It was a big game week for East St. John as the Wildcats prepared to take on perennial powerhouse John Curtis on Friday.
But coach Phil Banko and the senior members of his football team were willing to give a little of their practice time to receive a special recognition.
Representatives from the locally filmed and recently released Sony Pictures film “When the Game Stands Tall,” visited the Wildcats’ temporary home at Leon Godchaux Middle School in Reserve on Friday to award the team $1,000 for its own perseverance in the face of adversity.
East St. John High School was devastated by flood waters driven from Hurricane Isaac in August of 2012. The school, all of the athletic facilities and many of the players’ homes suffered severe flood damage. After months of haggling over who would do the repair work on the school, construction is finally underway on the building located on Airline Highway. But two years later, classes are still being held in part of the old middle school on River Road, and the football team is forced to use a jumble of portable trailers as its athletic facilities.
In 2005, the school also was forced to take in hundreds of extra students following Hurricane Katrina with many of the East St. John players housing family members and friends displaced from New Orleans and the surrounding areas.
Banko gathered his senior players into one of the trailers Friday so that Adella Gauthier, known to local school children as “Adella Adella the Storyteller,” and who plays “T-Gram” in the movie, could present the award, which included a $500 gift from the hat company LIDS, as well as a $500 gift card from Sony Pictures.
“You guys here at East St. John have faced tragedy numerous times and had to adapt,” Gauthier told the players. “I’m a native New Orleanian and know the struggles you’ve had to face. Sony Pictures and LIDS wants to present a check to you guys because East St. John has really shown their resilience and their determination to stand tall.”
Sony representative Diana Allen said the marketing department set her out to find a local team that represented the ideals expressed in the movie, which depicts the story of the De La Salle (California) football team which faced and overcame adversity to put together a 151-game winning streak over 12 years.
“They are just a perfect example,” Allen said. “I mean, here it is two years later and they’re still not back in their school.”
“They heard about our school and said they were standing tall and we want to give something to you,” Banko said. “We’re battling obstacles. But our school board members and our superintendent are battling every stride to get us back in our school for next fall — and that would be tremendous. Where we are right now, we have to deal with the situation. These coaches and these players, in particular these seniors, are dealing with it.”