A Game of Gentlemen
Class in session in the Superdome tonight
“Where’d you go to high school?” is a question most New Orleanians will ask within seconds of being introduced to someone. It’s perplexing to outsiders, but, as awful as it sounds, where you went to school provides a quick, approximate, if generalized, glimpse at your socio-economic background, where you were raised and which people may have had a hand in your development. That last point is especially true on the grid-iron, where New Orleanians have had a love affair with prep football long before the NFL or the Saints were even a thought.
Local sports writer Ron Brocato’s The Golden Game: When Prep Football was King in New Orleans, is the definitive history on local high school ball. Published in 2002, Brocato may need to add another chapter after tonight’s LHSAA Division I state championship football game between Jesuit and John Curtis. It’s a dream match-up between a traditional power – Jesuit has been teaching young men for more than 150 years – against newer, yet highly decorated, power, John Curtis, which is celebrating 50 years in session.
Tonight high school football enthusiasts will rightfully focus on the boys playing on the field, but much respect must be given to the men leading them.
Jesuit’s Mark Songy took over as head coach of the team in July, three weeks before the semester began, after a decade away from the sideline in pharmaceutical sales. The former Brother Martin offensive lineman, who played under legendary coach Bobby Conlin, took a team that finished 6-6 last year to an 11-2 record and its first shot at a state championship since 1978. The Blue Jays go to the Superdome after defeating previously unbeaten Archbishop Rummel (ranked 12 nationally coming into the game) 28-14 in last Saturday night’s semifinal at Tad Gormley Stadium for their first win against the Raiders in 17 contests.
Across the field from Songy will be J. T. Curtis, who is seeking his fifth straight state championship and 27th overall. The Patriots return to the Superdome after beating north Louisiana powerhouse Evangel. Curtis’ resume is astounding – more than 500 wins and 25 state titles in 44 years coaching, as well as 2012 National Champions and USA Today Coach of the Year. Since 1975, every football player at Curtis who participated as a freshman and completed his four years has played on a state championship team.
But for all of the accolades, both men are far more worried about the people they influence rather than the numbers their players produce. Songy’s philosophy as a mentor is simple. “It’s great to win games,” he says, “but if the kid’s not a better man by the time he’s left your program, you’ve failed him.”
Curtis, who has a Master's in educational administration from Loyola University, is not only his school’s football coach, but also its headmaster. He is one of just a handful of football coaches – college, prep or professional – to win 500 games. He’s had overtures to coach at the collegiate and professional levels, yet continues to turn down offers to teach high school kids the fundamentals about the game of football and the game of life.
Tonight’s LHSAA Division I state championship football game is a dream matchup of powerhouse prep football programs. While one team will be crowned state football champion, all will walk off the field winners for being led by men like Curtis and Songy.
Game time is Friday night at 8:30 p.m.
John Curtis football state championships (26) – 1975, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013
Jesuit football state championships (7) – 1933, 1940, 1941, 1943, 1946, 1953, 1960