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More than a Game

The community impact of a championship win

A look back at the state championship impact on Iberia Parish

Believe

There are actually scientific studies behind rooting for the home team. One Yale psychologist says that favoritism of a home team is a behavior triggered by a sense of belonging. Another psychologist reports that when we’re cheering for our team with family and friends, the feel-good chemical dopamine is released, along with the chemical oxytocin creating feelings of bonding. Studies show that even those who become first time fans after a team starts winning can experience the feeling.

A high school team winning a state championship unites a city, and even strangers. It lifts spirits and hopes and recharges. In 2017, Catholic High of New Iberia did all of that when the team satisfied New Iberia’s 55-year quest for a football state championship by beating Notre Dame in the Superdome.

New Iberia experienced the first taste of community good-vibes in 2014 when the team went to semifinals against Calvary Baptist, losing in the nail-biting, 24-27 game. But in the semifinals of 2017, the Panthers rallied and defeated Isidore Newman School making them bound for the championship game.

The energy in the city was described by one as “electrifying.” There were “We Believe” signs in storefront windows and along the medians.

A momentum had begun that brought even students from other schools congratulating the team. Jenny Minvielle, Development Director at Catholic High, remembers the support shown by New Iberia Senior High (NISH), particularly in the days leading up to the game. “The sign in front of their school read: ‘We Believe!’ The day before the game, NISH principal Curt Landry came to Catholic High with cookies and cakes for players - inscribed with the same two words. That impressed me.”

The day before the game, the school focus was a big send-off pep rally. Team linebacker and guard Warner Simon, says he was surprised at the rally when a recording was played from the players of the 2014 semi-finals expressing their pride in how far the team had come and wishing them well.

The next morning, on December 7, the buses rolled out of New Iberia. Catholic High was closed for the occasion.

Phil Streva, a 1984 alumnus, was the statistician for the championship game (as well as the 2014 semi-final) and rode on the bus with the team. He remembers the mix of emotions and seeing the “We Believe” signs all along Hwy. 90, halfway to New Orleans.

Catholic High’s Student Activities Director and teacher, Erin Robison is credited for creating the “We Believe” campaign that morphed into game towels, T shirts and yard signs.

As the players stepped off the bus at the Superdome, Indest says they were greeted by such a crowd of fans that he felt as though he was at an LSU game where players run through the tunnel of fans. “I had never seen such frenzy in all my career,” he says.

Minvielle says amazing support from alumni and parents made it possible to rent a large room in the Superdome where a hugely-attended pre-game pep rally was held and where “there was a confidence in the air that a championship could be brought home.”

Iberia Industrial Development Foundation President and CEO Mike Tarantino was one of thousands cheering in the stands of the Superdome for his alma mater as he looked around to a sea of signature red - and something even more interesting. “There were multi-generations, from the smallest child to senior citizens. There were many fans on the sidelines who had never been to a Catholic High game before then. Championship games also give alumni an opportunity to reconnect with their school. I was visiting with classmates who I had not seen in 30 years; it was like a class reunion!”

The Panthers won the state championship beating Notre Dame 33-16. It was a day so long in coming, not since 1962, that it snowed in New Orleans, stranding many fans to celebrate there a day longer. It’s still hard for Indest to articulate the emotions of that day, but the picture the coach shows, in his office, of the winning team brings clarity to the pride he still feels.

Simon was most moved after the game when he looked up out at the stands and spotted his parents and two older brothers waiting for him. He knew how much the game meant to his brothers, who had played for Catholic High.

A week after the game, there was a resurgence of excitement when a parade rolled down Main Street and ended with a pep rally in Bouligny Plaza. There, the last available championship cap was auctioned, fetching $23,000 – enough to buy championship rings for the entire team.

There were congratulations and handshakes from New Iberia’s mayor and the parish president, and the team was presented with a certificate from the city council. It was an Americana scene right out of a movie.

Minvielle, whose entire family attended Catholic High, says she thinks when families have a long tradition with a school, it fuels the passion they feel when they attend a game, especially a championship.

Another byproduct of the history-making win, Minvielle says Catholic High also saw an increase in student admissions the following year. “People were also more excited to support the school financially after the championship,” she adds.

And as Tarantino points out, sports stories like these are a true reflection of how we feel about our community.

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