Who doesn’t love a story about the underdog who somehow rises from the ashes like a Phoenix and then soars to new heights?
Sadly, that can’t be Redemptorist’s story any more. The Baton Rouge Diocese’s decision to close the 67-year-old school June 30 came as a surprise to some, but not to others.
There was a sharp decline in enrollment over the past 10 years along with significant turnover among the coaches and administration. My heart goes out to the students and staff who now must pick up the pieces and move forward.
The heartache felt by the former players and coaches won’t go away in a day, a week or a month. It’s a pain that may never fully go away.
But the school will. And with it goes another significant piece of history in north Baton Rouge. This is the same area that already lost one iconic school, Istrouma High, just six months ago.
You can make the argument that neither school was what it used to be. That’s definitely a fact. Once the school is gone, like it or not, a significant link to the past usually dies right along with it.
Too dramatic you say? Well, I thought former Redemptorist quarterback and longtime coach Guy Mistretta accurately described what he felt accurately as being “like a death in the family.”
That goes for those of us not directly involved with the school. It’s something like losing an old friend you’ve lost touch with or that distant relative who used to show old home movies and pictures while telling you stories about your parents when you were a child.
I remember coming to Redemptorist in the early 1980s for a boys basketball playoff game. In those days, all LHSAA playoff games were held at neutral sites. I was excited about covering South Lafourche and Central for Thibodaux’s Daily Comet.
But I was just as excited about seeing the Redemptorist gym. Yes, I am a basketball nerd.
Growing up in Kentucky, I became a huge high school basketball fan. Redemptorist had a rich legacy that included great players like Howard Carter and Derrick Taylor who went on to star at LSU. This place, I figured, had to be as close to home as I could get.
That gym, the Neumann Activities Center, was much like it is today. It’s not ornate, though the trophy case was loaded with the spoils from past conquests. Of course I knew that it’s not the building; it’s the players, coaches and teams that make it what it is.
At the time, I had no idea that the Wolves’ football stadium was Majella Field or “The Rock.” There was no reason to. Football at Redemptorist often struggled. The Wolves were mired in one of the state’s longest football losing streaks when I moved to Baton Rouge in 1989-90.
But under Sid Edwards, the Wolves beat the odds. Yes, there was talk of closing or moving the school to the Central area in the early to mid-1990s. Edwards, another alum, one-upped Gerry DiNardo, who vowed to “Bring the Magic Back” to LSU. Edwards and his staff, which included current head coaches Mistretta (Livonia), David Brewerton (Zachary), Neil Weiner (Dunham) and Guy Blanchard (Port Allen), conjured up magic where there hadn’t been much.
The result was three state football titles in the previous decade and a host of talented players, the most recent of which are current LSU lineman La’el Collins and former LSU running back Jeremy Hill of the Cincinnati Bengals. There also were state titles won in baseball, girls basketball, volleyball and softball.
Good times. Great athletes. And fabulous memories.
Here’s to making sure those memories live forever.