The Pain of the New Orleans Sports Fan
With our very own Derick quoted here.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
By Ted Lewis
Hurricane Katrina cost Derrick Hingle his Buras home plus his job as an oilfield dispatcher. He's now trying to rebuild his life in Ponchatoula.
But whether he remains in the area depends on the return of the Saints and Hornets.
"I feel that strongly about it," said Hingle, a season-ticket holder for both teams, as well as the VooDoo. "If they weren't here, it just wouldn't be same to me. And if they are here, I can't leave."
Then there's Rick Bordon, whose St. Bernard home was destroyed in the storm and is now living in Belle Chasse. He's such an LSU baseball fan that he wore his purple-and-gold jacket to last week's Tulane-UNO game.
But at least for now, his ardor, if not his interest, has declined dramatically.
"A year ago, I could tell you about everybody on LSU's starting lineup," Bordon said. "But now, I could care less. I'm just so screwed up by this storm that sometimes I don't feel like I'm in touch with reality."
Hingle and Bordon represent the gamut of attitudes about sports by those whose lives were disrupted by Katrina six months ago this week.
Some say sports are more important to them now -- a relief from having to deal with insurance adjusters, FEMA, contractors, traffic nightmares and a host of other problems.
"We need it to help feel normal again," said Keybo Griffin before a UNO basketball game. He lost his home in New Orleans, stayed in Houston until Christmas and is now living on the West Bank. "Sports is like the one constant we still have in our lives."
And to some, staying involved in sports is almost a civic duty.
"It's important for us to get behind things that are uniquely New Orleans, like Tulane and the Saints," said Loyola law student Rebecca Barrilleaux. "It's a way to help the recovery of our community. I have a lot of pride in the city, and it makes me feel good to get out and support the things that are essential to New Orleans."
But to others, sports are not as much a part of their lives as before.
"Before, when I got the paper in the morning, I would go directly to the sports section," said Louis Rodriguez, who has relocated from Arabi to Uptown. "But now I go to the front page first because I want to read about things that are going on in the city. Those are more about real life and real problems."
Kevin Rodney, who only recently was able to return to his New Orleans home, is even more emphatic.
"I never lived and died with sports, but I love basketball," he said. "I definitely have a lot more on my mind right now than who's beating who. I don't know when the last game was or when the next one's coming up. It's not so much that I miss sports as much as I miss the opportunity to relax after a hard day's work and watch them."
Said Christopher Bentz of Chalmette, who got into his FEMA trailer the day before the Super Bowl: "We had a party at my mom's, and I didn't know who was playing. When all you've been doing is working and gutting your house, you don't sit around worrying about some athlete making $1 million."
Katrina has affected the viewing habits of those who don't just follow the major sports. Julie Shuman of Slidell has been an avid watcher of the Olympics in the past. This time, she said, she may have given them 10 minutes of her attention.
"I know they're on, but I'm still trying to put my house back together," she said. "Between that, insurance worries and all that other stuff, I just don't have time."
Those taken out of their normal pursuits aren't just sports fans. Dana Chesney. Bentz's fiancée, said she hardly picked up a book or watched her favorite TV show during the time she was displaced in Houston.
"I just wasn't interested," she said. "Eating was a major chore because I knew so many people were suffering."
Filling a void To Tulane sports psychologist Lance Green, the wide range of responses is not surprising.
"The importance of sports is a relative thing, especially when many people are in survival mode," Green said. "When you spend your days digging out your home, it puts a different perspective on things. But others, especially those with kids involved in sports, cherish it even more. Having it taken away, even for a short while, created a tremendous void."
Steve Romig of Metairie, whose son Jeff plays on the Jesuit soccer team, couldn't agree more.
"Getting to play this year means so much more to him, and because of that it means so much more to me," Romig said. "You want to say sports is just sports, but somehow it seems more important now."
The family home of Joseph LaCroix, a freshman football player at Brother Martin, was destroyed; they are living in a FEMA trailer. He said playing or practicing is, "a way of getting that Katrina stuff off my mind. I don't have to sit and think about what happened or how many of my friends haven't come back. When I'm playing, everything's all right."
Jesuit soccer coach Hubie Collins said that despite whatever living-condition hardships his players are still experiencing, he found them more focused on soccer than they were pre-Katrina.
"I don't think they take things for granted like before," he said "Some of the kids and their families lost things that took them a lifetime to accumulate. So anything they have now, like soccer, they really appreciate."
That goes for personal fitness as well.
"A lot of people used to come to the gym because the doctor told them they needed to exercise," said Stephanie Miller, an instructor at the Slidell Athletic Club. "Now it's like a big social gathering.
"Stress levels are much higher, and coming to the gym makes you euphoric because you're doing something for yourself rather than worrying about the house."
But some find themselves unable to spend as much time in the gym as before.
Don Ellis of New Orleans used to play basketball at Tulane's Reily Center two or three times per week. But he is a contractor and now counts himself lucky if he makes it once.
"I am sure there are a lot of people in my position who just don't have the time or the energy," he said. "You come in from work and just feel drained."
Elizabeth Sokol, another Reily Center member from New Orleans, said it took the reopening of the facility in January to get her back in the exercise habit.
"I had stuff at home, but it's easier to be more dedicated when you have a place to come to with other people around," she said. "You get so frustrated because things don't happen fast enough and there are long lines everywhere.
"Coming to the gym is the best way to relieve that stress."
But others have had more trouble getting back on track.
Anna Boyer of Harvey had competed in six marathons pre-Katrina but said she is now completely out of her routine.
"I feel like a slug, too," she said. "But I'm either too busy or not in the mood. I loved running, and I know once I get back into the routine the battle will be won. I just need a big push."
Attendance at gyms in the most hard-hit areas is down, but that's not the case at local sports bars.
Lydia Hansche, manager of Cooter Brown's in New Orleans, said she did not notice any drop-off in customers during the NFL playoffs than from years past.
"The only thing I noticed is that people are not as friendly as they were when we first reopened," she said. "There seem to be a lot more arguments, but I can't tell you why."
Sandy Tadlock, manager of Boom 'N Sports in Metairie, said she had noticed the same trend, whether the subject is sports or Katrina.
"People are very antsy and short-tempered," she said. "They don't mean to be, but when you've gone from one long line to find yourself in another or had something else going on like that, it's going to happen."
Maybe that's why many look on sports more as an escape than they ever realized.
Among the things Raymond Doran lost when his Arabi home took on 15 feet of water was what he called his most-prized possession -- an autographed photo of Mickey Mantle.
But attending the Tulane-UNO baseball game gave him a sense of peace.
"It's good to see green again," he said. "Everything in Arabi looks dead."
To Louis Rodriguez, tailgating at LSU football games took on added enjoyment last fall.
"It was like it was a big reunion," he said "There were people all over the place, and when you looked around you knew that Louisiana and New Orleans were on their way back. It was a beautiful thing."
Alvin Paretti of Slidell sees the return of college baseball in the same light.
"It's a sign that we're moving ahead and not standing still," he said. "We had to have our meeting of the (Tulane) St. Bernard Booster Club in Slidell because that's where so many of us are now, and 50 people showed up to hear Coach (Rick) Jones.
"Their homes are gone, but they still care about Tulane baseball."
To Paul Roberts of Harahan, a far larger surge of emotion will be felt in September when the Saints are scheduled to play their home opener in the Superdome.
"It's going to be huge," he said. "That dome represented so much tragedy and the fact they can clean it up and bring it back is a miracle.
"It's really going to bring people together."
And even those whose passion for sports may have waned a bit retain a good measure of it.
Anna Boyer and her husband, Rich, have been Hornets season-ticket holders since the team moved to New Orleans in 2002. But she now feels differently about them, even with reassurances that they plan to return full time in 2007.
"I feel abandoned," she said. "It's like breaking up with a boyfriend or something and then seeing him do better with somebody else."
"But I'll be there when they play the Lakers. They're still my team."