Not only did Louisiana's lone residential high school weather its name change after an angry legislative battle last year.

Student applications for the fall semester are up more than three times over 2017, and the controversy over a bill school leaders and alumni vehemently opposed is getting most of the credit.

The measure, Senate Bill 1, sparked outrage and packed legislative hearings from alumni of the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts in Natchitoches.

Lawmakers were flooded with emails and personal visits.

Opponents of the bill said adding the name of one of the school's founders, the late Rep. Jimmy Long, would damage the brand of a school that serves 350 high-achieving students in a college setting.

Instead, the school is attracting unprecedented interest.

"I don't want to say it is because of Senate Bill 1," said Steven Horton, executive director of the school. "But in the last year we have gotten so much attention, even worldwide, because of the uniqueness of the programs we have here and the success stories of the 5,000-plus graduates that have walked through the halls."

Applications for the fall semester typically total fewer than 30 students at this time of year. More than 100 have finished the application questionnaire this time. Others have submitted test scores, transcripts and recommendation letters.

Horton said the surge of applicants is especially unusual because students usually want to first see how they fared on midterm grades.

"For us to have that many students that far in the process before midterm grades are even released is amazing," he said.

Horton said last year's debate has other benefits.

"I am going to be honest," he said. "It has brought a lot of the alumni back to the school who have not been in the halls in 20 or 25 years."

The bill to rename the school sparked one of the most unexpected and heated controversies of the 2017 regular legislative session.

Backers argued that Long played a huge role in getting the school launched in 1983.

Adding to the drama was the fact that Long's younger brother, state Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, was a sponsor of the measure and made clear that he believed his brother was due the recognition.

Long said the hike in applications is a reflection of the school's uniqueness.

"There was a lot of fluff and hype over something that did not amount to a hill of beans," Long said. "Kids and parents do not care what the name of the school is as long as it provides a quality opportunity." 

Long said that, while the legislation did not directly trigger the boost in student applications, "the awareness that Senate Bill 1 caused was really healthy for the Louisiana School," using the abbreviated term common with current and former students.

State Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma, a member of the school's board of directors, said a new formula for recruitment made the difference.

Horton also credited the school's new director of enrollment services — and an aggressive outreach program — for the boost in applications.

Cade Brumley, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents and a member of the school's board of directors, said LSMSA clearly benefited from the attention.

"The school has also received gratis publicity via the media as discussions took place concerning the school's name," he said in an email.

"I know this energized the alumni base and certainly electrified their own recruiting efforts," said Brumley, who is superintendent of the DeSoto Parish School District near Shreveport.

The legislation breezed through the Senate 31-1 but sparked controversy in the House.

The final version was changed to placate critics.

Under the measure that became law, the name change would not affect diplomas, transcripts, logos, stationery and other items. It also gave the school's board of directors authority on how the new name is implemented.

The tribute will include a large bronze plaque for Jimmy Long and three others regarded as founders of the school. It will be located on the first floor of the High School Building, described as the core of the campus.

Horton said the school's alumni loved Long and, well before last year's controversy, he was given recognition on campus.

Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, chief sponsor of the bill, has not forgotten criticism aimed at him by opponents of his bill.

"They threw everything at me except the kitchen sink," Thompson said. First elected in 1974, he is the second-longest-serving member of the Legislature.

He said he is not surprised that applications are on the rise, especially after all the publicity. "It is a great school," Thompson said.

Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, a new member of the school's board of directors, said that during the panel's December meeting members acknowledged that the attention surrounding the bill had an impact on enrollment.

"I guess the old adage of 'Any press is good press' certainly came into play here," Emerson said in an email.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.