They were doing it at St. James long before anyone ever heard of coronavirus, COVID-19, sheltering in place or any of the buzzwords that have become all too familiar with the current pandemic.
They were doing it long before the current generation was born and back in the days when the school was located on River Road.
What they – the St. James Wildcats – are doing is “running the levee.”
It has been a tradition that goes back for as long as there has been a St. James High School, a Wildcat football team and an earthen levee along the banks of the Mississippi River.
“That’s the great thing about our legacy and our tradition here at St. James,” Wildcats coach Robert Valdez said. “Even with this pandemic and COVID-19 and all that, it didn’t strip away the one landmark that we have and treasure and protects us from a lot of things – and that’s the levee.
“Our kids have become resilient and resourceful. Running the levee is something that has produced many great normalcies throughout the history of St. James football.”
It’s “the new normal” that has inspired an old conditioning routine at St. James after Gov. John Bel Edwards ordered schools closed for the rest of the academic year while the state deals with the deadly pandemic.
The current St. James high school has all of the state-of-the-art athletic facilities with weightlifting equipment and training rooms. But with all of it now being off limits, the Wildcats have returned to their roots.
“They were doing it on their own,” said Valdez. “One of our freshman kids actually said, ‘Coach, can we all come together and just doing a little running?’ I said, ‘sure, not a problem.’”
One of the players, D’Shawn Jenkins, a young offensive and defensive lineman, took advantage of the levee near his home and ran the man-made embankment on a daily basis to break up the monotony of being at home.
“I live in Baytree, so I do it Monday through Sunday,” said Jenkins.
There is also another motivation for his running the levee.
“I’m fighting for a starting spot,” Jenkins said.
Several of the Wildcats were trying to work out on their own and some of the offensive and defensive linemen decided to bring some organization to the running the levee routine.
Thursday, they ran the levee as a group for the first time for what is planned to be a twice-a-week workout. A total of between 15-20 trips up and down the levee, along with a few other drills, are expected to make up the routine.
With eight players participating, they were able to keep under the recommended gathering of no more than 10 people.
“If we had more show up, we would have put them in different groups,” Valdez pointed out.
Valdez, fresh off a state championship, brought up another point.
“We’d be on our fourth day of spring practice today,” said Valdez.
Not unnoticed by the coach was the fact Thursday’s levee run came on day with temperatures in the 70s and no humidity.
“The weather has been beautiful, which has been crazy. We’ve had perfect weather during his pandemic,” the coach said, shaking his head while talking through a homemade mask.
Thursday’s session was held on the levee across the street of defensive lineman Savion Jones.
“It’s a good thing to come out here and be with my teammates and work out even though we don’t have football. Going up and down the levee, it helps you be more explosive and makes you faster,” said Jones.
“Going up and down the levee, it helps you be more explosive and makes you faster,” said Jamaul Hooker.
Along with Jones, Jenkins and Hooker, others taking part in the levee run Thursday were Jace Phillip, Jaquan Jones, Ke’sean Burham, Jermaine Williams and Tyrese Jasmin.
Other than the brief get together for the levee run, football education is being done with distance learning.
“We doing a lot of Zoom video conferencing, text messaging and being able to get information to kids,” said Valdez. “That way we are doing a lot of meetings; basically things that doesn’t require contact. We haven’t been able to do any in-person coaching and drills.
“I’m basically coming out here as a spectator and just trying to educate them on doing their part of staying at home, quarantining, keep their distance, social distancing, hygiene and all that.”
It’s been similar to the academic tactic in these unusual times.
“We have Google Classroom,” explained Phillip. “It posts assignments for us to turn in for a grade.
“For me, it takes about an-hour-and-thirty-minutes. The video is about an hour and it takes me about 30 minutes to do the work.”
Be it on-campus instruction or distance learning, working with state-of-the-art athletic equipment or running the levee, the current conditions, Valdez said, will likely give folks a different perspective on life whenever “normalcy” returns.
“Not just with our kids, but worldwide, I think it will make you appreciate the simple aspects of life. For us, practicing, the weightlifting, the film and interaction – all the things that make us really unique and special – I know for sure they will cherish it a lot more once we get the green light.”