How Hurricane Ida left a path of destruction to Louisiana high school athletics

Koki Riley Chris Singleton
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

Tommy Minton pulled up to Vandebilt Catholic High School in Houma on Monday afternoon. On the drive there, he didn't know what had been damaged during Hurricane Ida, what was left or how much work needed to be done to clean it all up.

When Minton arrived, large chunks of the outfield fence at the baseball stadium were chewed up and spit out onto the parking lot.

He then walked to the football field and saw that pieces of the scoreboard were missing. Not too far away was the locker room, now in shambles, as three holes had been punched through the roof and the floor was covered with water.

The athletic facilities are unplayable. And yet Minton, Vandebilt's football coach, considers his school fortunate.

“We have a lot of cleanup to do, but it could of been much worse," Minton said.

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Vandebilt is one of many high schools in Southeastern Louisiana that suffered damage to its athletic facilities from Hurricane Ida, a Category 4 hurricane that made landfall Sunday and caused devastation throughout the region.

“It’s terrible," South Lafourche football coach BJ Young said. "I feel like our community, school and players can’t catch a break."

Five named storms struck Louisiana in 2020, including Hurricane Laura last August, killing dozens of people and causing $17.5 billion in damage.

Vandebilt Catholic's football scoreboard in Buddy Marcello Stadium in Houma shows signs of damage after Hurricane Ida devastated the area.

'How do you recover from this?'

There were scenes similar to Vandebilt's throughout the Houma region. 

At South Terrebonne, the basketball gym had water dripping onto the hardwood floor. Both dugouts at the baseball field were missing their covers and the press box had been knocked over.

South Lafourche had damage to its gym, football field and baseball diamond. And the main gym at Ellender had damage to its roof, windows and walls. Other schools such at Thibodaux and Central Lafourche had damage to its baseball fields. 

“When you look at it, the first question is, ‘Man, how do you recover from this?’ " Minton said. "Then you start making plans on how you are going to fix it. It’s overwhelming in the beginning when you look at it.”

"This year our motto at Ellender is that 'We are stronger together,' " boys basketball coach Cornell Scott said. "I think that is so appropriate at times like these. We will need everyone to rebuild and replace."

Vandebilt Catholic High School in Houma had damage to the roof of its athletic fieldhouse after Hurricane Ida passed through the area.

The East St. John's campus in LaPlace had significant damage due to flooding.

Football coach Brandon Brown said that he had players with 4-5 feet of water in their homes. The school’s baseball and softball fields, athletic field house and football practice field were also submerged.

“The past few days since the storm has been a nightmare for the East St. John community,” Brown said. “To see so many family, friends and loved ones go through such an awful storm was very hurtful. It pained me to see so many people in our community cry out for help and there was nothing anyone could do except allow Ida to run her course.

"What’s equally painful is the thought of everyone who evacuated like myself endure the uncertainty of what we would be coming back home to or endure the pain of not knowing if their family and friends back home would make it out of the wrath of Ida."

'I’m praying they all made it out safely'

The destruction created logistical headaches for coaches throughout Southeastern Louisiana.

Some of the roads have been blocked by fallen trees and other debris, preventing coaches from seeing their own athletic facilities in person. Others are still not back in their respective towns or parishes after evacuating to places like Lafayette, Dallas, Houston and Atlanta prior to the storm.

Simply communicating with players has been difficult, as phone lines and cell phone towers are still down throughout most of the area.

“It’s very stressful," South Terrebonne football coach Archie Adams said. "I can’t sleep worrying about my players. I can’t even call and verify who is OK. The unknown is hard to deal with. I’m praying they all made it out safely.”

Many of Ellender's boys basketball players, according to Scott, lost their homes during the storm. 

"It's a tough sight to see how devastating the damage is to our school and our town," Scott said. "To hear that some of our friends lost everything is heartbreaking."

Ellender High School's basketball gym shows damage to its roof and side walls after Hurricane Ida devastated the Houma area.

Brown, like many other coaches in the area, does not know what the next steps are for his team in regard to their upcoming season. The Wildcats are considered to be one of the top football teams in Class 5A after advancing to the quarterfinals in 2020.

"We have to get in and take a look at all the damages but I’m very confident that we will play this season," Brown said. "It would be a great way to bring so joy back to our community. Our players deserve to play, our parents deserve to see their kids play and the community of St. John the Baptist Parish deserve to see some Wildcat football. So we going to keep a positive mind, stay prayed up and hopefully we are able to play."

Minton doesn't know when the Terriers will return to the field either. Vandebilt's season opener against E.D. White, and his first game as coach, was scheduled for Friday but is canceled.

Whenever they do get the chance to play, he knows his school will be stronger because of this experience.

"Right now the focus is on their families and homes,” Minton said. "We’ll all be better men because of it.

"God gives his toughest battles to His best warriors.”