Hurricane Katrina tossed thousands of lives into chaos and may have taken that many more, Mountaineer mens basketball coach John Beilein told West Virginia Universitys United Way volunteers Thursday morning (Sept. 22) in Morgantown.

But if anything good could be said of the storm that ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the coach mused as he announced WVU s annual United Way campaign, it was this:

Katrina, the coach said, drove home the importance of just what it means to help our fellow man. The storm, he said, is a lesson not to take anything for granted: a wrenching reminder that our station in life is precarious and can change in the blink of an eye, be it through catastrophic illness, sudden economic downturn or the flat-out fury of Mother Nature.

It could happen to any one of us,he said.The disaster that hit all those people wasnt germane to just the needy.

That was the point of his morning appearance before 250 or so WVU employees in Morgantowns Radisson Hotel. Beilein and his wife, Kathleen, are co-chairs for this years drive which is hoping to raise $225,000 for the United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties.

The agency funds 26 outreach organizations in the two-county region.

Beilein praised the WVU community for its generosity in the wake of Katrina, and the generosity sure to come as Hurricane Rita makes landfall along the Gulf Coast in the days ahead.

Such generosity, he said, is befitting of this years campaign,Its What We Doat WVU !

Thats because people who are hurting are just that, he said. Theyre hurting. And it doesnt take a hurricane to swamp a life or a career, the coach said.

A north-central West Virginia resident suddenly out of work with a family to feed isnt living in the same scope and scale as a Hurricane Katrina victim, he said, but the particulars and pain of not being able to provide leave wounds just as deep.

We have these little hurricanes going through our communities every day,he said.People who never thought it would come to this.

The coach who knows a thing or two about winning teams was quick to praise the consistent, caring performance of the WVU team of employees who consistently go over the annual set goal.

And since he makes his living recruiting basketball players, he said he hopes WVU campaign volunteers can bring in new, first-time contributors to the campaign that runs through Oct. 28.

Employees will receive pledge forms starting today (Sept. 22). And any contributionno matter how small, Beilein saidis vital to the effort.

You just keep nudging,he said,and I think we can continue this great job.

Beilein again praised the human spirit and said he appreciates his community and his neighbors more than everespecially since he saw Katrinas aftermath up close and personal.

The coach returned late last night from a trip to Biloxi, Miss., where hes recruiting a prospect. He was struck by the ruined houses and flattened businesses at the maybe-Mountaineers home town, and when he tried to rent a car, he had to settle for what he could get: a muddy, well-worn van with a half a tank of gas.

I felt bad about that,he said,but then I realized I was lucky to have anything at all.

The recruit lightened his mood with an inspired bit of competitive comedy.

I pull up at the kids house and I apologize for the van,he said.The kid says, �€~Thats OK, Coachyou should have seen what Vanderbilt drove up in.