- Feature Story
- Ron Brocato
- November 05, 2013 - 8:45am
Longtime Jesuit athletic director Frank Misuraca is in his fourth year of retirement, but every now and then he cannot resist roaming the sidelines to watch a football game.
During his 45-year career as a teacher, coach, administrative assistant and AD at Carrollton and Banks, “Mizzy” had been part of the evolution of the Catholic League and its coaches’ relationship with each other and with their public school cohorts. He has experienced the joys of winning, of struggles to keep the league together and hardships Hurricane Katrina created for the city and its inhabitants.
He looked back wistfully at what he left behind with pride and admiration for friends and foes of his school.
“Our district has always been concerned with the kids and not necessarily the sport,” he noted. “We became a brotherhood of principals, athletic directors and coaches. But this brotherhood has not affected the rivalries. That’s still there and everyone wants to beat the other team.”
Misuraca pointed out that for 11 years the Catholic League awarded an All-Sports championship trophy to the school which accrued the most points in every sport in which it participated. The idea was to get all the schools to increase participation in some of the “minor” sports.
“We thought it would be good for every school, but we decided to stop it after 11 years because just two schools won it,” he said. “Jesuit won it eight years and Brother Martin three. So it only benefitted those schools and didn’t achieve what it was meant to.”
He recalled the problems the Catholic League has staying together through the many attempts to break it up by public school principals of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association.
“Most of those problems came from North Louisiana. There were a few principals who moved to schools up there from Texas, which has had a split association for years,” He continued. “And they attempted to split us up.”
The Catholic League’s relationship with New Orleans area public schools did not mirror the battles against northern principals to remain a league of its own. The local public enjoyed playing against Catholic League schools whose large attendances enhanced the much needed revenues of the public schools, whose attendance paled in comparison.
“We always had a fine relationship with the local public schools,” Misuraca said. “We were always concerned about helping everybody. So when a coach called and needed something, we’d do what we could to help him.”
Katrina changed the face of New Orleans public schools, several of which were destroyed.
The storm of 2005 also altered the face of the Catholic League. And a harder blow by the LHSAA finally accomplished what public school principals had wanted to do for years, but failed. They passed a proposal to force schools to play within a classification mandated by their enrollment figures.
Holy Cross, St. Augustine and Archbishop Shaw, all of which lost hundreds of students in the wake of Katrina were forced to drop in class. A few years earlier, De La Salle, which had been a charter member of the Catholic League since its founding in 1955, voluntarily dropped out.
“We continued to play the other Catholic schools even though they weren’t in our league anymore,” Misuraca said. “It eventually created a scheduling problem. Holy Cross, St. Aug and Shaw were playing in different districts and had to play more games within their districts than our league with just five schools remaining.”
That problem was finally rectified when, after three years of trying, former Jesuit principal Michael Giambelluca garnered enough votes to pass his proposal to allow schools to play up one class. That passage enabled Holy Cross, St. Augustine and Shaw to return to the league despite their smaller student footprints.
But nothing was more difficult that life after Katrina. The aftermath of flooding destroyed the campus at Holy Cross, nearly destroyed the campus at St. Aug, and affected every Catholic League school to some degree.
De La Salle did not flood and was a temporary home to a division of National Guard troops, which were in place to maintain order in the city, for several weeks. St. Augustine students joined St. Mary’s Academy girls to hold classes at the uptown school of Xavier Prep. The trio of mixed boys and girls called themselves the MAX.
Rummel became a coed high school, taking in girls from Archbishop Chapelle and even lending its name to the girls’ basketball team. And Shaw’s classes included displaced Catholic school students who lived on the Westbank.
And Jesuit? “I consider (president) Father Anthony McGinn the one person who most saved Jesuit,” Misuraca said. “The hurricane came and we were out of school with water still in the school. There was eight to 10 feet of water in the gym and we lost about $500,000 worth of athletic equipment. The kids were scattered all over within and outside of the state. We were running a school of about 400 students at Jesuit in Houston and another 180 at Jesuit in Dallas.
“One day Father McGinn called a meeting of the faculty who remained in New Orleans to tell us he was going to bring back the school,” Misuraca continued. “We were going to have evening classes at St. Martin’s (Episcopal) School in Metairie, and in January (2006) we would be back in our building.”
Misuraca had one request for the Jesuit priest. “I told him I thought we had to get our football program back on track, that it was very important to have something our kids.
“He told me, ‘Frank, do whatever you have to do to get the program rolling.’”
The first thing Mizzy did was to phone his head football coach, Vic Eumont, who moved to the Hollywood area of California. “I told him we were starting the football program on Monday and wanted him to coach the team. Vic had lost his home in Lakeview, but flew back, got a room at a hotel and was at practice that Monday.
What happened in the days ahead was miraculous.
“We worked out on Monday through Friday with no pads and no contact. I think we had about 40-50 kids who were still in New Orleans show up for practice. On that Saturday we played Holy Cross.”
Jesuit’s oldest rival, coached by Barry Wilson, who is Eumont’s teammate on Holy Cross’ 1963 state championship team, had returned to his alma mater in 2002. Holy Cross garnered anough students to field a team to keep the state’s longest running rivalry going.
“We operated out of a rented truck,” Misuraca recalled. That was our equipment room. Everything was owned was in that truck.” And some things the school did not own were there as well.
“Brother Martin’s AD, Barry Hebert, came to our rescue,” Mizzy added. “He lent us shoulder pads and everything we needed to dress our team and I’ll always be thankful to him and the school for doing this for us.”
The game was played on a sunny afternoon. Holy Cross won the tussle, 20-7, and Eumont and Wilson embraced at midfield when the game was over.
“There were about 3,000-4,000 people at Joe Yenni Stadium, and many had nothing to do with Jesuit or Holy Cross” Mizzy noted. “It was just a nice, sunny day and they had an activity to attend, and there was some degree of normalcy back in their lives.
“No one but the players cared who won the game. “Everyone was just happy to be there,” Misuraca said.
In the weeks ahead, Eumont was offered a head coaching job at an exclusive private school near his daughter’s home in Hollywood.
“It was an offer Vic couldn’t refuse,” Misuraca said with a smile. “He had 17 assistant coaches, the school set him up in a house in the hills and paid him a good salary. Tuition at the school was $25,000.”
How exclusive was the school? “Vic told me his tight end was Tom Hanks’ son. He said that (former Dodgers manager) Tommy Lasorda came to practice often to watch his grandson. Vic also found out that an eighth grade coach he hired was the boyfriend of actress Demi Moore and that she often attended practices, and so did Cameron Diaz, whose boyfriend at the time was also a coach.
“But the best story is the one he told me about walking his daughter’s dog one morning. He said across the street was Pamela Anderson walking her dog.”
All fond memories for a man who dedicated his life to Jesuit and Catholic League athletics.