The engraved words on the football trophies in the Haynes Academy trophy case are barely legible.
Some of the hardware dates to over a half century ago, when the school was called Metairie High.
The more recently acquired trophies are housed in a case just across the hallway.
But they aren’t for football.
Most aren’t for sports at all.
There are some chess team championships. A few music awards. And others from math and geometry tournaments.
It’s perhaps what one would expect at a school known more for its achievements in the classroom than on the football field.
But the 2015 Yellow Jackets are showing brains and brawn, acing those Friday night exams as if they were an open book test.
Haynes is 7-2. They cracked the New Orleans Advocate’s Small School Super 10 a few weeks ago and are currently ranked No. 9.
They get arguably their stiffest test this season Friday, when they travel to South Plaquemines in a game that will decide the District 8-2A title.
Not bad for a school that is in just its seventh season of playing football and is in its first season competing in a district. They played the previous six years as an independent.
“They’ve exceeded my expectations,” said coach Paul Longo. “They’ve exceeded everybody’s expectations.”
Longo was previously the defensive coordinator before taking the head coaching reigns this season.
It was after the spring game against Riverdale and then the jamboree against Belle Chasse (both 4A schools) that Longo began to think this year’s group could be special.
“This was unchartered waters for us, Longo said. “But when we stepped on the field with Belle Chasse, there wasn’t a kid on the team who was intimidated. They really felt they can play with bigger kids.”
But the Yellow Jackets success didn’t just come overnight. That would have been almost impossible at a school that has had 39 National Merit Finalists over the past six years, and 13 semifinalists in 2014. It is one of the top academic schools in the state.
“When we started here, there weren’t a whole lot of football players,” defensive line coach Sam Gomez said. “Kids wanted to try everything, and the kids we had were the kind that said ‘hey, there’s football, let’s go try.’ Over the last couple of years, we started getting kids who have played playground ball and not just kids who were doing something to put on their résumé. We have kids here who love football and who want to be here.”
But these aren’t your typical football players.
“These are the kind of kids you want to take home with you,” Longo said.
Linebacker Ronald Clay, an all-state jazz guitarist, has a full scholarship to the Boston Institute of Music.
Tight end Amaury Regnard speaks multiple languages.
“If you graduate from here, you basically have a free ride to college,” Gomez said.
Junior quarterback Charlie Magaw, who also plays basketball and baseball, admitted balancing the heavy load of school work and athletics isn’t easy.
“None of the teachers has any remorse on game nights,” he said with a laugh. “We can have a game on a Thursday, and they don’t mind giving us a test for Friday.”
That hasn’t been a problem for Magaw, who is ranked at the top of his class and will likely be the valedictorian next year at a school where that’s no easy feat.
But so far, Magaw and his 40 something teammates have balanced academics and sports just fine.
“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you,” reads one sign in the hallway.
There is a different buzz around campus this season.
Cheerleaders and dance team members are now wanting to go to EVERY game instead of just a certain one. Players now walk up to Longo asking about playing on the team next year.
“That’s what happens when you start winning a little bit,” Longo said.
Magaw is enjoying the ride.
He admitted he would have perhaps thought you were crazy if you had told him back in August that he and his teammates would be playing on the first Friday in November for a district title. .
“I don’t know if I would have believed you,” Magaw said. “It’s pretty amazing. I remember coming to Haynes’ games in the eighth-grade. They were good then, but it seems different. It was more like if they won back then, it was a shock. But now, we expect to win.”