A friend of mine wrote that it made no sense, what he had seen there, the place still in ruins, as if Katrina had happened a day ago rather than a year ago. His blog entry read:
“You wonder why our country spends billions and billions of dollars to help foreign people, to rebuild a third-world country, to fight and to kill and to spread our perfect form of government when we have something right here in our own backyard that needs so much.”
So I called Ben Franklin High School. It's Louisiana's No. 1 academic high school, a proud place hard by Lake Pontchartrain, maybe a mile from a levee that gave way during the hurricane and let floodwaters loose on the city.
On the phone, Franklin football coach Charles Firneno warned me: “Hang on a second. I'm about to blow my whistle.”
Then came a shrill trill sounding its order to stop the foolin’ around and do what I tell you, which in this case meant that the coach, in a voice authoritative, explained to his P.E. students: “You need to be in your seats.”
A year ago, after the hurricane, the old U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilot had tied a surgical mask around his face to do work he had never imagined.
A year ago, when Katrina destroyed his blocking sleds and tackling dummies and helmets and all the footballs, Firneno had walked into the school with its principal, Carol Christen, who would describe the scene:
“I met Charlie at the school, and we went in through the front door. There was floodwater everywhere. So still. Nothing alive. A terrible smell.”
At every turn she saw despair in nuclear-winter shades of brown and gray. “So hot, so lifeless, so devastating,” Christen says. She saw mud, muck and mold. The school she loved, she saw it dying. “I burst into tears.”
Not for long. The second and third floors were undamaged. “My spirits lifted. Charlie and I began plotting.”
While the coach directed cleanup crews of parents and teachers, the principal devised a legalistic end run around a bureaucracy that would have closed the school all year. On Jan. 17, 2006, the 300th birthday of Benjamin Franklin, the school was again open, alive.
It had lost its football season, but football is no big deal there. In a student population of 628 — down from 936 before Katrina — girls outnumber boys almost 2-1. It's also true, as Christen herself puts it with pride, that Franklin is “known as ‘the nerdy school.’ ”
Still, when you're a football player, even at Franklin, no football is bad news. “A major bummer,” says Andrew Butler, a junior tight end/defensive end. “There'd been a lot of hype for our season, so it was really a letdown.”
“We were going to have a great team, great,” says the team captain, senior lineman Dwayne Arceneaux. “We were going to change all the things that people said about us. To not get that chance, it was crushing.”
This spring, 15 players reported to football practice. “We'd lost half our shoulder pads to the hurricane,” Firneno says, adding wryly, “but that was OK because we'd lost half our players, too.”
Now, with families returning to New Orleans, Firneno's roster is up to 30-plus for Franklin's season opener Sept. 1.
“As I drive to school through the neighborhood,” the principal says, “I realize we have not come very far. I try to ignore it, but it's hard, real hard, and I can't let it get me down, OK? But it doesn't seem like anything has been done.”
I mentioned to Carol Christen what my friend said about billions spent around the world while New Orleans hangs on for dear life.
Her voice, weary: “Isn't that what I said?”
Kentucky Derby champion Animal Kingdom was unable to go out a winner, fading quickly in the Queen Anne Stakes on Tuesday in his last race before retirement.
CBT: Kansas commit Andrew Wiggins impressed in his first workout with the Jayhawks.
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) - A service organization outing for fathers and sons to a Baltimore Orioles game didn't stop Davie Jane Gilmour from joining her dad at the ballpark when she was a little girl.