Now I’ve got a bunch of time to kill before I have to be at Smith Center for tonight’s football game. I will kill some time by going to get a haircut, driving to Hays for (more) Taco Bell, and then up to Smith Center. But then I’ll have a lot of time to wait around Hubbard Stadium. Fortunately, Smith Center has a room where I can set up my laptop and work waiting for the game to begin.
My mind drifts back to a game I covered 17 years ago–Sept. 19, 1997. It was my fifth game covering high school football for The Advocate, Baton Rouge’s daily newspaper. I had to venture outside the Baton Rouge city limits, but stay within East Baton Rouge Parish, to Zachary, at the northern end of the parish, where the Broncos hosted St. Amant from Ascension Parish.
Prior to 2005, Zachary was part of the East Baton Rouge Parish school district. The community was middle-class, where those who wanted the convenience of the big city but the feel of a small town could raise their children without much fear of crime. Zachary schools were among the best performing
In 2004, Zachary citizens voted for their school district to break away from East Baton Rouge Parish and to become its own independent community school district. That made Zachary the fourth school district outside the 64 parish school districts at the time, joining the city of Monroe, the city of Bogalusa in Washington Parish, and the city of Baker, a town located between Zachary and Baton Rouge in EBR Parish. A couple of years later, residents of Central City in the eastern part of EBR voted to form their own school district.
Since Zachary formed its own school district, the community has blossomed. Property values have skyrockteted, many upper middle-class families have moved in, and the schools consistently rate among the best in Louisiana.
The athletic facilities at Zachary are also first-rate. The football stadium has undergone a complete makeover, with new bleachers, new lights, a new press box, and FieldTurf. The Zachary school district now has to do all it can to keep students from outside from transferring in, much the way you see with small school district in Kansas which border larger districts. For instance, it goes on in Barton County, which is due south of Russell County, as parents try to escape Great Bend and enroll students in neighboring Central Plains (Claflin), Ellinwood and Hoisington.
The St. Amant-Zachary game was one of the strangest I’ve covered, and I’ve covered close to 200 football games. St. Amant took a quick 10-0 lead, but the Broncos tied it on back-to-back plays, a safety and a return of the ensuing free kick for a touchdown by Leonard Scott, who went on to play at Tennessee. Zachary gained less than 100 yards, but it also recovered a Gator fumble in the end zone for a touchdown and prevailed 24-22.
As strange as the game was, it was even stranger after. The game lasted three hours, meaning I was already in trouble. I didn’t have a laptop during the 1997 season, which meant I had to drive back to The Advocate office in the shadow of the Louisiana State Capitol to write my story in the sports office. Problem was, I was 25 minutes away from the office, and to make matters worse, the traffic flow out of Zachary’s stadium is a nightmare. It took 10 minutes to get out of the stadium after conducting interviews with coaches Doug Moreau of St. Amant and Bill Burke of Zachary, and by time I got to the office, it was 10:45, and deadline was 11:15.
I had another long game at Zachary two weeks later. I would be sent farther and father away from downtown Baton Rouge in the future, but starting in 1998, I had a laptop.
In 1998, if the press box had a phone line, I would file my story from the stadium; if the press box didn’t have a phone line, I would go back to the office and file there, and then work with the copy editors to make sure everything was kosher. The press boxes at St. Amant and East Ascension in Gonzales both had phone lines, which helped, since those were a 35-minute drive to downtown.
In 1999 and 2000, if the press box didn’t have a phone line, I’d more often than not go home to file, since I lived in southeast Baton Rouge. Starting in 2001, I had a connection for my cell phone to dial into the modem at The Advocate office, so that problem was solved.
Since I had a laptop and a computer statistics program, and because I was the fastest writer on The Advocate‘s high school football staff, Robin Fambrough would send me long distances more often than not. I covered not only from Zachary, St. Amant and East Ascension, but Donaldsonville, Lutcher, Plaquemine, Livonia, West Feliciana (St. Francisville), Clinton (now East Feliciana), St. Helena (Greensburg), Kentwood, Amite City, Independence, Hammond, Covington, Slidell, Destrehan, Hahnville, and of course, the Big Easy and its many suburbs. I also covered a couple of games from Parkview Baptist, which was three blocks from my Old Jefferson Highway apartment from 2000 through July 2003, plus a few at Olympia and Memorial Stadiums in Baton Rouge.
Today, the travel is longer, but the deadlines aren’t there. Most people at these stadiums in small towns want to get out of there ASAP. I can’t blame them, although writing the story there might save me a lot of time on the weekends.