Annual Chris Waddell Day brings memories for St. Mary’s principal
NATCHITOCHES – Nineteen years later, Jason Lachica remembers that rainy March morning in New Orleans.
“We had a ninth-grade baseball game at 9 that morning at Archbishop Rummel,” said Lachica, the second-year principal at St. Mary’s Catholic School. “It rained, so we’re at Rummel and we’re rained out. We’re scooting back to the gym to get to the service. The St. Claude Bridge is real, real thin. When you come over the St. Claude Bridge, you make an immediate right (to go to Holy Cross’ old campus), and I remember passing the bus and not even realizing what was going on. I remember making the turn and looking back and watching the Northwestern State University bus make the right turn. We pulled in the parking lot, and I remember the players getting off and coming in.”
The Demons were there to memorialize their fallen teammate Chris Waddell, a redshirt freshman who died March 1, 2004, on the field at Turpin Stadium while preparing for a spring practice.
Nineteen years later, Lachica stood in the gym at St. Mary’s on Wednesday morning watching members of the Northwestern State football team carry on the legacy of their predecessor during the team’s annual Chris Waddell Day of community service. Members of the Demon football team and coaching staff spent the day visiting six elementary and middle schools in Natchitoches and also hosted a group of younger children on the field at Turpin Stadium.
Nearly two decades after his death, Waddell’s legacy is safe and continues to resonate in and around both his hometown and his collegiate home.
“We’re basically guys from the same city, having the same dream, wanting the same things,” said wide receiver Jaheim Walters, a New Orleans product who attended St. Augustine High School. “Since he’s gone, I live it for him on the field, giving back to schools, whatever it is. Even coming here to St. Mary’s and meeting coach Jason, he coached at Holy Cross when Chris was there. It brings a bond from the Catholic League. Holy Cross, St. Aug, we’re all one.”
Lachica, a Chalmette native, was the ninth-grade baseball coach at Holy Cross when he first met Waddell, typically making small talk with the offensive lineman who played alongside one of Lachica’s cousins.
Their connection began in large part because of geography – Lachica’s baseball team practiced at the track where Waddell was a thrower. Three years later, news of Waddell’s passing sent shockwaves through the Holy Cross community and opened Lachica’s eyes – those same eyes that fought back tears nearly two decades later when he recounted his Holy Cross-based connection with Waddell.
“Things happen when you’re younger, and you don’t realize the magnitude,” Lachica said. “When you’re an adult – even in the infancy of your adulthood – you start seeing how those things change. I never saw a community rally around a tragedy before until that.”
As Lachica recalled watching the Demons enter Waddell’s memorial service, he thought one thing: “Merging families.”
That merger remains strong today, including Demons from all over the greater New Orleans area.
“It definitely means more to me,” said freshman linebacker Tory Morgan, an Edna Karr alum who participated in his first Chris Waddell Day. “I feel like this should be everywhere in the world. What we’re doing, we’re inspiring kids to follow better footsteps, follow better examples. This day is very special.
“I didn’t know anything until coach (Brad) Laird sat us down and talked about all the hard work he put in, how he passed away. All we can do is admire him and do good for the community.”
While Laird was on the Demon staff and on the field when Waddell collapsed on the Turpin Stadium turf, numerous NSU players on the current roster had not been born. The work NSU provides during Chris Waddell Day – along with the Chris Waddell Memorial Award, which is give yearly to a walk-on who best exemplifies the effort, unselfishness, leadership and character of the namesake award.
As Chris Waddell Day nears its 20th anniversary, its ability to bind together generations of Demons grows while keeping in mind Waddell’s spirit, something Lachica felt Tuesday morning.
“As Catholics, we’re faith-based people,” he said. “We understand people walk with us every day. Just because they’re not here physically doesn’t mean they’re not here spiritually. What (defensive coordinator) Coach (Weston Glaser) said in there, Chris knew at a very early age about his condition (Kawasaki disease).
“He embraced that. Living life to the fullest. He took every day as a gift. I can picture him sitting in there smiling, watching what’s going on. That’s some good stuff. As a community, we need this.”
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