As playoffs continue, St. James Wildcats provide season of optimism for storm-battered region
BATON ROUGE - As temperatures dropped Thursday night, fans of the St. James Wildcats stirred pots of gumbo and jambalaya and moved to music wafting from speakers ahead of the school's playoff game versus Madison Prep.
Even before taking the field, the team and its fans had plenty to celebrate. Just getting on the football field this year was an accomplishment after Hurricane Ida decimated the area.
The storm upended the Wildcats' schedule and pushed back the start of the season. When the team was finally able to take the field, it was with helmets and shoulder pads donated from Jennings High School.
"Surreal to say the least, not knowing what we'd have for these kids, whether we would play, not play, who we'd play at that given moment," A.J. Mahler, whose son kicks for St. James, said. "Here we are, [the] second round of the playoffs, ready to move forward."
The ongoing recovery effort did not stop a large crowd of fans from making the trip to Baton Rouge. This football season has proved to be a great distraction from the harsh realities of the aftermath of the category four storm.
"River parish football is king," Shawn Preston, dad of a Wildcats wide receiver, said. Even in the midst of trials and tribulations, the idea that you can get back to Friday night football in the river parish[es,] it brought individuals just an opportunity to get a release."
The focus remains on winning the games, but long before any of this season's contests have gone final, the Wildcats have already claimed victory by rallying a community.
"It kind of gave people, you know, that needed push that they need, maybe, to push through Monday through Thursday, just to get that outlet on a Friday," Preston said.
The community, in turn, has turned out for each game.
"To be able to pack a stadium this year, and especially to give something back to the community and have them come out following Ida, it was a sense of normalcy for everyone," Mahler said.
The pressure to win, however, hasn't changed. But, what the team takes away from this season has.
"When you get knocked down, get up," Preston said. "When you get knocked down, get up. When you get knocked down, you get up again."
In the second-round playoff matchup, Madison Prep defeated St. James 33-10.
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