Two Years After Katrina
Sports played a special role in the early stages of the New Orleans recovery, but beyond the Superdome, in battered, depopulated areas such as the Lower Ninth Ward, there is a great need to get the city's at-risk youth back in play
Posted: Tuesday August 21, 2007 12:03PM; Updated: Tuesday August 21, 2007 12:11PM
You in?" It's the query posed to anyone who would be in the game, an exhortation rich with resolve and checked guts. It's essentially what New Orleanians with a rebuilder's heart have been asking one another for most of the two years since the greatest natural disaster in U.S. history sent 40 billion gallons of water into their city, rinse-cycled homes and lives, and withdrew to lay bare its work.
You in? If you are, you inhabit a city transformed. Sports after Hurricane Katrina is a world in which New Orleans Saints stage clinics in FEMA trailer parks, and New Orleans Hornets raise drywall, and high school coaches block out plays in cafeterias for want of football fields -- while the foundation begun by late NFL star Reggie White paradoxically offers the public service of house demolition.
It's a world in which baseball diamonds are hard to come by, but the spray-painted hieroglyphics of search-and-rescue teams still adorn the facades of houses, like notations on baseball scorecards, indicating the number of dead bodies found inside.
It's a world in which insurance companies suddenly seem to underwrite every sporting event in town -- and homeowners fume, believing that Allstate (sponsor of the Sugar Bowl, this season's BCS championship game, and holder of a Patron Saint stake in the local NFL franchise) and State Farm (with the Bayou Classic and the Louisiana high school football championships) are trying to deflect attention from the meager settlements and trebled premiums that keep even those who want to rebuild from coming home to do so.
It's a world in which the NCAA is exposed as actually having a heart, for the Inspector Javerts of Indianapolis have suspended some of their rules -- on extra benefits for athletes and on standards to qualify for Division I status -- at Tulane and the University of New Orleans.
It's a world in which the Saints sell every season ticket and corporate suite, as citizens and businesses still in town try to make sure that Katrina won't become a pretext for the team's long-feared departure.
It's a world in which Alfred Lawless High, once the pride of the Lower Ninth Ward, stands like Pompeii Tech, neither razed nor rebuilt, just suspended in time by the lava flow of the floodwater. What became of the boy who wore helmet number 34, which as of a month ago still sat in locker 827? And that girls' basketball jersey moldering outside the gym -- is its owner piecing her life back together in Houston or Baton Rouge? On the blackboard of an English classroom, still: AUGUST 29, 2005, DO NOW: SIGN IN. WRITE A PARAGRAPH WITH THE FOLLOWING WORDS: SAINTS, PRESEASON, FOOTBALL, RUNNING BACK .