Ken’s Takeaways: Reunified LHSAA state football championships prove to be a success

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Many-Union Parish
(Photo: Stephen Lew)

It was a marathon but it was a good race. It was worth the ride and it was worth the wait.

Seeing all Louisiana prep football schools reunited as one and together in the same venue was positive and it was welcome.

Of course, it is still not the desired result I still hope and even pray for but it is a first step, an improvement.

Nine state championships is a state with under 300 football playing schools was absurd.

Eight state championships is definitely an improvement, though it is still too many, way too many championships.

That said, we had more compelling games that felt like real championship games as compared to what we have witnessed in recent years.

Select schools correctly exercised their right to stage separate championships in recent years.

The venues were good, particularly in basketball and baseball, with the latter actually playing in better venues than their counterparts.

In the process of doing so, those schools made significant monies, more than being together.

That said, being together is clearly the best option.

Those on the Select side of the argument would argue that while the championships this past weekend were together, the organization remains apart and that is a correct assertion.

While more schools were placed in the Select category by the LHSAA and its Executive Committee this time around, there are still eight classes and separate championships.

Under the current alignment, those benefitting the most are traditional, district or zone-specific public schools and private schools, an unusual, or, as a school friend called it this past weekend, an unholy alliance.

Some public schools placed on the Select side of the equation are not pleased with the new world order while others are okay with it.

What is to come will be intriguing, to say the least.

As for this past weekend in the Ceasars Superdome, here are my takeaways:

The overall event was a clear success.

The only complaints I heard were from some participating teams regarding not being allowed to have the traditional walk-through practice prior to the title games on the floor of the Dome and from some regarding the use of instant replay to review calls made on the field by officials.

It would certainly be beneficial for teams to get a walk-through practice in the cavernous facility as all of their predecessors did, prior to this year.

With regard to replay, the fact that it is not utilized at any other time, in any other games outside of championship games is an issue for some coaches. So is the amount of time replay takes to find a solution. Lastly, the lack of enough good angles upon review is another issue mentioned frequently.

It is a healthy debate as to whether replay is good or not. Ultimately, you want to see the call be correct. Ultimately, if the angles are not there to make it correct, there is a reason for concern. Ultimately, if you do not like using it for title games when not utilized at any other time is a legitimate point.

Having everyone play together, in one venue, continuously and in succession, was a good thing for fans, media and players.

Playing in a controlled environment was a real plus as well.

Having an enormous, indoor parking garage was a real plus for patrons.

As for the games, the Select Division II championship was the best game with the Select Division III game a very close second.

In both games, the use of a successful onside kick proved decisive for St. Thomas More and St. Charles Catholic.

The theory of never choosing to succeed a legend was challenged, if not disproved, on two fronts in the Caesars Superdome.

Frank Monica was one of the very best coaches in Louisiana football history.

Despite coaching at the college level at Tulane for many years, Monica still amassed 284 victories and a state title at St. Charles Catholic after also winning an LHSAA state title at Lutcher.

Monica retired after the 2020 season and handed over the keys to the program to his nephew, Wayne Stein.

All Stein has done is to win state championships in two consecutive seasons after overcoming Dunham 32-28 in the Select Division III state championship game.

Stein is down to earth in all facets and his attention to detail mirrors that of his uncle. The results have followed.

St. Charles Catholic is and has never been the biggest or fastest team on the field in the eight state championship games it has reached.

The Comets simply outwork opponents and always make opponents beat them, never beating themselves.

It took until 2016 for legendary coach Jim Hightower to finally win a state championship at St. Thomas More.

Now, he has won four championships and 460 games, the second most in Louisiana prep football history. Those four titles have come in the last seven seasons.

Perseverance, hard work, an excellent staff and excellent players ultimately prevailed and that was the case again in the 52-48 victory over Lafayette Christian Saturday.

Of course, J.T. Curtis is the winningest coach in Louisiana prep football history and now, Curtis has won 27 official state championships and he now has 615 wins in his illustrious career.

Curtis, who just turned 76 last week, is now just six wins away from tying John McKissick of Summerville High (South Carolina) to become the all-time winningest coach in United States prep football history.

Here is hoping he gets the chance to achieve that incredible goal to become the best of the best.

Curtis has nothing else to prove.

If he walked away now, his legacy is secure as the best this state has ever seen.

Kudos to Mark Bonis for finally getting his Brother Martin Crusaders to a title game. It could not happen to a better person, who has endured enormous family health hardships over the past five years.

Steven Fitzhugh has cemented himself as one of the best coaches our state has seen.

Fitzhugh won his sixth championship at Ouachita Christian with a 28-14 victory over Vermilion Catholic in the Non-Select Division IV title game.

Fitzhugh now has 240 victories to go with the six state titles. The 240 wins places him 27th all-time in Louisiana history and he is far from finished.

Fitzhugh is also one of the best persons to deal with in the industry, a class act.

Speaking of outstanding coaches, Dennis Dunn fills the bill.

The leader of Denny Duron’s Evangel Eagles dynasty, Dunn won nine championships with “The E.”

He was a fine head coach at Woodlawn of Shreveport and at Pineville as well.

Dunn proved his mettle at Louisiana College for 11 seasons, leading that program to a 65-45 mark.

Had he remained on the prep level, his win total, now at 234 victories, would be significantly higher.

Dunn did a masterful job this season, guiding North DeSoto to the Non-Select Division II state championship game, falling to Lutcher 28-25.

It was the first time the Griffins reached the semifinals, much less a final, in school history.

Lutcher wins state football title
(Photo: Beau Brune)

Dwain Jenkins solidified his status as a superb coach as well, winning at Lutcher for a second time.

Jenkins, a Lutcher alumnus, won in his first season on the job in 2016 but a lull in the program’s success led him to question whether he was the correct man for the job.

He is, without a doubt, that man, a bulldog of a competitor and the perfect man for the job at his alma mater, which now has nine state championships, tied for fifth most in Louisiana history.

Marcus Scott is a low-key, measured, marvelous coach.

In three seasons at Destrehan, Scott has posted an amazing 36-3 record.

He now has a state championship to add to that impressive record after a 17-10 win over Ruston in the Non-Select Division I state championship game.

Scott, who played at Jesuit and has been a successful head coach at West Jefferson and John Ehret, is in the right place at the right time, with an outstanding program and with an outstanding school system which supports its schools.

Scott, who took over for a legendary coach in Steve Robicheaux, also proved that you can succeed a legend and succeed.

Jess Curtis is a congenial, very likeable, accommodating person and coach.

His Many program now has, if you pardon the pun, many titles.

The Tigers and Curtis claimed their third state championship, whipping Union Parish 35-13 in the Non-Select Division III title game.

Curtis has also led the Tigers to three other championship games, with all of the titles and runner-up finishes coming since 2013.

Tackett Curtis has a great future at USC. His uncle will most certainly miss him next year but for those competitors, do not get any grand illusion of Many going anywhere as it pertains to being a championship contender.

Curtis has the program on very solid ground, in the family tradition of his father.

Oak Grove stamped itself as one of the very best programs in the state as well with its 17-0 victory over a defending state champion in Homer.

Ryan Gregory has now won three state championships at his alma mater, winning three titles in the last four seasons, continuing the tradition of his former coach and mentor, Vic Dalrymple, who won four state championships with the Tigers.

I knew Oak Grove would be the team to beat when the Tigers went to Kentwood and took out the Kangaroos 20-14 in the quarterfinals.

No one can mistake the excellence of River Parish football.

All three River Parish teams reaching state championship games won their title contests.

Every River Parish school has won at least one state championship with East St. John and Riverside Academy having one LHSAA title.

West St. John has four championships, St. James and Destrehan have five championships, Hahnville has six titles and, as mentioned, Lutcher has nine.

There is a bond among those schools from St. Charles Parish, St. James Parish and St. John the Baptist Parish being one, together in a common cause and with a tremendous sense of regional pride.

The operative word is together.

The operative thought is finding common ground.

The operative goal should be the greater good, what is best for the student-athletes, not what opinionated adults, some with axes to grind feel.

Student-athletes in Louisiana would like the opportunity to compete with each other, as in all of each other.

There are logical, genuine reasons for the split which occurred in 2013 and I respect all points of view but to insinuate that private schools are the only ones which use undue influence to attract the best athletes is, by any measure, an insult to one’s intelligence.

As I have stated on many, many occasions, finding solutions to work together and compete together should be the operative solution.

Putting a cap on the percentage of financial aid schools can provide to student-athletes would certainly be worth looking at.

As I have stated on many, many occasions, if you cap financial aid, the student-athlete that a school seeks may not be able to afford the private school would simply attend a public school, at least, theoretically.

School choice is a right and it is welcome and correct.

The choice to compete separately or together is the choice of schools and their administrators.

Those that actually compete do not have a say in the matter. They just do what they are told to do.

The 2022 Ochsner Football LHSAA Prep Classic was a success and it was welcome. It was great to have everyone together.

Hopefully, that is a step toward further unification.

Of course, I will not hold my breath on that front.

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

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