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'Hurricane Season' offers fascinating look at team's spirit
By Bob Frisk | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 8/31/2007 12:28 AM | Updated: 8/31/2007 8:26 AM

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Reading books is one of the great pleasures that solitude can afford you.

I read books for the purest of reasons -- entertainment.

For me, a good novel beats anything on television as a way to pass the time.

James Patterson, for example, may not be Ernest Hemingway as a writer, but he entertains me with the page-turners he pounds out twice a year -- with a little help from his friends.

I also read books for information.

I am partial to nonfiction books on World War II, politics or sports and any biography by David McCullough.

Summer, when the living is easy, always is time for me to catch up on my reading, and I spent June, July and August with so many books that there were days when the television never went on.

My library card got more action than the remote.

McCullough didn't have a new biography, so I turned to high school sports -- surprise -- for my favorite nonfiction book of those lazy, hazy days of summer.

"Hurricane Season" by Neal Thompson (Free Press, $26) is the story of the John Curtis High School Patriots of New Orleans, La., and their miraculous 2005 football season in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

On Saturday, Aug. 27, 2005, the John Curtis team met for practice at the high school in the New Orleans heat and humidity. There were ominous weather forecasts even as they practiced, but they had heard those before through the years.

This too shall pass, they thought.

The practice continued. The weather looked more threatening.

Parents waited to take their sons home from practice, wondering why the practice was going so long when predictions of a monstrous hurricane were everywhere.

That afternoon was the last time the Patriots' football players would see each other for weeks. Some teammates would never be seen again.

Hurricane Katrina was about to rip their lives apart.

Would their season ever continue?

I obviously read a lot about Katrina and saw the devastation on television and in newspapers and magazines. I also followed all the finger pointing in the blame game.

However, "Hurricane Season" gave me the clearest picture because it followed a high school football team, something I could relate to, through the remarkable fight back from a shocking tragedy.

The author gives a full-access account of the lives of players and their families after Katrina hit, revealing human stories that show a remarkable never-say-die spirit.

John Curtis High School came into 2005 with 19 state championships. The team from a small, private Christian school had become a New Orleans football power under the guidance of the legendary coach J.T. Curtis, the son of the school's founder and former coach.

The team from this small family-run and diverse school has no stadium, a no-cut policy and a triple-option offense known as the Houston Veer that seems antiquated to many.

They grind out their first downs in small chunks with many backs carrying the ball, and that's a lot less exciting for fans and players than the West Coast-style passing attack many schools use today.

"A selfish player can't run my offense," coach Curtis says. "Because a selfish player wants to run the ball."

If you looked at a scouting tape of John Curtis High School in 1976, it would look the same as today.

"Love him or hate him, you've got to respect him," Bill Stubbs, the head coach of Salmen High School, a longtime Curtis rival, once said of the methodical offense.

"Hurricane Season" focuses on the head coach, his team, his family and the ability to rise above adversity and even above their own abilities.

When the players, coaches and teachers slowly reunite, the scenes are moving and skillfully told by Thompson.

The team becomes an inspirational model of hope and strength for the entire community that is still reeling from the disaster.

With many of the players finally together again, coach Curtis leads them in prayer, saying, "This is not just a football team, not just a school -- it's a family. We're a family, and we are able to help each other."

Curtis wants to teach high school athletes about playing with purpose, the power of respect, dignity, poise, patience, teamwork and perseverance.

"If you get knocked down, get up and chase the ball," Curtis says. "You can't ever let what happened in the past affect what you do in the future."

Hurricane Katrina put all those lessons to work, and "Hurricane Season" does a wonderful job telling this inspiring story.