By Ron Brocato, Clarion Herald Sports
A steetcar ride down Canal Street will take passengers past a historic church parish that has been closed since 2005.
For one brief moment in time, Sacred Heart of Jesus High School, which sat next to the church at 3222 Canal, fielded a football team.
Known as the Jets, Sacred Heart was part of a district of local Class B schools in what was commonly referred to as the Riverside League.
Coached by Clendon Butera, the Jets went through the normal growing pains of a relatively new program. But in 1956, just five years after fielding its first football team, Sacred Heart had a competitive squad with such athletes as A.J. Valenti, B.J. Pecoraro, Charles and Ronnie Booksh and young Terrell Broussard.
But before the start of the season, the Riverside Athletic Association declared the school team ineligible for championship honors on the grounds that it did not have a sufficient number of league games scheduled.
It was never mentioned that five Riverside schools refused Butera’s request for games when four had open dates. Wisely, Butera filed the letters of refusal with the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s office and its commissioner, T.H. “Muddy” Waters, in Hammond.
The Riverside League consisted of Class A Newman and nine Class B teams from New Orleans Academy, Country Day, St. Martin’s, Ridgewood, St. Charles Borromeo, Belle Chasse, Buras, Port Sulphur and Sacred Heart.
Riverside chairman Wilmer Simpson based his ruling on his interpretation of the LHSAA bylaws that mandated a school play at least five league games to be eligible for championship honors as representative of the league in the state Class B playoffs.
But commissioner Waters came to the Jets’ rescue by declaring the team eligible for a playoff berth and debunking the Riverside committee’s edict.
Times-Picayune prep writer N. Charles Wicker cited the LHSAA rule (Section II, article 11, No. 7) in an October 1956, column: “In order to count district games (5) with schools in other districts and classifications as district games for championship consideration as district games, a school must have tried to get games with all schools in its district and classification, and must be able to show in writing that it has been refused these games.”
Butera had to go out of the Riverside League to find opponents that would count as district games. He scheduled Notre Dame of Biloxi (Mississippi) and St. Bernard, Slidell and John McDonogh, which was in its fifth year as a coed school. Three Riverside schools did accept games: St. Charles, Buras, St. Martin’s.
Although the league held fast to its claim that Sacred Heart would not be declared its champion, Waters exonerated the Jets and allowed them to be the district’s playoff representative if they finished first in the league standings.
That would not be an issue for Butera’s charges.
After opening the season with a 7-7 tie at Slidell, the Jets began a long victory string.
They edged Notre Dame, 7-6, before beginning their area-wide schedule.
St. Charles was no match and fell, 35-0. Buras was next and even less competitive as the Jets streaked to a 40-0 rout.
It got worse for the Riverside group that shunned Butera’s forces. Sacred Heart handed St. Martin’s and its heralded coach, Tony Porter, its first and worst loss of the season, 45-0.
McDonogh and St. Bernard, two schools with much larger enrollments, were also no match for the Jets who won by the respective scores of 39-6 and 39-7 to complete the Jets’ record season record of 6-0-1.
True to his word, Waters scheduled Sacred Heart to play Zachary in the Class B first round, a game the Jets won on the road by the score of 20-6.
But, that was the end of the line for the Canal Street school. A much more talented Donaldsonville squad ended the streak, 20-6, in the Class B championship game.
Sacred Heart fielded one more team in 1957 before becoming an all-girls’ school.
The remaining star of the ‘56 season, guard Ronnie Booksh, transferred across the street to Warren Easton, where he became an all-prep lineman and helped the Eagles in their failed quest to win a state championship in 1958.
Ron Brocato can be reached at email@example.com.