Category Archives: Louisiana High School Athletic Association

64 minutes to a title…or 32 to heartbreak

My iPad was off when i dug it out of my bag at the arena in Hutchinson. Not the first time it happened; it did so in January at Kansas City. I was panicked then because I thought it was not working. Turns out I only needed to execute a hard reboot. This time, I knew to do that, and it was back online in seconds.

Yes I am in Hutchinson. Norton takes on Royal Valley in the first Class 3A girls semifinal at 1500. The winner gets the winner of Cheney vs. Nemaha Central at 1830. In between are boys games, Beloit vs. Perry-Lecompton at 1645 and Thomas More Prep vs. Girard at 2015.

I took my SLR camera with me. I haven’t taken photos at a basketball game since Caitlyn’s last game for Norton two years ago. I remember the Bluejays lost by three at Beloit, and Caitlyn missed a tying shot in the final seconds. I hustled out of there to drive to Kansas City. I pulled into the hotel at 0001.

The WiFi provided by Hutchinson Community College is working today. It wasn’t Friday. I have plenty of data with my Verizon plan, but every bit I can save helps. I have never gone over half my allotted data for a month. The most I used was 42% last April, and that was because of the trip to Baton Rouge, since I was using my hotspot while driving.

Peggy isn’t here. She went to Lincoln to watch Caitlyn play beach volleyball for Ottawa in a tournament at Nebraska. Hopefully the courts are climate controlled; it isn’t as cold as it was early this week, but it is chilly enough. It was foggy most of the drive to Hutch today, but the sun is trying to peek out of the clouds.

It’s down to Wichita for me after this. I’ll give my parents a chance to clean the basement and not have to cook tomorrow. I’m planning on being home Sunday by noon. I don’t really have much writing to do this week, only for the teams we have left: Thunder Ridge girls, Osborne boys and Plainville boys, who lost Wednesday to Inman. Thunder Ridge has the Herculean task of facing Central Plains, which has won 109 consecutive games and is going for its sixth consecutive state title, something never done in Kansas before by a boys or girls team.

My high school, Brother Martin, lost in the state semifinals of the diluted Louisiana High School Athletic Association boys playoffs yesterday. This is the third year the LHSAA has held separate playoffs for “non-select” and “select” schools. Non-select is basically all public schools with traditional attendance zones and charter schools which do not have strict admissions requirements, while select schools are private and religious schools, plus those charter schools which have a strict admissions policy.

Scotlandville falls into the very last category. The north Baton Rouge school is a public school, yes, but there is a significant magnet component, forcing the Hornets to battle the likes of Baton Rouge Catholic and members of the New Orleans Catholic League in the state playoffs.

Sure enough, Scotlandville will play St. Augustine, Brother Martin’s archival, for the “Division I select” state championship tomorrow in Lake Charles. Meanwhile, the “Class 5A non-select” championship game is Walker vs. Thibodaux. I’m sure the “non-select” schools of 5A are overjoyed Scotlandville is a select school, because the Hornets have owned Louisiana basketball in recent years.

Lake Charles is not the best place for these games. I have never seen Burton Coliseum, the facility hosting the boys semifinals and finals, but it’s not conveniently located, and there are much better options. The best are the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans and the Pete Maravich Assembly Center at LSU, but both of those facilities have logistical problems with the home teams. The NBA has been flexible with teams wishing to allow amateur organizations to use their arenas, but the Southeastern Conference has not, and LSU has not hosted high school title games since 1996.

The same thing exists in the Big 12, a reason why there haven’t been any high school championship games in Lawrence since 1987, and there are none in Manhattan this year.

If Louisiana can’t get either of the showcase arenas, the Cajundome in Lafayette worked very well when it hosted, as much as it pains me to say it. I can’t stand the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, but it is a fine facility which is centrally located.

Tip in 30 minutes. Time to go for now.

Catholics competing for a crown

Baton Rouge Catholic is currently playing Archbishop Rummel of New Orleans (actually Metairie, an unincorporated area in Jefferson Parish) for the Louisiana “Division I select” high school football state championship in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in the Big Easy.

Rummel has widely been considered as Louisiana’s best high school football team this season. The Raiders’ lone loss was 10-3 to Don Bosco Prep, a powerhouse from Bergen, New Jersey. The Raiders won the Division I select championship in 2013 and the Class 5A championship in 2012, the last year public and private schools played against one another in the playoffs.

Rummel is a member of New Orleans’ Catholic League, which currently consists of seven all-boys schools. I attended Brother Martin, another Catholic League member. When I attended Brother Martin, the Crusaders never lost to Rummel, part of an 12-game winning streak over the Raiders between 1983 and 1994.

Since Jay Roth took over as Rummel’s coach in 1995, the Raiders have never lost to Martin. That’s 22 consecutive games. Roth is 206-45 in 21 seasons at his alma mater, and earlier this season, he passed the late Bobby Conlin, Brother Martin’s coach from 1970 through 1996, as the winnigest coach in the Catholic League. Conlin, who passed away in July 1997, only eight months following his retirement, was 203-100-5.

Roth played quarterback at Rummel from 1977-80 for his father, Easten Roth, who was the Raiders’ coach at the time. I met Easten when I was covering football in the Baton Rouge area for The Advocate. Great man. Easten still does radio in Ascension Parish for Dutchtown, East Ascension and St. Amant high schools.

Catholic had to win two games on the road in dramatic fashion to reach the final. It won 49-48 over Brother Martin in the quarterfinals after stopping the Crusaders on a two-point conversion in the final minute, then went to Shreveport and rallied from a 21-0 third quarter deficit to defeat Evangel 27-21. See my previous post for more about Evangel.

The Bears are coached by the legendary Dale Weiner, who is one of Louisiana’s greatest high school football coaches, but more importantly, one of its greatest men, period. He’s won 306 games during his distinguished career at four schools, and been at Catholic since 1997.

I had the good fortune to cover Catholic many times when I worked for The Advocate, and some of my most memorable games involved Weiner’s teams.

The Bears haven’t reached the finals since 1990, when they lost 52-10 to Ruston. Catholic began that game by recovering an onside kick, but it could only get a field goal, and the Bearcats then unleashed their full fury. That Ruston team is widely considered to be one of the best to play high school football in Louisiana.

Rummel and Catholic are tied 7-7 in the second quarter. Looks like it will go down to the wire.

Back on the bayou…

I just did a little research on my native state. There are 388 member schools of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association divided into seven classifications. Most classes include 60 to 70 schools, except Classes B and C, which are small schools (lower than the smallest 2A school) which do not play football. 

There have been many proposals to combine Classes B and C. I think that’s a great idea. Seven classifications in Louisiana, which has less than 40 more schools than Kansas, is still too many. 

I would like to see five classes for basketball in Louisiana. You could place the B and C schools together–that would be 73 right now–and then divide 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A equally. When I began high school at Brother Martin in New Orleans, there were six classifications. Class 5A was added in 1991. 

Keep in mind the structure in Louisiana is radically different than that of Kansas. 

First, there are no leagues in Louisiana. Teams are asssigned to districts for two-year cycles. There are “basic” districts for football, basketball, baseball, softball and track, and then special districts for volleyball and soccer. Becuase districts change every two years, rivalries are sometimes irregular, especially in football, where teams are often committed to five, six or seven district games. 

Second, Louisiana’s basketball playoffs are structured like the NCAA tournament. One and done. Each class has a 32-team brakcket. District champions earn automatic qualification, with the rest of the bracket filled in by a power rating system, which relies on a mathematcial formula. 

The first three rounds of the playoffs are played home-and-away, unless a school’s gym does not meet minimum LHSAA standards; in that case, a neutral site is agreed upon. Prior to 1992, all playoff games had to be played at neutral sites.

The semifinals and finals are all contested at a single location. The girls play one week before the boys. The last two years, both the girls and boys have crowned their champions in Lake Charles, in the southwest corner of the state. Ideally, you’d like to see the games at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center at LSU, but the LHSAA balked at the high rent LSU wants for usage of the arena. You also have hte problem of parking, which is a nightmare at LSU. 

Three states away

While Kansas’ high school football playoffs are underway, Louisiana is playing the final week of its high school football regular season this weekend. It actually ends today with a few games in the New Orleans area, including my alma mater, Brother Martin, playing Archbishop Rummel at East Jefferson High School’s Joe Yenni Stadium.

Saturday high school football games in the Big Easy are common, especially for Catholic high schools. There are many more schools than available stadiums in the New Orleans metropolitan area, and teams must participate in a lottery for dates they want to host. The prime slot, obviously, is Friday night, but more often than not, schools must opt to play Thursday night, or Saturday, whether it be in the afternoon or evening.

Brother Martin is one of those schools which often plays on Saturday. The Crusaders use one of two stadiums located in New Orleans’ City Park, Tad Gormley and Pan American, as their home field, and thus must jockey with other schools for available dates. Last week, the Crusaders hosted Jesuit at Tad Gormley on Saturday.

The two Catholic high schools in Jefferson Parsih, Archbishop Rummel in Metairie and Archbishop Shaw in Marrero, NEVER get to use the stadiums at East Jefferson and West Jefferson, respectively, on Friday nights, save for the playoffs when the Jefferson Parish public school teams are either out of the playoffs or on the road.

Rummel has the land to build its own stadium, but instead makes the 10-minute drive on West Metairie Avenue to Joe Yenni, which has seating for nearly 10,000 and a Field Turf playing surface. Shaw has its own baseball field but has opted against building a football stadium around its existing practice field, instead driving through the Harvey Tunnel to West Jeff’s Hoss Memtsas Stadium, which is an exact copy of Joe Yenni.

Both Joe Yenni and Hoss Memtsas have spectacular press box views. At Yenni, you can see the Huey P. Long Bridge across the Mississippi River to the south, and at Memtsas, you can see traffic on the West Bank Expressway to the south, and downtown New Orleans to the northwest.

Three-hour tour

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.

Football weather in late summer

The wind outside is stiff. Typical Kansas. If the wind weren’t so strong, it would be a near perfect night for football. However, with that wind, it’s going to feel 10-15 degrees colder. I have never had to wear three layers under my parka–L.L. Bean Baxter State Parka, the warmest they make–on September 12, but there’s a first for everything.

Fall doesn’t officially start until Sept. 21. Some have said we are in for a brutally cold and snowy winter. I can live with the former, the latter will be more problematic. I wish it could snow all the time to alleviate the moisture problem, but if it keeps snowing, I can’t get on the roads to cover events. Catch-22.

Now that I remember, I was bundled up two years ago on September 14 when Smith Center hosted Oberlin. I’m going to forgo the long johns tonight. I hope I don’t regret it.

It’s a far cry from Louisiana, where I would go some seasons without wearing long pants until the playoffs began. Also, what I wore wasn’t as important on many nights, since I was often in a climate-controlled press box. I wish I had the skills I have now back in 1999 when I was in Independence and found out there was only room for coaches in the press box. Had I been able to operate then as I can no, no problem.

We join this game in progress…

I almost forgot until a few minutes ago, but maybe the strangest high school football game I’ve ever covered occurred on September 1.

It was 2000, and I was winding down a season-long internship with the New Orleans Zephyrs Triple-A baseball club. The Zephyrs were then an affiliate of the Houston Astros, but have changed affiliations three times since then, going to the Nationals, the Mets, and the Marlins, who have been the parent club since 2010.

I was ready to get away from baseball. As much as I love our national pastime, doing it for five months straight, sometimes eight to 12 nights in a row, can be downright draining. There was a Sunday night game which lasted 15 innings, a Thursday doubleheader which didn’t end until 3 a.m., and numerous storms which forced the tarp to be pulled. And in minor league baseball, all male employees are expected to pull it, except during the game, when the grounds crew takes over.

I hated tarp duty. I revolted. I was a terrible intern. Asperger’s had something to do with it. I was 23 going on 24 that season, but my emotional development was more akin to an 8-year old. I still feel terrible for being a total jerk, because everyone there, including general manager Dan Hanrahan and media relations director Les East bent over backwards to help, and I spit in their faces.

As the Zephyrs began their last home series of the 2000 season, Robin Fambrough of The Advocate called me about prep football’s season starting. My assignment for the first Friday of the regular season was East Ascension of Gonzales at Hammond. This was a logical decsion, since I was living with my parents in Arabi, and Hammond was easier for me to drive to, since all I had to do was travel 12 miles past New Orleans International Airport, and then 33 miles north on Interstate 55. The drive would total 52 miles one way.

When I was driving home from the Zephyrs’ final home game on Thursday, August 31, I heard on the radio where the game between Baton Rouge Catholic and Jesuit at New Orleans’ Tad Gormley Stadium had been suspended less than five minutes in due to lightning. Robin assigned the game to Ron Brocato, the longtime sportswriter for the Clarion Herald, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, because I was not available.

I had not been home for 10 minutes when the phone rang at 224 Jaguar Drive. The caller ID said The Advocate. I immediately picked up and Jason Russell, one of the sports copy editors, was on the other end. He told me Robin wanted me to instead go to the resumption of the Catholic-Jesuit game the next night.

The good news: I only had a 20-minute drive. The bad news: I had never covered a football game which was being joined in progress.

The next day, with the mercury at 100 degrees and the heat index hovering at 115, I drove to Tad Gormley Stadium in New Orleans’ City Park, only a stone’s throw from my future employer, Delgado Community College. I made my way to the press box on the east side of the stadium and set up my computer, ready to input statistics into The Automated Scorebook.

The great news about covering a Catholic game is all of their games are on radio. Even better, the statistician for the radio broadcasts,, David Butler, keeps meticulous notes, charting every play.

What a relief. I was able to input the plays I missed and when 7:30 came and the game resumed, it was business as normal, even if nearly five minutes had elapsed and Jesuit was holding a 3-0 lead.

Catholic couldn’t move the ball very well. Jesuit’s offense was handcuffed for the most part, but when the Bluejays needed a key play, quarterback Perrin Rittiner and running back Dominic Webber came through. The Bluejays scored the game’s only touchdown in the third quarter, and in the fourth, an interception by Quinton Jason at the 1-yard line stopped Catholic’s best drive.

Final score: Jesuit 10, Catholic 0. After the game, the coaches, Dale Weiner of Catholic and Jay Pittman of Jesuit, were both glad I was covering the game. Nice to see them, too.

There wasn’t a phone line in the Tad Gormley press box, and I didn’t have a modem for my cell phone, but that was fine. My story was done before 10, and I would just drive home to file it, since deadline wasn’t until 11:15.

I almost didn’t make it. The Claiborne Avenue bridge across the Industrial Canal was in the up position. I didn’t have time to wait, so I ventured south on Poland Avenue to the St. Claude Avenue bridge. There is no left turn onto St. Claude from Poland, so I had to go down a block and U-turn, something I had done hundreds of times.

This time, however, it almost turned disastrous. The streets were slick from earlier rain, and I stopped because there was a red light. I couldn’t turn right immediately, and I heard the car behind me come to a sudden stop. Oh boy.

Fortunately, he skidded into the other lane and missed me. I turned right, crossed the canal,, and was home 12 minutes later. The story followed shortly thereafter. Another night in the world of a high school sportswriter.