Resuming Sports, Student Council Seen as Help to Katrina Recovery
Educators across the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast are helping many thousands of student evacuees take part in sports and other aspects of campus life—activities that can help students and communities return to the rhythms of daily life.
Glen East, the superintendent of the 6,200-student Gulfport, Miss., district, said high school football games are especially important in the region, where they often are the largest gatherings in many towns during the fall.
Playing games again will return “some normalcy in a community,” said Mr. East, who estimated his district would open classes in early to mid-October. “It is something that can keep us together.”
Louisiana has waived sports-eligibility rules for displaced students, allowing them to join teams at their new schools, said Mac Chauvin, an assistant commissioner of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, based in Baton Rouge. Other states, such as South Carolina, have relaxed eligibility rules to allow displaced Gulf Coast-area students to join sports teams.
The Mississippi High School Activities Association announced late last week that such rules had been relaxed only for displaced students from Louisiana, however. Displaced Mississippi students would have to wait at least a week before districts would allow them to be eligible to play elsewhere in the state, according to the association’s Web site.
“A lot of our kids are going to Mississippi, and a lot of Mississippi kids are over here,” said Mr. Chauvin, who estimated that about one-fifth of Louisiana public schools had seen their athletic programs put on hold by Hurricane Katrina and the flooding that resulted. “They’re just scattered all over the world, man.”
Allowing displaced students to take part in school activities does not mean sports teams can chase after star athletes, which would violate league rules in virtually every state against recruiting such students, officials noted.
Mr. Chauvin warned that league officials can disqualify or fine any school proven to have recruited displaced students improperly.
“We’ve investigated it as much as we can, and if we catch anybody doing it, we’re going to enforce the penalties,” he said.
Four students who had attended New Orleans-area schools have joined the football team, and another student was planning to play basketball, at Alexandria Senior High School in Alexandria, La., said J.L. “Butch” Stoker, the football coach and athletics director at the school, about 200 miles northwest of New Orleans.
One new football player, a senior, remains hopeful that he can earn a college scholarship, Mr. Stoker said.
“We’re doing everything we can to help them,” the coach said. “You don’t get those high school years back.”
Mississippi’s 13,300-student Harrison County district, which mainly surrounds Gulfport and Biloxi, planned to resume a marching-band practice last week, despite having at least three schools severely damaged by the hurricane late last month. Other schools in less-affected areas were opening and reviving sports and other school-based activities as power, water, and gas availability were restored.
Carrolyn Hamilton, the superintendent of the 3,300-student Long Beach, Miss., schools, said football games already were on her mind, even as she worried about how to pay employees and how to reopen schools.
Putting sports and other activities back on track won’t be easy, considering the wide displacement of students on the Gulf Coast, said Paul A. Tisdale, the superintendent of the 6,200-student Biloxi, Miss., schools.
“Can you find our players? Can you get them back?” he asked.
Private and religiously affiliated schools also were making room for displaced students.
“If they played sports, we’re letting them play sports. If they were first chair in strings,” then they can compete for the same level in the school orchestra, said Jackie Berthelot, the student-activities director at the 780-student St. Michael the Archangel High School in Baton Rouge, La.
Two displaced students have been elected to the student council at the Roman Catholic school, she said. The school has enrolled some 200 evacuees and was planning a night school for 1,100 others displaced by the storm, she added.
John Guidroz, the director of the Louisiana Christian School Athletic Association, said three of his league’s 13 schools were lost to the storm and flooding. His own school, the 435-student Lafayette Christian Academy, has added about 30 students from local shelters who had attended storm-damaged Christian schools.
Several of the newcomers are playing football and volleyball, said Mr. Guidroz, who coaches football and teaches physical education and Bible classes.
“We’re not going to turn a kid down because they can’t get their birth certificate,” he said.
Students also are finding their way into music programs and other activities at their new schools.
Student Council, Band
Jennifer Sills, the assistant band director at Clinton High School in Clinton, Miss., said a new 8th grader had arrived last week at the 1,050-student school, just west of Jackson.
“She plays the clarinet, and her instrument was lost” in the storm, said Ms. Sills. She added that her school still expects an influx of students to arrive because of the hurricane.
Teenagers who participated in student government at their old schools have been invited to join student council activities at Louisiana’s Thibodaux High School, said Beth David, a guidance counselor and student council adviser at the 1,600-student school, about 60 miles east of New Orleans.
Thibodaux High has accepted more than 100 students from the New Orleans area and expects more, Ms. David said. The student council was offering school tours for the new students, and other campus groups were providing school uniforms and holding fund-raisers such as carwashes and a skating night, she said.
Many of the families displaced to the town of Thibodaux came from the Superdome and the New Orleans convention center, which had sheltered thousands of people who were unable to evacuate the city before the storm. Last week, they were living in gyms and other buildings at Nicholls State University, Ms. David said.
“Their life has been a living hell,” she said, adding that her students were trying to help the newcomers have “a sense of being a person again.”
Vol. 25, Issue 04, Page 21