Season of miracles
By Steven Martinovich
Although it is Texas that everyone believes is the center of the high school football universe, it may actually be Louisiana that deserves that reputation. Her teams are ranked ahead of their Texas peers in polls and statistics show in terms of fan interest, percentage of high school boys playing football and number of players reaching the NFL, Louisiana surpasses her Lone Star State rival.
Perhaps greatest among Louisiana's teams are New Orleans' John Curtis Christian School Patriots. Ranked as one of the best teams in the United States, the Patriots have managed to win twenty state championships despite an enrollment of only a few hundred students. John Curtis isn't merely a football powerhouse, viewing its real mandate as turning out great human beings.
As Neal Thompson's Hurricane Season: A Coach, His Team, and Their Triumph in the Time of Katrina chronicles, all of that was put in danger when Hurricane Katrina struck the American southeast. Although the school itself survived relatively unscathed, New Orleans was essentially destroyed. What began as a promising preseason for the Patriots turned into a disaster for everyone as schools across southern Louisiana closed down and students were scattered across several states.
Despite the fact that New Orleans sat under several feet of brackish water, coach J.T. Curtis – son of the school's founder – decided that the school should reopen and the football season take place. With a single-minded devotion, and the help of family – many of whom worked at the school, Curtis managed to open the school within weeks after Katrina and lined up a schedule for reconstituted football team that was missing several key players.
The Patriots open their shortened season with a loss – a rookie quarterback and a team out of condition and unsure of itself struggle out of the gate. Unable to play their most of their nearby rivals, they travel across Louisiana to face off against anyone willing. In the best tradition of sports stories, however, the team comes together and improves game by game until its once again establishes itself as one of the state's best football programs.
Fortunately Hurricane Season isn't merely a story about a football team, Thompson also takes us behind the scenes to learn about the private lives of the coaches and players. For some on the team, football provides a respite from troubled lives – especially after Katrina, but they are united in the belief that life and football are a series of challenges to be overcome with hard work and persistence. Curtis' greatest gift may not be as a football coach but as a man who inspires young men to be better in all facets of their lives.
Most of us will never go through what the students of John Curtis have since the day Katrina struck, but it resonates because of its universal message. Hurricane Season is a truly inspiring work that speaks to the power of determination, hard work and discipline. More ever, it illustrates the important role that athletics plays in our society. Football isn't merely a sport, it is a spiritual fuel for player and spectator alike, teaching us that we can always be better, work harder and go for more. Hurricane Season isn't merely a book about a football team, it is a celebration of American values.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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