Loony in Louisiana
Louisiana is holding four high school football state championship games tonight in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. This is the first of three days of championship games spaced over two weekends.
The reason two weekends are needed in the Bayou State is due to a ludicrous decision by the majority of high school principals to split schools into “select” (private, parochial, other religious, charter, magnet) and “non-select” (traditional public schools) divisions.
It was all because two small private schools, Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport and John Curtis Christian in the New Orleans suburb of River Ridge, have been so good at football and are accused by many public–and some private–schools across the state as being nothing more than football factories.
The difference is Curtis has been doing it much longer. The school was founded in 1962 by John T. Curtis Sr., who wanted to provide New Orleans children with a alternative private school to the Catholic schools and the underfunded and overcrowded public schools. His son, J.T. Curtis Jr., took over the football team in 1969, and by 1975, the Patriots won their first state championship.
Many more state championships have followed. As in 25 more. J.T. is one of only two prep football coaches in the United States who has won 500 games in a career, and earlier this year, he was inducted into the National Federation (the national governing body of high school sports, headquartered in Indianapolis) Hall of Fame.
Evangel was founded in the 1980s by several ministers from an evangelical Christian denomination. Shreveport is hardcore Baptist, but strangely enough, it has had a Catholic high school, Loyola Prep, for several decades.
Evangel rocketed to prominence in the early 1990s, and by 1993, its fifth varsity season, won the Class 1A (smallest class) state championship. The Eagles moved up to 3A (the middle of the five football divisions) in 1995 and won three consecutive titles in 1996, 1997 and 1998.
In 1999, Evangel moved all the way up to 5A, the largest classification. In three of the next four years, the Eagles beat perennial Louisiana powerhouse West Monroe in the championship game.
What angered football coaches, fans and administrators was that not only Curtis and Evangel were so dominant, they were so small and dominating larger schools.
At the time, Louisiana schools had the option to play into a high classification than their enrollment dictated. One of the state’s most successful public schools on the gridiron, Monroe Neville, played up to the top class for almost 30 years before finally going back to playing where its enrollment dictated in 2001.
In late 2004, Louisiana principals passed a rule stating schools could not play up. It moved Curtis back to 2A (second smallest class) and Evangel to 1A, but it also had the unintended consequence of severing many longtime rivalries.
It hit hard for me.
My alma mater, Brother Martin, a Catholic all-boys school in New Orleans, saw its traditional rivalries in the New Orleans Catholic League severed due to the new rule.
Because of it, two members of the Catholic League, Holy Cross and Shaw, were forced down to 4A. Eventually, St. Augustine, an all-black school less than three miles from Brother Martin and the Crusaders’ fiercest rival, also had to go down. When the Purple Knights moved down, Brother Martin and two other Catholic League members, Jesuit and Rummel, had to move into a league with public schools.
The rule banning playing up was repealed in 2013, but with it came the split.
Mississippi and Texas have separate associations where private schools make up the entire membership. Private schools are allowed to join the public school association, but in Texas, only two, Dallas Jesuit and Houston Jesuit, have done so.
Louisiana’s system is beyond convoluted. I can’t explain it all here. There are four games for the “select” schools today. Next Friday and Saturday, there will be five “non-select” championship games int he Superdome.
Nine state champions. Kansas has only one fewer, so I can’t really say too much.