Logistics to hold title games in Dome immense

Fed up with what he considered the humbug of having to travel from the northwest corner of Louisiana to New Orleans to play for a football championship, former Haynesville coach Alton “Red” Franklin once commented that the LHSAA should go back to holding title games at the home fields of the higher seeds.

Outdoors …

Regardless of the weather in early December …

In stadiums with limited seating capacity.

That’s the way it had been since the Louisiana High School Athletic Association began to hold championship games in 1926 until the 1978  Class 4A title game between St. Augustine and Jesuit played inside the Louisiana Superdome attracted nearly 50,000 spectators.

That game, won by St. Augustine, 13-7, attracted the eyes of LHSAA commissioner Tommy Henry and Superdome director of public relations Bill Curl.

Three years later, negotiations between Superdome Management Group (SMG) and the LHSAA were finalized. The Lions’ Club of New  Orleans was the title sponsor.

That ushered in a new era, one that has lasted 36 years. With the exception of 2005 when a major hurricane rendered the Dome inoperable, the now-named Mercedes-Benz Superdome has been the home of the Prep Classic.

Its most recent title sponsor is the civic-minded Allstate Sugar Bowl, whose offices are in the confines of the Dome.

Indoor titles catching on

During a logistical meeting between SMG and LHSAA execs on Oct. 5, Terence Williams noted that while he was a football coach in Texas, that state (like most others) played their football finals in outdoor high school or college stadiums.

“There was a game going on in Dallas, one in Houston and games in other parts of the state at the same time.

“Today, Texas has followed our lead and plays all its championship games indoors on the same weekend.”

Williams, an assistant executive director of the LHSAA, now oversees the Classic game. He replaces B.J. Guzzardo, who retired earlier this year.

Louisiana took the lead, and other states with large, indoor facilities may soon follow.

In all due respect to Franklin, a hall of fame coach with 11 state championships in the 35 years he coached Haynesville High, playing outdoors in a small stadium may be convenient for him because his team was most always the higher seed and would be host.

But I remember trying to take photos of the 2005 Class 2A title game between St. Charles Catholic and John Curtis in Independence Stadium while my hands were shaking.

The temperature that weekend in Shreveport, where the LHSAA moved the championship games, was 28 degrees.

Playing a football game in a high school stadium is simpler than playing in the Dome.

The LHSAA expenses would most likely be confined to paying the nine officials (seven field and two clock operators), security and emergency personnel.

Item-by-item checklist

The logistics involved in staging the nine title games over three days in the Dome are much more elaborate and time-sensitive.

The LHSAA personnel will move their equipment into the Dome two days before the event, in this case, on Dec. 5 for games on Dec. 7-9.

On Dec. 6, team practices will begin. Media with credentials, LHSAA, Coaching Association cardholders and college coaches will be admitted to practice sessions on each of the three days.

  • Gates and entrances: Separate entrances are assigned for general suites, handicapped patrons, VIP ticketholders and workers; for coaches, All-Academic recipients and will call; and for teams, bands and cheerleaders and media with credentials. Military and law enforcement personnel in uniform may use any entrance.
  • Suites and rooms: Three suites will be set up for sponsors and LHSAA executive committee members. Special guests will have access to the Stadium Club. The St. Charles Club will be used as the coaches’ hospitality room, and the LHSAA will occupy the Star Suites as its office for the event.
  • Field set-up: High school markings will replace the professional striping. The hashmarks must be changed. The team boxes moved from the 20-yard line to between the 25-yard lines.

High school goalposts will replace the pro posts. Hardline and wireless field microphones are made available to coaches and officials.

Promotional banners will be hung and the LHSAA logo painted on the field.

  • Dressing rooms and seating configuration:  Four team dressing rooms and one for the contest officials will be set up convenient to the field.
  • Auto and bus parking: Areas adjacent to the Dome will be set up for team and support group buses, spectator buses and motor homes.

The Dome personnel have worked out parking to accommodate both the football crowd and fans attending a Pelicans basketball game at the Smoothie King Center that evening.

  • Press box operations: Radio stations covering the games will find their booths set up for live broadcasts. IT personnel will be on standby in the event of communication problems.

There will be no programs available this year. Rosters and records may be downloaded from the LHSAA site following the semifinal round games.

Statisticians will provide statistics, which will be  distributed to the attending media at the end of each period. A final book will be ready following player interviews.

Home and visiting team coaches have private rooms on Level 7 of the pressbox.

Level 3 is set up to accommodate the electric clock operators, public address announcer and video booths for each of the competing schools.

  • Food services: The LHSAA provides buffet meals and drinks to media in the pressbox, staffed by Superdome food service workers.
  • Interview room: The East Bunker is a theater-style room in which the media may interview coaches and selected players from each team following the post-game award presentations on the field.

As you can see, holding nine championship games in one venue requires a great deal of coordination. But they have been doing so successfully for four decades to the comfort of prep football fans in a cushy, 72-degree stadium. Game times each day will be at noon, 3:30 and 7 p.m.

The Division title games are set for 3:30 and 7 p.m. on Dec. 7 (IV and III); 3:30 on Dec. 8 (II) and noon on Dec. 9 (I).

Ron Brocato can be reached at rbrocato@clarionherald.org.

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