When Louisiana’s high school football teams begin training in the hot summer sun, every player and every coach and every parent has the same dream: Capturing a state championship in December in the Superdome.
This year, more than ever, our high school athletes sacrificed for the chance to play in the big game on the same field where Drew Brees broke NFL records, where Michael Jordan won a national championship, where Sugar Ray Leonard pummeled Roberto Duran so relentlessly that he quit in the eighth round.
The coronavirus pandemic imposed special hardships on high school football. Players saw games canceled, they competed in half-empty stadiums, they crimped their social lives so they and their teammates could stay healthy.
Thanks to their sacrifice, Louisiana will complete its high school football season, and there will be championship games this year.
They will not be in the Superdome. Instead, they will be in Natchitoches, three or four hours away from the state’s population centers in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
What a shame. And it didn’t have to be that way.
When the Louisiana High School Athletic Association was deciding how to safely conduct the championship games, it asked New Orleans City Hall how many fans would be allowed in the Superdome for the matchups, which this year will be held the week after Christmas.
The LHSAA never got an answer, and they moved the big event to Northwestern State University’s 16,000 seat Turpin Stadium. Later, City Hall announced it was limiting the Saints to 3,000 fans for their Dec. 20 game against Kansas City, less than 5% of the stadium’s capacity.
To be sure, Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s staff faces vexing questions as they try to tamp down the state’s third outbreak of COVID-19 cases.
And there were other reasons to move the event to Natchitoches, including an outdoor stadium and a chance to start the championship games on Dec. 27 rather than Dec. 26, which might have forced teams to travel on Christmas Day.
While the high school football games are not a big tourist event by New Orleans’ standards, they would have brought fans to fill empty hotels and dine in struggling restaurants. With so many events canceled, every little bit helps, so the city should have been fighting to keep the games.
The Cantrell administration needs to spend more time worrying about how to help the city’s hotels and restaurants stay in business and less time fretting over what Lauren Daigle is planning to do on New Year’s Eve.