When the New Orleans Jesters take the field for their playoff soccer match Friday night, they will do so in memory of Leon Castagne, a 17-year-old soccer player who was fatally shot in May shortly after graduating from De La Salle High School.
Club operations manager Ralph Price said he couldn't think of a better setting to honor Castagne, who was born in Argentina, grew up in France and moved to New Orleans to enroll at De La Salle as a freshman.
The match ranks among the most significant in the 15-year history of the developmental soccer club that since 2009 has been known as the Jesters. They are undefeated in 12 National Premier Soccer League matches this season, winning eight and drawing four to clinch their division and secure the right to host the conference semifinals and final match at Pan-American Stadium in City Park.
Before the 7 p.m. semifinal Friday, Castagne's De La Salle teammates and their coach, Alan DeRitter, will be invited to join the Jesters and the opposing Atlanta Silverbacks on the field for a moment of silence. There will be a reading about the teenager's life, Price said.
Price said his club shares a connection with Castagne, whose longtime girlfriend has a brother in the Jesters' youth academy.
The New Orleans Jesters dominated the regular season, going undefeated in 12 matches.
"This is just one small thing we can do to memorialize a great, young athlete who was taken way too early," Price said.
Leon Castagne didn’t know much about American football when he first moved to the United Sta…
Deborah Schumacher, the mother of Castagne's girlfriend, called the tribute fitting.
Castagne had played the sport throughout his time at De La Salle, which his brother, Quentin, also attended.
Schumacher's daughter and son both bonded with Castagne by playing and discussing the game, and he planned to continue participating in local recreational soccer leagues while attending the University of New Orleans.
Schumacher said Castagne and her daughter were attracted to each other in part because they both spoke French, and he didn't speak much English when he arrived in New Orleans. He helped her French improve; she helped his English improve; and soon they fell in love, Schumacher said.
Castagne was killed during a May 26 social gathering at an apartment complex on the edge of City Park. Police said a man trying to close the chamber on a gun inadvertently fired a bullet into Castagne's face, killing him.
Hunter Foret, who worked with Castagne at a local eatery, was booked on a count of negligent homicide. Foret, 21, is out of jail on $10,000 bail and has a preliminary court hearing scheduled for July 25.
Castagne's family came to New Orleans to attend a service in his honor several weeks ago but returned to France, where they planted an olive tree with his ashes, Schumacher said.
While Castagne's family won't be at Friday's match, Schumacher said she is glad the young man will once again be on the minds of people in New Orleans.
"He taught people here about things in other parts of the world, and it's important those things are valued," she said. "It's important that Leon's story not just be ... forgotten."
If the Jesters win Friday night, they will play in the conference final at 7 p.m. Saturday. Their opponent would be either the Knoxville Force or Inter Nashville, who are set to play each other at 3 p.m. Friday.
Tickets are available at jesterstickets.com or at the stadium.