It took some time, but the Saints are finally coming to the north shore.
In 2004, the team was scheduled to hold an evening practice at Mandeville High School, but it was canceled because of rain. Then the team stopped its practice of visiting area schools.
When it reinstated the practice this year, Mandeville High was at the top of the list.
Wednesday’s forecast calls for only a slight chance of rain, so if things go as expected, the team will be taking the field at Sid Theriot Stadium at 7 p.m. for a free two-hour workout in front of what should be a large and appreciative crowd.
“Mickey (Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis) and I talked about this in the spring, just changing things up in regards to our fan base,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “It won’t be a scrimmage; it will be a practice. We’ll work through the logistics, and I’m sure it will be a good setup.”
The setup includes the Mandeville Police Department preparing for as many as 5,000 attendees — a crowd larger, in fact, than Mandeville’s stadium can hold.
The usual screening procedures employed for the open practices at the Saints’ facility in Metairie will be in effect. But instead of having just one entry point, which often results in lengthy delays there for fans, there will be three entry points.
Parking will be on a first-come, first-served basis in the school parking lot starting at 3:30 p.m. It will be restricted along Skipper Drive leading to the school and prohibited on the West Causeway Approach neutral ground, although it will be allowed on either side of the roadway.
The gates themselves will open at 5 p.m., and there will be a Saints Experience (an area that will include interactive games) and other activities for kids. After the practice, players will sign autographs.
“There is a unique relationship between this community and the team,” Saints spokesman Greg Bensel said. “We want to recognize this by making them as accessible as possible.”
Concessions will be available, with the proceeds going to the Mandeville High Athletic Department, but unlike the case at the Saints’ camp, there will be no beer sales.
“It’s a lot of work, but we look on this as a great opportunity for our community to get to see the team up close in a way not usually available to them,” Mandeville football coach Guy LeCompte said. “I know our kids are going to be sitting together in their jerseys in the end zone, and they’re excited about getting to watch the practice, too.”
LeCompte is very familiar with the Saints.
The sons of offensive line coach Bret Ingalls played for LeCompte, as did former assistant Aaron Kromer and ex-players Mike Mauti and Jim Dombrowski. Quarterbacks coach Mike Neu recruited Skippers quarterback Glen Cuiellette last season when Neu held the same post at Tulane.
Along with Ingalls, several staff members live in Mandeville.
“I was excited about it when I found out what we were going to do,” Ingalls said. “And then I got to talking to some of my neighbors, and they were even more excited. They’ve told me they’re going to be out tailgating early just like it was a game.”
For the Saints players who had gotten used to cool temperatures during three weeks at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, Wednesday’s evening practice will be a break from the heat of daytime sessions at home.
The heat index hit 101 during Tuesday’s midday session, and the team is scheduled to work at midday again Thursday with the temperature expected to be even higher.
And for Ingalls, the workout means an earlier end to his evening than usual.
“That’s the good part of it,” he said. “Sean has said we don’t have to ride back to Metairie with the team.”