NEW ORLEANS — It’s been so long ago now that J.T. Curtis has forgotten the player’s first name, but everyone called him “Crab.”
At any rate, in 1975, just before the Patriots played for a state championship game for the first time, “Crab” told his coach that if the Patriots won, he might even come to church.
So after Curtis edged Notre Dame of Crowley, 13-12, John Curtis Sr., the late founder of the school that bears his name, held a service that Sunday in the gym for all of the players and their families.
Thirty-seven years later, the tradition continues. When the Patriots make the championship game as they have 32 times now, win or lose, they have church in the gym on Sunday.
Sure enough then, following last Saturday’s 35-13 victory against Evangel, the Curtis community celebrated the school’s 25th title.
For J.T. Curtis, the experience, like winning championships, never grows old.
“It’s one of the highlights of the year for me and for the staff,” he said, “During the season, you get caught up in a lot of things, and sometimes you neglect the spiritual side, which is the values this school was founded on.
“We had a great time and a great service. It was just a joy for us all to be there together.”
The Patriots weren’t the only local team celebrating last weekend.
On Sunday, two days after Karr’s 29-22 victory against Neville for the Class 4A title, the Cougar players, their families and fans had a community picnic in Bollinger Playground on the West Bank.
“We were just socializing and having some fun,” Karr coach Jabbar Juluke said. “We’ve got a community here that embraces each other and especially this school and this football team.”
Rummel didn’t even wait until the next day.
It’s a Raiders tradition that fans meet the team at the school after a game. Usually about 200 show up.
But Saturday night, after the 35-14 victory against Barbe for the Class 5A title, the first in school history, 10 times that number turned out.
“We couldn’t get the bus turned down the street,” Rummel coach Jay Roth said. “And it took the kids at least 15 minutes to walk through the crowd.
“To have all of the students, parents and alums there was the highlight of the night for me. I still get emotional thinking about it.”
The titles by Rummel, Karr and Curtis marked the first time since 1981 three teams from the New Orleans area won titles in the same year.
Plus, all three were undefeated. Another trait — the coaches truly care about their schools and not just the football teams.
Curtis’ case is obvious. He’s spent his adult life at the school his father founded, a span now at 44 years.
Roth played for his father, Easton Roth, at Rummel and returned to his alma mater 18 years ago.
Juluke’s a St. Augustine grad. But he’s spent 11 years at Karr turning the Cougars into a powerhouse program that’s now reached three straight championship games.
“Our kids love one another, and they love going out to play the game of football,” he said. “For a lot of them, it becomes their sanctuary.
“Winning a championship is personally fulfilling. But knowing how you can help shape the lives of young men means much more.”