Foes on field; friends in crisis

By By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

As the waters rose during Hurricane Isaac, football was the furthest thing from the minds of the members of the East St. John

High football team.

The new season quickly went from promising to questionable in the matter of hours.

The storm passed, but it left behind water all around the East St. John community. The homes of about 75 percent of the players had suffered flood damage or were under water.

“It is really bad,” said ESJ head coach Phillip Banko. “I didn’t know when the season would start, or if it would.”

At that point, it didn’t really matter.

Last week, as a good portion of the state began their high school football campaigns, the Wildcats were one of many New Orleans

area schools forced to wait at least a week.

For East St. John, even Friday night’s game in Lake Charles against St. Louis Catholic was in question. That changed when

Saints parents and students got together.

“We were just heartbroken what we heard and saw about their troubles,” said Kathy Kay McPherson, a St. Louis mother who helped put together a relief effort for the Saints’ Week 2 opponent.

“We knew we had to do something to help,” McPherson said. “It took some time, but things got rolling after Labor Day. The

entire community rallied around them and this game.

“It felt great to help.”

St. Louis raised money, which will continue through the weekend, for East St. John and its players. They also provided workout

gear and personal items for the players and coaches.

After the game, the Wildcats and all their fans were treated to a post-game meal.

“The generosity and compassion this community has shown ours will always be remembered,” said ESJ principal Patricia Triche.

“They are truly special people. They have lifted the spirit of our kids and families.

“It brings tears to my eyes.”

“We did what we could,” said McPherson. “When you hear what happened down there, this was a real no brainier.”

Triche said the game was not likely to have taken place if not for the help given by St. Louis.

“I don’t see how,” she said. “A lot of our families are still not back in their homes.”

The road to full recovery won’t be an easy one for the Wildcats. They won’t begin school for another two weeks and will have

to split time with another school until they can head back into theirs. There is no real time table on that.

Only then will the season and the lives of the Wildcats start to get back to normal.