NEW ORLEANS – It was picture perfect in the eyes of those who are loyal to navy blue and old gold on Paris Avenue Thursday morning.
If your mind’s eye was allowed to drift to another place, you could see clearly the vision of the old Lower Ninth Ward campus at 4950 Dauphine Street and the intimidating, impressive image of Brother Melchior Polowy as Holy Cross celebrated its 28th state wrestling championship at a ceremony in the courtyard at the Gentilly campus.
The 28 state championships are the most in any sport by any Louisiana school. John Curtis has won 26 football state championships on the field.
As part of the celebration, Holy Cross starting wrestlers carried over an old and emotional tradition, ringing the bell in front of the administration building to celebrate victory. It is the same bell that resided on the original campus since 1948. The bell was originally cast in 1850, originally hanging at St. Mary’s Orphanage Building on Chartres Street.
It was the first Division I championship for the storied Tiger wrestling program since Ed Kavanaugh guided the Tigers to a tri-championship with Jesuit and Bonnabel in 1988. Head coach Eric DesOrmeaux was nothing but smiles when talking about his team’s accomplishment.
“I couldn’t be any more humbled by the ability to coach this team,” DesOrmeaux said. “I have to thank my coaching staff, the best coaching staff in the state. They are absolutely phenomenal coaches and that’s what made this team what it is.”
The goal for the 2016-17 Tigers was clear from the start.
“In the beginning of the year, we sat them all in individual team meetings and the seniors all said the same thing, they would rather a team state title than an individual title,” DesOrmeaux said. “They were willing to make that sacrifice and come back and get that third place, that fourth place after losing. It worked out.”
The win by Holy Cross snapped a string of five consecutive Division I state titles for Brother Martin and Robbie Dauterive, who finished third behind Jesuit in Bossier City last Saturday night. DesOrmeaux knew his team could supplant Brother Martin in early December, when his team wrestled very well at The South Walton Border Wars in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.
“We went to a Florida tournament early in the year and we had the full team at that time,” DesOrmeaux said. “Everybody was healthy, everybody was wrestling at their best and we just knew we could get better throughout the year. We saw it. That was a glimpse of greatness right there.
Seniors Jake Rando (145 pounds) and Joey Foret (170) each repeated as state champions for Holy Cross.
“They’ve been a force in this program, not only on the wrestling mat and the practice room, both of them are 3.5 to 3.0 students,” DesOrmeaux said. “Both of them carry themselves outside of wrestling room just as well as they carry themselves in the room. They’re going to be missed.”
With the goal accomplished, the Tigers are already looking ahead to next season.
“We took the long ride home from Shreveport, we sat down, we knocked off the seniors from the brackets and we reload,” DeSormeaux said. “I have a bunch of underclassmen who are absolutely ready to take over those leadership roles from our seniors.”
DesOrmeaux accepted the Brother Melchior Trophy for Division I for the first time since 1988 on a weekend where former Holy Cross state championship wrestler and head coach Ed Kavanaugh was honored after passing away in 2016.
“It was special,” DeSormeaux said. “I was fortunate enough to be in the room in 1995, Brother Melchior was still there, still with us, and he came and watched everyone one of our matches at Holy Cross. Of course, Big Ed (Kavanaugh) and Ray Charboneau were very influential in my life as an upcoming wrestler. I spoke to Ed before he passed. He was supportive of us. He loved Holy Cross. He absolutely made me the person I was.”
Under DesOrmeaux, the tradition continues, no doubt making Brother Melchior and Kavanaugh proud, the chimes ringing from the mind’s eye to the ears of all within reach and in spirit with those who contributed to the success of the Holy Cross program dating back to the first year and its first state title in 1945.