – can’t go to school,” Hicks said. “It kind of messed it up because we didn’t have a home field for two years. I was pretty down, but I got over it. We got over it as a team.”

Gonsoulin said this is a time to bounce back.

“We are better today than we were even before the tornado,” Gonsoulin said. “It’s only going to get better. We have graduation scheduled for later this school year in May. It’s going to be out right here on the football field, so we have more community that’s going to be able to enjoy it.”

The superintendent said the school reconstruction will be complete in time for classes to begin back at Fultondale High School this fall.