The chance to practice and play games in the Gold Dome is something St. Amant High coaches and athletes will not take for granted.
On the two-year anniversary of the days when floodwaters ravaged much of the Baton Rouge area, it is the simple things that offer memories of what has been lost and regained. And a different kind of flood — one of emotions.
“It’s home — that is the only way I can describe it. It is freshly painted, but it looks the same. We were fortunate to have Dutchtown, East Ascension and Lamar-Dixon where we could practice or play,” St. Amant volleyball coach Allison Leake said. “But this is home, and it’s not like a regular gym. An opposing team walks in here for a volleyball or basketball game. and this is worth a couple of points. … It’s a dome.”
The reclamation of the Ascension Parish school’s 16,500-foot gym is just part of the $9.6 million project to restore buildings on campus. Much of the interior does look the same. From the paint scheme on the walls and the banners hanging in the rafters, there is a familiar feel.
Now and then
Students in the boys basketball physical education class took turns shooting at the goals on the pristine hardwood court Friday afternoon. Then Leake’s volleyball team took its turn to practice.
Work is still ongoing. Wooden lockers are being moved into place in several locker rooms. Others will be purchased. A few doors need to be put into place, but there are no complaints.
SAHS boys basketball coach Travis Uzee illustrates the contrast between August 2016 and now. Two days after the flooding began, Uzee and his father came to the school armed with a small pirogue.
“I actually drug it through the front doors and to my locker room,” Uzee said. “The pirogue was floating in my locker room as I put stuff in it. The water was about to your knees in the lobby. It was an eerie feeling. In the middle, you could see where the (wood) floor was starting to buckle. It was raised up. I took the pads off the goals and then we took the pads, our shooting machine and a projector and stacked them in the middle.”
Boxes with new home uniforms were still sealed on a high shelf; Uzee scooped them up. The Gator players will wear those uniforms this season, something Uzee feels is fitting.
“I started as a freshman and played here,” said K.J. Franklin, Uzee’s lone senior and only player with “Dome” experience. “We played in other places and won games the last two years, but there’s nothing like the Gold Dome. I can’t wait to play in front of our fans here.”
Long road home
Girls basketball coach Kristy Englade never saw the gym when it was flooded. A stark reality hit weeks later when she drove past the school and saw the Gators’ damaged scorer’s table among the items that had be discarded. By that time, the coaches and players were locked into a nomadic existence. A new normal is here — one only a handful of Gators seniors have experienced.
“We did what had to do, going from place to place,” Englade said. “What it means to be back hit me when one of my girls asked, ‘Is it OK to leave my stuff here?’ meaning in our locker room. I said, 'yes'. But think about it. ... That is something we haven’t been able to do for two years.”
The memories are just as striking for Leake. Her team used a new locker room in the Gold Dome once before the flood. Players took their uniform bags home after a scrimmage. Many were forced to leave those bags behind when their families were evacuated as floodwaters rose. Both the volleyball and girls basketball teams mixed and matched uniform sets during the 2016-17 season.
“We changed clothes, walked out to scrimmage and never walked back into that locker room. We wouldn’t have had a season if it had not been for the club teams and high schools who pitched in to help us,” Leake said. “We had balls and baskets donated. Players from Pope John Paul came down to help gut some of our players’ houses. It wasn't easy, but the support we received was special.”
Over time, all the coaches told their teams the flood could not be used for an excuse. However, they take exception when others, including some in the Ascension community proclaim, the flood’s impact is over.
Volleyball seniors Kirsten Savoy, Megan Benoit, Lauren Lambert see all sides of the dilemma.
“It means a lot to play here … seeing all the banners,” Benoit said. “Being back has definitely made our senior year. I teared up the first time we walked in here.”
Lambert adds, “I got to start here, and now I get to finish here. It is a blessing.”
Sharing facilities with Dutchtown coaches Pat Hill and Annette Lowery fostered deeper friendships with Uzee. However, hosting the Gold Dome Classic at DHS always felt odd for the SAHS coach.
The chance to host the annual tournament and regularly scheduled home games is something Uzee looks forward. Leake’s volleyball team is up first, and she has more than just nondistrict mtch with Terrebonne set for Aug. 27.
Leake said she plans to bring back the 2016 and 2017 Gator volleyball seniors to honor them in the Gold Dome, complete with jerseys and the chance to run out with the team.
“It is two years later, but it (flood) is something we are dealing with,” Leake said. “The Gold Dome is open, but the work is still going on. Some families are still working to get back into their homes. So that first game is going to be emotional.”
Benoit summed it up in three words, “Dome is home … that’s our saying.”
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