By iHigh Staff of Great American Rivalry Series
Holy Cross-Jesuit series
By Ron Brocato
Clarion Herald Sports Editor
NEW ORLEANS – What makes a rivalry between two high schools become regarded as a classic? Longevity? Perhaps. Interest? Definitely.
And no football match-up in the Crescent City has captured the interest and imagination as the 87-year-old battle between Jesuit and Holy Cross of New Orleans.
Founded in 1847 by the Father of the Society of Jesuit, the school was both a high school and college. The university courses were moved to land it purchased adjacent to Tulane University in 1911. Shortly after, in 1849 the Brothers, Priests and Sisters of Holy Cross arrived in New Orleans, after having established the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, and took over an orphanage for the boys and girls who survived a plague. This orphanage was destroyed to make room for the 1923 Industrial Canal (the same Industrial Canal which flooded New Orleans twice: Hurricane Betsy (1965) and Hurricane Katrina (2005). Along the banks of the Mississippi River and canal, the priests built Holy Cross, which carries the colors of Notre Dame. The University of Notre Dame IPA: is a Roman Catholic institution located in Notre Dame, Indiana, immediately northeast of South Bend, Indiana, United States. …
Begun in 1922 when a prominent local prep football official named Leon Ernst accepted the first head coaching at Holy Cross for a stipend of $150, this series has lasted through the ages. This rivalry, which has been played every year without interruption, has given birth so some of the great coaches in this city’s history and several players who went on to become Sugar Bowl and Louisiana sports hall of famers.
The two schools have met on the field of battle 89 times. On two occasions they played each other twice in the same season, once, in 1963, for the state Class 2A championship. Even in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath devastated both schools’ campuses, their coaches found a way to recall enough players from their areas of relocation to stage a football game.
There are many reasons New Orleans is a unique city: It is home of the Mardi Gras, the French Quarter (actually designed when Spain administered the city), outstanding restaurants and jazz sounds. To me the quirkiest this is when one asks an Orleanian what school did they attend, he or she responds with the name of the high school, not college.
Schools have been a staple in this city of neighborhoods, which take on names of their own, such as Uptown, the Garden District, Lower Ninth Ward, Gentilly, Mid-City and the various Faubergs, named for prominent landowners. And throughout most of this century each neighborhood included a school, church, movie theater and playground. Children tended to flock to the high school, public or Catholic, that were the most traditional. And the two parochial schools whose headlines filled the local sports sections were Jesuit and Holy Cross.
The series started rather ominously. Jesuit, long established as a football power before Holy Cross fielded a team, dominated the series until 1944, having won 17 of the first 22 games with two ties. But momentum began to shift from the Blue Jays’ Carrollton campus to Holy Cross’ in 1944, when former Jesuit assistant, Lou Brownson, took the reins of the Tigers and turned their program around.
Jesuit coach G. Gernon Brown became the head coach in 1933, just four years after the Louisiana High School Athletic Association allowed non-public schools to join the ranks. In his first season, Brown led the Blue Jays to their first of seven state championships. During that season, Jesuit allowed just six points to its opponents, a 7-6, victory over Fortier of New Orleans. Ironically, Fortier also allowed just one score that year – Jesuit’s seven points.
At that time, Brown hired Brownson, an astute strategist, to be his assistant. Both were Jesuit alumni.
During that era, football stadiums in New Orleans were scarce. Baseball, boxing, horseracing and sailing were the sports of interest. Not one school had a field on campus. But prep football began to gain interest because of the city’s first great rivalry between Jesuit and Warren Easton, the city’s first public school for boys. When the two played before a record attendance of 33,000 at Tulane Stadium in 1936 (which outdrew the first Sugar Bowl), the city fathers began construction of a permanent stadium for high schools in a large, Mid-City park.
The steel and concrete structure, completed midway through the 1937 season, seated 24,500. It was the largest stadium in Louisiana built for prep schools. But it caused New Orleans Mayor Robert Maestri to wonder aloud whether the stadium was large enough to accommodate high school crowds when, in 1940, Jesuit and Holy Cross played for the city championship and a berth in the South Louisiana playoffs.
Both were unbeaten, Holy Cross’ perfect record marred by an early-season tie. Fans began to pour into the City Park Stadium gates early that Sunday afternoon. Lines were still outrageously long as kickoff approached. More than 1,000 fans had to be turned away because they could not fit through the portals.
When the ball was kicked off to start the game, the crowd swelled to a stadium record (even to this day) 34,345.
As coach of the Tigers four years later, Brownson bested Brown’s Blue Jays for just the fourth time in 22 years. The following season, 1944, Holy Cross not only topped the Jays, it also notched its first state championship.
Holy Cross beat Jesuit twice in 1951, once in league play and again in a playoffs after the two had to break a tie to determine which would represent the city in the playoffs. Again, in 1963, Holy Cross edged Jesuit, 7-0, and surprisingly had to meet the Jays again in the state finals – the first year the LHSAA allowed district champions and runners-up, to play in the post-season.
The two produced many outstanding players. Holy Cross tailback Hank Lauricella, Class of 1948, went on to become an All-American at the University of Tennessee, where he finished second to Princeton’s Dick Kazmaier in the Heisman Trophy voting. Another, Joe Heap, went on to star at Notre Dame (1951-54). Jesuit’s great John Petitbon, also chose Notre Dame where he was a standout in 1949-52.
The city’s rivalry continues today before large audiences. Jesuit leads the series 50-37-2.
About the Author: John Brocato
Ron Brocato is a native New Orleanian. He grew up in the Gentilly area and attended John McDonogh High School. Upon graduation in 1961, Brocato joined the U.S. Air Force and was stationed in Oxnard, Calif. During four years of service as an Information Specialist, he attended Ventura Junior College at night to attain an Associate of Arts degree. Upon discharge in 1965, Brocato completed his formal education at Long Beach State (Calif.) University and began work as a reporter for the Anaheim (Calif.) Bulletin.
After one year learning the ropes in a daily newspaper, which included covering four high schools, the Los Angeles Rams, Lakers and California Angels, UCLA and USC sports and news photography, layout and editing, Brocato returned to New Orleans where he went to work for the States-Item. He remained with the Times-Picayune until 1987. He currently serves as sports editor and news reporter for the Clarion Herald, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
During his career, Brocato has won several awards for headline and feature writing, columns and photography. Among the top honors were being named Louisiana’s Sports Writer of the Year by the National Sports Writers and Sportscasters Association in 1974 and Prep Writer of the Year by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association in 1997.
He authored his first book, “The Golden Game: When Prep Football Was King in New Orleans,” published in 2002.
Brocato received the Apollo trophy, awarded to the outstanding journalist of 2004 by the American Italian Renaissance Foundation, and the 2006 Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s Prep Journalism Award. He was inducted into the De La Salle Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 for his contribution to high school athletics in New Orleans.
He was also named to the Warren Easton Charter High School Steering Committee and Board, the only member of the 11-person board that is not an alumnus of the city’s oldest public high school. The school successfully re-opened in August, 2006.
Brocato is past president of the Louisiana Sports Writers Association and serves on the Allstate Sugar Bowl, Louisiana Sports Halls of Fame, Warren Easton Hall of Fame and De La Salle Hall of Fame committees.
Brocato has hosted a Friday evening high school football show on WGSO Radio and has served the Louisiana High School Athletic Association as media coordinator for the state football championship games in the Superdome for the past 14 years. He has also serves as a volunteer at the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and enjoys speaking to high school booster clubs and civic organizations, and researching and assembling football records for high schools to maintain their histories.