The war and my remembrance

On the day I was born, the dreadnoughts on Ford Island’s battleship row were still afloat.

Eight months later, the infamous day that the Imperial Japanese Navy sent the might of the Pacific fleet to the bottom of the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor, the United States was thrown into a world war it had tried to avoid.

Through my next four formative years, the conversations of adults related to the war. That was all I knew.

I learned the names Mac­Arthur, Eisenhower, Mussolini, Hitler and Tojo before I learned basic math. But those hard times taught me to appreciate history, and I still faintly recall some memorable events of my early life.

… Like sitting on the Lake Pontchartrain seawall near the amusement park watching planes take off and land at the Naval Air Station, where the University of New Orleans’ original campus lies.

I had a front-row seat of Navy pilots flying mock dogfights against each other over the lake.

… Like the nightly blackouts that frightened me to think Germans and Japanese might attack us at any time.

Ever since, I’ve studied history more than any other subject. My editors probably wish I had studied English  with such fervor.

Also, at a young age I watched my first high school football game, and became as fascinated by the history of the schoolboys’ game as much as the events of Normandy, Okinawa and Hiroshima.

There are 38 high schools in the three parishes that I consider New Orleans. All have their own histories, as brief or timeless as they may be. But the most written about are the rivalries of Jesuit vs. Warren Easton and Jesuit vs. Holy Cross.

The former, which dates back to 1913 (or 1894 if you choose to count the years before eligibility rules kicked in), was renewed on Aug. 30 when Easton opened the football season with a 27-14 victory over the Blue Jays.

The latter, which began when Holy Cross fielded its first team in 1922, will take place on Sept. 28 for the 97th time.

History is timeless

As it has enjoyed since the renewal of the long rivalry on a regular basis in 2015, Easton had few problems stopping Jesuit’s offense on the Tad Gormley Stadium turf last Thursday. 

The Eagles have won three of the last four meetings and hold a series advantage of 25-21-4.

An account of a “game” played between the two schools’ predecessors on Dec. 22, 1894, lies in the Jesuit archives. It traces the first encounter several years before Easton received its formal name and when Jesuit included both secondary and college curricula.

The story reads:

“Yesterday afternoon, before several hundred people, the elevens from the Boys’ High School and the Jesuit College struggled for victory on the field of the Southern Athletic Club. The Jesuits were clearly out-played, and after a hard defensive game, time was called, with the score of 8 to 0 in favor of the Boys’ High School.

“The two teams were composed of young students, rather light in weight and inexperienced. But among the 22 players there were several who give promise of becoming excellent football players in a few years.”

The article goes on to read:

“The Jesuits appeared before the public high school team for the first time as football men, while the high school team has gained considerable knowledge from their game a few weeks ago with the freshmen of Tulane University.”

The 8-0 score reflects the rules of the primitive game of  which touchdowns counted as four points apiece.

When the two next met in 1901, there were less than a handful of schools in the city that fielded organized teams. They found opponents in local club teams and a few local private schools.

“Holy Cross College” mustered enough interest to play one game, against a club team named the East End Eagles. It was a team of players as much as four years older than Holy Cross’ boys. The squadmen had played together for two years with no change whatsoever in its lineup.

In a game with 10-minute halves, Holy Cross fell to experience, 20-5, and the players put whatever uniforms they had away for good.

At the turn of the century, the state’s oldest public school had not yet borne the name Warren Easton. It was known simply as Boys High.Boys High opened the season with a 6-0 victory over the Southern Athletic Club’s junior team. Two days later, and with little fanfare, the public school met Jesuit in a somewhat organized game on the Tulane campus. Boys High won the game, 28-0. And, no, I didn’t cover it.

The rivalry remained on an informal basis for the next 10 years until the public school received its name (1913) and the Jesuits opened Loyola University in 1904. When the Catholic League was formed in 1955, the city’s first annual rivalry took a long hiatus. 

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

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