De La Salle’s aspirations of winning its first football championship in its 66th year of fielding a team may have fallen two games short of its goal. But the Cavaliers did win a prize that had eluded them for the last 28 years – the CYO basketball tournament championship.
And that isn’t a bad consolation prize.
While the Cavs were playing a semifinal round game against Chalmette in the Jesuit gym, another Archdiocese of New Orleans Catholic school, St. Charles Catholic, was vying for the Division III football championship in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Comets’ prospects of defeating the champion of their district, Riverside Academy, to whom they lost by a score of 35-14 on Oct. 21, were slim at the opening kickoff. And, by the end of the first half, slim became none as the Rebels scored four second-period touchdowns to take a 34-7 lead into the halftime break.
Head coach Frank Monica’s players battled Riverside on even terms in the second half, but the damage had been done. The final score: Riverside 47, St. Charles Catholic, 20.
The weekend should be memorable for both schools.
The CYO basketball championship, won by a team that was seeded behind 2015 champion St. Paul’s and Chalmette, was quite a feat for coach Paul Kelly’s squad.
The first CYO Basketball Classic tipped off as a four-team tournament in 1950, the same year De La Salle began a varsity athletic program.
The original CYO Classic was a post-season football game in the mid-1940s that pitted the best Catholic team in the Prep League against a Catholic team from a different state. It was a big money-maker for the local Catholic Youth Organization.
But bringing in a school from Chicago or Atlanta became too costly, so the tournament organizers decided to take the sport indoors.
That made sense because, in a league of public and parochial schools, there was no other way to claim a Catholic school championship except to have a tournament among the four: St. Aloysius, Jesuit, Holy Cross and Redemptorist.
Giants of a bygone era
It didn’t take long for the Cavaliers to make their presence known under hall of fame coach Johnny Altobello. But the new school on St. Charles Avenue had to wait while Altobello coached St. Aloysius to CYO titles in 1950, 1951 and 1952.
The following year, the De La Salle administration enticed Altobello to move from St. Aloysius by offering him more money than Sacred Heart Brother Martin Hernandez. Of course, Altobello had to coach every sport, including golf.
De La Salle became an instant giant behind such athletes as Pete Gaudin, Harriman Morgan and Jimmy Harwell. All three were named CYO tournament MVPs in their senior seasons.
The first seven CYO tournament champions were coached by Altobello. The 1958 and 1965 De La Salle teams won again, with MVPs Merrill Vitter and Johnny Arthurs leading the way in those respective years.
Jordy Hultberg led the Cavaliers to the 1974 title, and Jay Fazande was the star of the school’s last win in 1988. Another CYO trophy came in 1976, but the MVP award went to Newman’s Sean Tuohy.
The 84-72 victory over John Curtis on Dec. 3 marked De La Salle’s ninth CYO championship. Only Jesuit (11) and St. Augustine (10) have more.
Two Cavaliers – Troy Nisby and Rodney Munson – were named to the All-Tournament team. But the Most Valuable Player award went to Chalmette’s Mitchell Robinson, making the 7-foot center the first player whose team did not win the championship to be named MVP since Brother Martin guard D.J. Augustin won the award in 2002.
De La Salle’s perfect football season ended in a heart-breaking 34-14 loss to Parkview Baptist just one game shy of the Division III championship game and a perfect 13-0 record for the first time in the school’s history.
Hopefully, winning the state’s oldest continually running basketball tournament was some consolation.
Heads still high in LaPlace
Another group of athletes who soldiered through disappointment are the football players from St. Charles Catholic, who tried but failed to defeat district and river parishes rival Riverside Academy for the Division III title on Dec. 2.
Riverside did lose one game this past season, to Class 5A John Ehret, 16-13, but proved to be an insurmountable problem when the Rebels defeated Parkview Baptist (the team that eliminated De La Salle), 33-28, and followed that with a 19-8 victory over another Class 5A school, Hahnville.
They finished their pre-district schedule by knocking off Plaquemine, which made it as far as the Class 4A quarterfinal round. The Rebs were two touchdowns better, 34-20.
Having beaten St. Charles Catholic by three touchdowns in their District 9-2A regular-season game, Riverside sent a message. Coach Monica tried to ignore it as he prepped his 11-2 team for an opportunity to win the school’s first state title since 2011 in the Superdome rematch.
Both teams were on a mission. Although it was once king of the old independent LISA league, Riverside had not won a football championship as a member of the LHSAA.
That changed abruptly in the second period when the Rebels put 27 points on the scoreboard en route to a 47-20 victory.
Riverside may have taken home the championship trophy, but the Comets’ effort against daunting odds is something the players and coaches can be proud of.
Ron Brocato can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.