Environment

Louisiana High School Sports Meet a Mighty Opponent: Climate Change

“I’ll take this over Katrina,” said Fitte, a former star running back at the school. “We’re looking at a couple weeks at most coming back because we don’t have electricity. After Katrina, people didn’t have houses. All you could see was the foundations.”

Still, Buras is precariously situated. Highway 23 is flanked by the Mississippi on one side and the encroaching Gulf on the other. What was once marshland is now increasingly open water, the result of canals dug to reach oil rigs, levees that prevent replenishing sediment from the river and the pounding of hurricanes. At the local cemetery, a dozen or so coffins that floated away during Katrina remain encased in concrete and strapped to the ground, side by side like piano keys, numbered with spray paint in case they wash away again.

“If another Katrina hits, I don’t see anything coming back down here,” said Mark Cognevich, the council president of Plaquemines Parish. “Not many people have insurance. Most live check to check. I don’t think the federal government will pour money into it like they did after Katrina. They might not let anybody move down here.”

Perhaps no high school in the state has felt the brunt of hurricanes more severely than South Cameron High School in southwest Louisiana. The Mighty Tarpons reached the state championship football game four times from 1969 to 1996. But football was abandoned during the 2018 season after South Cameron forfeited two games and finished a third with the minimum of 11 players.

The population in Cameron Parish has declined from about 10,000 residents in 2000 to fewer than 6,000 today, according to the latest census figures. An exodus followed the scything by Hurricanes Rita in 2005 and Ike in 2008. Some residents were put off by building codes requiring homes to be built 12 to 14 feet off the ground and by prohibitive insurance costs. Some grew fatigued by the storms, which, at one point, left students at South Cameron attending classes in a bingo hall.

Last year, Laura’s punishing surge wrecked all of South Cameron High School’s sports facilities. The 2021-22 school year opened with only 40 students enrolled in the high school. Parry LaLande, who coached football at South Cameron for 28 years, has urged the school to consolidate with Grand Lake High School, located 15 miles inland on a ridge and somewhat safer from storm surge. Grand Lake reached the state football championship game last season despite not having a home field. It also played in the baseball title game.

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