The Friday night lights will be shining on Airline Drive this fall.
Eight Catholic League football games will be played at Zephyr Field, home of the New Orleans Zephyrs.
The schedule was announced Thursday at the Metairie stadium that serves as home to the Miami Marlins’ Triple-A affiliate.
“It’s neat to be in on groundbreaking things,” Jesuit Athletic Director David Moreau said. “We all wanted to band together. If the Zephyrs were going to give us this opportunity, we wanted to do our part and do something that can become a permanent part of the high school football landscape in our city for years to come.”
John Curtis will play all three of its district home games at the stadium and Holy Cross will play two of its home games there.
Brother Martin, Jesuit and Rummel will also play a home game at the field.
The Catholic League’s other two members (Shaw and St. Augustine) will also play in the stadium, but will be the visiting teams in their games. The stadium could also host playoff games in November.
“It’s good to get in on something on the ground floor,” Rummel Athletic Director Phil Greco said. “It’s new and we think it’s very appealing. I’ve been very impressed with all the Zephyrs have done to make it happen.”
The other coaches and athletic directors from the Catholic schools welcome the opportunity, mainly because it will allow for more games on Friday nights. Schools in District 9-5A have had to play numerous games on Saturdays in the past because of the amount of shared stadiums throughout the Greater New Orleans area.
“The goal is to play Friday night football, simple as that,” Brother Martin Athletic Director Scott Williams. “Is it going to be a change? Yes. Will it be different? Absolutely. But it’s going to be neat. I think we did our due diligence to make sure all aspects from a fan’s perspective and a football staff perspective will make for great atmosphere.”
Brother Martin and Curtis will play the first of the eight football games at the stadium on Sept. 23.
Augusto Rojas, general manager of the Zephyrs, said the deal is for one year.
“Then we are going to reassess and see how everything goes,” Rojas said. “But it’s a one-year deal and we will have discussions to have it for a long time.”
Rojas, who was hired in January, saw the success of playing high school football games in a minor league baseball park work during his days working with the Pawtucket Red Sox in Rhode Island.
“It’s going to give people some great memories,” Rojas said. “Great parking and tailgating. Great hospitality suites. Great lighting and video boards. What’s not to like?”
The football field will run parallel to the third base line, with one end zone near the first baseline line and the other in left field.
The home team will occupy the sideline along the third baseline, with its fans in the stands behind that area. The visiting team will be on the opposite sideline, with its fans in the end zone seats near the first baseline. There will also be seating near the left field end zone.
“The sight lines will be unique,” Rojas said. “You can be in left field seats and basically looking down into the end zone. Players could almost do the Lambeau Leap if they wanted to.”
The Lambeau Leap, of course, refers to the celebration done by Green Packers players who leap into the crowd at games at Lambeau Stadium.
But that won’t be the only similarity to some NFL stadiums. Much like NFL teams that share stadiums with baseball fields, there will be dirt on the portion of the field where the infield is for baseball.
Rojas doesn’t see that as a problem, quoting the words of Holy Cross Athletic Director Barry Wilson in one of the earlier discussions about that part.
“If the dirt infield is good enough to play football for the San Francisco 49ers, the Oakland Raiders and the Miami Dolphins, then it should be good enough for our boys,” Rojas said. “We will make sure the field is an exceptional field.”
John Curtis first considered playing games at the venue when it first joined the Catholic League last year.
“We knew the teams in the districts drew big crowds and thought it would be an opportunity to increase the crowd,” coach J.T. Curtis said.
Like Rojas, Curtis had seen it work before. He took his team to Hoover, Alabama, in 2006 and played a game in Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, now called Regions Park, home of the SEC baseball tournament.
Jeff Curtis, an assistant at Curtis, approached Rojas about the opportunity again shortly after he was hired and schools in the league worked together to make it all work.
“The first year is going to be a novelty,” Moreau said. “We will have to make some adjustments. Everything won’t be perfect, but anytime you go into a new venue, nothing is perfect.”
J.T. Curtis agreed, but said it will all be worth it in a stadium that will hold around 10,000 fans.
“I believe we are going to have a few bumps in the road this first year, but so what,” Curtis said. “We’ve got a great place to play and we’re going to work through the problems. Financially we are going to be in good shape. The Zephyrs have worked hard to try to make sure it didn’t cost us any more to play here than the regular stadiums we have in the city. It will relieve some of the pressure on those stadiums that are used both day and night and this gives us a chance to play some Friday night football.”
Coaches and athletic directors have had walked through the stadium to go over logistics, covering everything from where the buses will park to where the assistant coaches will sit in the press box.
“We are just excited for the players more than anything,” Holy Cross coach Eric Rebaudo said. “It will be something different and something we look forward to.”
Catholic League schools will continue to use other stadiums in the city, like Tad Gormley Stadium and Yenni Stadium.
“But this is going to open up some opportunities to play some football on the night high school football was intended to be played,” J.T. Curtis said.