There are award-winning movie scripts and novels that don’t have plots as this interwoven and intriguing.
So I think it’s safe to say that the first weekend of the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Prep Classic football championships may be one for the ages, regardless of who wins.
This is the kind of stuff sportswriters live for. In turn, the select school title games set for Friday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome offer the opportunities many schools and their coaches have longed for.
Want an example? I’ve got a great one.
One of the first things that popped up on my Facebook feed Saturday morning was a picture of The Dunham School football coach Neil Weiner and his father, Catholic High coach Dale Weiner.
The picture from 1990 showed a 13-year-old Neil posing with his father before Catholic’s Class 4A title game. The Bears lost to Ruston 52-10 that year.
Catholic is back for the first time since then and will play Rummel in the Division I final. Dale Weiner was 38 years old in that photo, the same age his son is now.
“It’s one of those things you never know about,” Weiner said. “We had a young team that year and expectation was that we’d be back the next year. And then next year turned into 25 years. Through the years you understand just how special this is.”
It has been a year of milestones for Weiner, who cracked the 300 wins barrier and now has a record of 306-108. Of course, Weiner is hardly the only coach with a significant story that will play out Friday.
Weiner’s mentor and friend, St. Thomas More’s Jim Hightower, plays Parkview Baptist in the Division II final. Hightower is No. 2 on Louisiana’s all-time wins list with a 386-118-1 behind John Curtis’ J.T. Curtis (548-61-6).
Hightower will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame this summer. Critics used the fact that Hightower had not led STM to a title game as a kind of indictment, noting that his lone title came in 1978 when he was coach at Catholic-Pointe Coupee.
Well, forget that argument now. And it’s also safe to say Hightower doesn’t forget much. Hightower noted that his 1990 Cougars team lost to a Broadmoor team led by Reggie Hayes Sr., father of the Parkview Baptist quarterback he’ll face, Reggie Hayes Jr.
“We’ve had great fan support, but to see the former players and alumni who were there Friday (for a semifinal win over Teurlings Catholic) was amazing,” Hightower said. “This is something all those former players are a part of too.”
Hightower compared Parkview’s linemen to those of another Acadiana area team, Notre Dame. Of course, Notre Dame’s Lewis Cook (320-80) is the other 300 wins coach in Friday’s Prep Classic field. The Pioneers play Riverside Academy in the Division III.
Riverside coach Bill Stubbs (182-53) hasn’t quite reached that 200 wins plateau yet. But his years as coach at Salmen were legendary. The Spartans won 4A titles in 1994, 1995 and 2000. He beat John Curtis twice in title games and once in the semifinals during that run.
Rummel coach Jay Roth (206-49) won the last 5A title before LHSAA principals voted to split the championships in 2012. The Raiders were the Division I champion in 2013 and lost to Curtis in the semifinals last season but beat the Patriots to advance this time around.
The fact that Rummel and Catholic have either scrimmaged or played each other every year since 2001 is just another notable plot twist. Catholic special teams coordinator Eric Held was an assistant to Roth at Rummel. Roth coached Catholic defensive coordinator Matt Burmaster during his stint as an assistant at Jesuit and knows CHS offensive coordinator Gabe Fertitta from attending workshops with Fertitta’s St. Stanislaus staff.
“There are all these connections,” Roth said.
Southern Lab coach Marcus Randall is the first-year head coach in the south Louisiana group. Randall watched the other coaches with a bit of reverence during a Saturday meeting at the LHSAA office. Yet he too has a notable connection.
The Kittens won their last state title in Class 1A in 1996 and lost the Division IV title game last season. However, an SLHS team coached by Randall’s brother, Eric, was the 1A runner-up in 2000.
So I had to ask whether Eric Randall might get a sideline pass.
Marcus Randall flashed a smile and said, “You think? I guess we’ll have to look into that.”
See what I mean. Stuff so good, who needs to write fiction?