The Hurricanes: One High School Team’s Homecoming After Katrina

Before Hurricane Katrina hit, Cyril Crutchfield Jr. decided to stay in lower Plaquemines Parish, a peninsula south of New Orleans that had about half of the Gulf’s oil supply coming through it as well as hundreds of millions of pounds of shrimp, crabs, and oysters annually. The state championship–winning high school football coach clearly had no idea what he was in for, fearing for his life as the water rose quickly up the gym bleachers he sat atop and the windows blew out. He managed to catch his championship trophy when it was floating by. “If it was a choice between saving a person and the state championship trophy, it was a no-brainer. I was saving that trophy,” Crutchfield told Longman. When the storm was over, his part of the parish was devastated. One bit of stability people learned to look for throughout the region was high school football. Jeré Longman, a sportswriter for The New York Times who wrote the bestselling Among the Heroes: United Flight 93, grew up less than 200 miles northwest of New Orleans, in Cajun country. Here he carefully chronicles the story of Crutchfield and many of the players on his new team, the defiantly named Hurricanes — a combination of three high school teams from the parish — as they battle toward a state championship. From incredible lows (recruitment violations were committed in the hours after the storm by rival high schools) to the reunion atmosphere of Hurricane games as people returned to the region, Longman’s story is way more than one about football. It’s a fascinating microcosm of the overarching Katrina story with a twist: Poverty may be a cycle that many Americans can’t find their way out of, but hope can be found in all sorts of places, including a high school football game.