RSD schools fighting uphill in struggle to compete

RSD schools fighting uphill in struggle to compete

Credit: Photo by Bradley Handwerger /

The gym at Sarah Reed went bleacherless for the first few months of the season as the Recovery School District worked to get seats bought and placed in the facility. Though Reed now has bleachers, the gym - which doesn't have working scoreboards - is indicative of problems RSD schools are still facing nearly three years after Katrina hit New Orleans.


by By Bradley Handwerger / Staff Writer

Posted on August 19, 2009 at 5:03 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 21 at 4:32 PM

This is the first story in a three-part series looking into the athletic programs of the Recovery School District.

Wallace Foster III doesn't live in a fancy Uptown home.

He doesn't retire to a Metairie house at night.

And the Rabouin head football coach doesn't make a daily trek across Lake Pontchartrain to get to and from work.

Foster, instead, lives in the same neighborhood where a portion of his players come from, and what he sees on a day-after-day basis isn't something he likes.

"After practice, I drop kids off," Foster said. "I ride through the neighborhoods and stop at some boy's house that didn't come to practice and they're sitting out there doing nothing - hanging out and playing basketball."

Foster certainly isn't alone. And the problem isn't only with his Rabouin players.

Throughout the Recovery School District's athletic programs, coaches and administrators are fighting an uphill battle, one that's a direct result of 2005's Hurricane Katrina.

Nearly three years later, the Cohens, the Clarkes, the Reeds, the Carvers - they're all still working through a maze of problems to get running at full capacity.

And that's not including each school's sports department.

Struggling to compete

Nevertheless, RSD programs are struggling on athletic fields and basketball courts at what some would call alarming rates.

Though a complete list of results wasn't available, one partial list gave a glimpse of the climb RSD teams must make to achieve respectability.

Results taken from - a site that through submissions from coaches and fans compiles and posts results from Louisiana high school football, boys and girls basketball, baseball and softball - spell out the stark reality of the situation.

RSD teams won a total of 51 games in football, boys and girls basketball and baseball. That's out of 292 total games. And of the 51 wins, 25 came against other RSD schools.

RSD schools won 17.4 percent of the time.

Contrast that with other public schools in Orleans Parish and the RSD numbers become staggeringly low.

In 375 games, non-RSD Orleans Parish public schools - Ben Franklin, McDonogh 35, McMain and Warren Easton - won 215 times. That's 40 percent more than RSD schools.

RSD schools playing sports in 2007-2008 were Clark, Cohen, Douglass and Reed - all playing in District 11-3A - and McDonogh, which competed in 10-4A.

Rabouin competed in varsity in everything last year except football, which the school played a mixed varsity and JV schedule. Football moves up to varsity this fall.

Additionally, Carver will play varsity sports in everything but football this year, and will add football to the highest level in 2009.

"Some schools are rebuilding, retooling," Foster said. "We're building one brick at a time."

Football, at least by winning percentage, was the best for RSD programs. They went 12-34 and 9-10 in district play. Baseball was the next most successful, coming in with wins 22.4 percent of the time (13-45 won-loss).

In boys basketball, the teams won 15.9 percent of the time. Girls basketball teams won 10.6 percent of their games.

Yet, RSD Athletics Director Allen Woods is positive that bringing sports teams back so soon into the recovery process was the right decision. Any delay could have been disastrous in the long term, he said.

"Just like in this recovery if we didn't take the first step, we wouldn't have gotten to the second and third step," Woods said.

No road map to recovery

Like the rest of New Orleans, recovery for RSD schools and their athletic programs have come at a slow pace.

A disaster like Hurricane Katrina was new, nothing of that scope having happened in the United States prior to levee breaks.

Before the storm, 128 New Orleans Public Schools had full athletic programs. Since the storm, seven high schools and 23 elementary schools can claim that. In New Orleans, elementary schools are grades K through 8.

"We can't look for microwave solutions," Woods said. "We had the hurricane of the century. It may take us a couple of years to get back to normalcy when you have that cataclysmic event."

He added, "It's a marathon we've never ever gone through before. Surely we have to be patient as we go and always keep the students first."

Said Cohen girls basketball coach Gerald Grandpre, "A lot of people don't even know some of these schools are open. I'll go to a department store with a Cohen shirt on and people will say they didn't even know it's open."

Carver's athletics director wasn't in New Orleans prior to the storm. In fact, Brian Bordainick became the athletics director in November after being informed of a teaching opening at the school. He was in Africa at the time, having graduated from the University of Georgia not too long before that.

Bordainick is 23 and originally from New York, and his experience mirrors that of anyone involved in trying to get anything up and running after the storm.

"Everything I did I had to figure out for the first time," Bordainick said. "It wasn't like I had somebody taking me under their wing."

For someone like Reed boys basketball coach Bernard Griffith, it's all a shock to the system.

He is one of the more successful basketball coaches in New Orleans history, leading St. Augustine to three state championships and becoming a local legend. When Katrina hit, he moved to Dallas and helped former Purple Knight standout Avery Johnson coach the NBA's Mavericks.

Now he's coaching the Olympians. This past season, they won only one game.

"You're starting from scratch," Griffith said. "There's no established programs in the schools. The hurricane did away with any established program. Any program that had any decent athletes or any experienced athletes went somewhere else.

"They became integral parts of those programs."

A numbers game

When those players left and didn't return, it left the RSD schools with a dearth of talent. By most estimates, New Orleans still has far fewer inhabitants than before the storm.

According to a recent Associated Press story, estimates are that the city is at 67 percent of the population from before the storm.

That's certainly affecting RSD athletic programs.

"The No. 1 thing right now would be the numbers and the fact that a lot of the guys at those schools haven't been playing football consistently for a long time," Carver football coach Shyrone Carey said.

Basketball, like football, is facing a shortage of players and a shortage of teenagers who have played in an organized manner.

"You're trying to find kids who want to participate in sports who, for the most part, never did," Griffith said. "Or, in the case of basketball, they were driveway all-Americans. The problem with driveway all-Americans is they're used to beating up on their brothers and sisters in the driveway."

Luck, too, will play a part in any eventual success, Clark head boys basketball coach Terrence Soulny said.

"It's just going to be lucky to get quality athletes," he said. "Lucky to get them all at the right time. Right now, it's hit and miss. It's a 50-50 chance."

Lacking facilities, communities

Fielding large teams isn't the only thing troubling RSD programs. Schools are still lacking facilities, as are the communities that feed players and students into the schools.

No school has its own football stadium, instead relying on city facilities. For the past two years, RSD schools have played at Tad Gormley, a much costlier option than Pan-Am Stadium, which finally is ready for use. The RSD all will use it as a home field this fall.

Parks where children use to play football or basketball or baseball still aren't back.

"One of the most difficult parts of the job is getting adequate facilities up and running," Woods, the RSD AD, said. "Several schools don't have gymnasiums. If we have gyms, there are several things missing from the gym. …

"That's the biggest thing - having facilities where we can have appropriate practices."

Carver is taking advantage of Desire Street Ministries good will, using its gym for basketball. But the Rams had to clean up the school's baseball field itself, taking away a day of practice to make it as useable as possible.

"A lot of it comes from permanence in the community," Bordainick said. "You live somewhere and you have a park in the area and you go play ball there. That's what I did growing up. A lot of our kids have moved around. A lot of it is going to take a little bit more time."

It doesn't help that the bus system isn't keeping routes open later than 7 p.m. in outposts like New Orleans East where Reed is located.

"I'm an old Western fan. I relate more to the Cowboys," Griffith said. "We're like the last stronghold out here. We're way away from the rest of the city. Our next stop is Slidell.

"This past year, RTA buses stopped at 6 o'clock. You've got kids from all over the city out here and they want to play basketball. They've got the RSD pickup bus at 7 o'clock.

"You've got to share the gym after school with the girls - volleyball and basketball. We try to let the girls go first. We've got to be complete with everything from 3:45 to 7 o'clock at night."

Other responsibilities

In a post-Katrina New Orleans, maybe more so than prior to it, children have more responsibilities. Sometimes they're the only ones who have returned and are taking care of siblings or grandparents.

Some were sent back without parents because financial restraints kept entire families from returning.

"Most of these kids still haven't really settled into a secure home environment. Some are living with relatives who are back," Griffith said. "They came back because something wasn't right for them in other state or cities. The parents wanted to come back, but it was cheaper to put the kid back with relatives and them stay wherever they were and work and send money back this way.

"Our kids are having so many problems."

Griffith isn't the only one seeing this.

Foster at Rabouin notices this aspect, as well.

"This dude has got to worry about eating tonight," he said. "His mom gets food stamps and welfare, but all that's gone. All he's got is $2 in his pocket that he got from his teammate so he could go get him a chicken sandwich and fries and a water to hold him over until tomorrow when he's got to get breakfast.

"You want to change the framework of an individual, you've got to look at the house. The most important thing for me is football. But the most important thing for the individual may be surviving.

"I can't get mad."