St. Charles Catholic football coach Frank Monica said he doesn’t put an excessive value on his profession.
But in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac, Monica said football coaches will do what they do: adjust to the circumstances at hand. And that means playing high school football games this week.
“It’s been a rough time for everyone,” Monica said. “Our school didn’t sustain much damage, but I’d say up to 50 percent of our players lost their homes or most of their belongings.
“We had our first practice since the storm yesterday, and we practiced again today (Tuesday). About 80 of our 104 players (in grades 9-12) were there. Our plan is to host Vandebilt Catholic Friday night. This community needs something positive to rally around, and I think football can provide that.”
Monica’s Comets won the Class 3A state title last fall and are ranked No. 1 in the latest Louisiana Sports Writers Association’s 3A poll, even though they did not play last week because Isaac devastated the LaPlace area where the school is located.
St. Charles is one of four ranked teams from the River Parishes that saw their Week 1 games and much more washed away by the storm last Wednesday.
Reserve-based East St. John is ranked eighth in Class 5A and will beat even longer odds by traveling to Lake Charles to take on St. Louis Catholic on Friday.
While St. Charles will resume classes on Monday, the Wildcats of coach Phil Banko know they won’t attend their school for the remainder of the 2012-13 school year.
Flood waters of three or more feet entered the school building and the football fieldhouse. In the process, ESJHS lost all its football equipment, including helmets and uniforms. Banko said students will attend classes on a platoon time schedule at Leon Godchaux Middle School starting next week.
Despite those overwhelming losses, East St. John Principal Patricia Triche told Banko to do whatever was necessary to get the Wildcats back on the field as soon as possible. Banko has started each day since Isaac at 6:30 a.m. and worked until nearly midnight, making calls and plans.
A remarkable cooperative effort unfolded. Two sporting goods dealers, Baton Rouge’s Red Stick Sports and Metairie-based Grundmanns are working with Banko to get East St. John uniforms and equipment by Thursday or Friday morning. Chicago-based Riddell is supplying helmets. The NFL has also pitched in.
“In our world today, you read about violence and a lot of inhumanity,” Banko said. “What we’ve got going on here is a lot of humanity. So many people in the community and other schools have come out to help us.
“The thing is, our guys don’t just want to go to Lake Charles and get applause because we’re playing. They don’t want a moral victory. They want a victory on the field.”
District 8-5A rival Destrehan is among the nearby schools that have offered a helping hand by allowing East St. John to practice on its artificial turf field.
On Monday, 92 of East St. John’s 100 players attended their first practice since Isaac.
“We need to be able to practice on turf,” Banko said. “Right now we don’t have any cleats. You can practice on turf in tennis shoes, and that’s what we’re doing. Some of these guys and their families have been through a lot over the past week. Being able to practice and play means a lot to them.”
Problems surrounding sixth-ranked Lutcher of Class 4A developed after the widespread flooding down the road in Reserve and LaPlace. Yet by Monday, school was back in session at the St. James Parish school.
“When we canceled our game with Dutchtown last Thursday, we had no idea things would happen the way they did,” Lutcher coach Tim Detillier said. “And it’s a good thing we did. The water started to rise around us in the Paulina area after that.
“I’m not as worried about the conditioning of our players because most of them were out there moving sand bags and helping in the community. I’m proud of them for that. And today (Tuesday), we’ll see where we are going into our game with McDonogh 35 this Friday.”
Detillier said Tuesday’s practice is the Bulldogs first since the Ed Reed River Parish Jamboree held on Aug. 23.
The scenario was similar for Robert Valdez, coach of top-ranked West St. John of Class 1A. Like other St. John the Baptist Parish-based schools East St. John and St. Charles, West St. John won’t return to school until next week.
Unlike St. Charles, East St. John and Lutcher, West St. John is located on the west bank of the Mississippi River, something Valdez sees as a blessing.
“Our damage is minor compared to what some of these other schools are going through,” Valdez said.
“We feel very blessed.
My daughter goes to Lutcher, and I saw what happened in the Paulina area and at East St. John.
“We met with our kids today for the first time since the storm, and we’re planning for this week.”
West St. John is scheduled to play at South Plaquemines, another school located in an area ravaged by the storm. Valdez said South Plaquemines plans to host that game, likely at Belle Chasse High over the weekend. WSJHS was the 1A runner-up last fall.
“It’s important for them (South Plaquemines) to host the game, and I understand that,” Valdez said. “Hopefully, playing this week will give everybody the chance to get back to what’s normal.”