It’s safe to say the members of the Class of 2020 have seen their share of adversity.
As freshmen, they dealt with the effects of the Great Flood of 2016 just as they were beginning their high school careers. Now, they’re dealing with the suspension of their senior year in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“The flood was a similar set of circumstances, but when you think of a group of kids from their ninth grade (year) through to have two things like this happen, I’ve never ever been around that – a group that had to go through that,” Denham Springs High baseball coach Mark Carroll said.
The biggest difference between the current situation and the flood is the flood occurred early in the school year, giving officials time to put together a football schedule. Carroll, who was the defensive coordinator for the DSHS football team at the time, tipped his hat to former coach Dru Nettles and former DSHS principal Kelly Jones for helping get the season back on track.
“They worked like crazy to try to do that because they felt it was such a big thing for our school and for our community to get the sports season in to give the kids some kind of sense of normalcy,” Carroll said. “That flood mess was one of the craziest things ever that I’ve ever experienced in my life. We had so many kids affected by it, and they looked at playing football like that was their time to get away from all the ripping out the drywall and doing all the other stuff they were doing at home and sleeping on the floor or sleeping on a mattress or whatever. That was their time to kind of get back to some sense of normalcy. Hopefully this can kind of be looked on in that same light at some point in time. You just hope that our medical people can get a hold of this thing and get it under control and people will be able to get back to doing things the normal way, so to speak.”
A number of DSHS baseball players were impacted by the flood, including senior Noah Juan, who played football as a freshman.
“That was probably one of the hardest things people around here have gone through because we didn’t have school for a month, and you didn’t know where you were going to stay most of the time,” Juan said. “You had to rebuild your house. You had to throw away childhood memories that you had. I think it made our class stronger as a whole because we still define as the ‘flood class’. It was a learning experience. You had to grow from it, and I think it made everybody better, but going through that your first year of high school, you’re already nervous enough for high school and then you have the flood come in and take away the house you’ve been living in forever and all your memories, and just having to tear away your house and stuff and then not even knowing when you’re going back to school. That was a really hard time for the city of Denham.”
Juan said his family’s home got about four feet of water, resulting in the loss of furniture and baby photos of he and his brother. His family lived with teammate Dalton Diez for two weeks before his family tore its house down before returning to live in it about two months later.
“My freshman year, I basically learned how to re-build a house,” Juan said. “That was the worst part about that …”
“That first month we moved back in, we were sleeping on mattresses in the living room and a couch,” Juan said. “We had my dog sleeping on the couch with me and spiders crawling up on us. It was disgusting, but she (Juan’s mother) just wanted to be back in her own house.”
DSHS senior baseball player Cade Cole recalled practicing at school at 8 a.m. with the football team, showering, then heading to Live Oak, where Denham Springs High held classes after the flood.
“I wouldn’t get home until about 7:30 (at night),” Cole said.
Like Juan, the flood forced Cole’s family to shift its living arrangement, with the family staying in a one-bedroom area in the upstairs of the home.
“It was pretty miserable for about a month or two,” Cole said. “We stayed up there, and the whole downstairs was just pretty much destroyed. I had the air mattress. My parents had the real mattress, just on the ground.”
Juan said there are some similarities between the flood and the current suspension of school activities because of the coronavirus.
“At least football got to come back, but also during the flood, you really couldn’t go out because everybody was worried about their own stuff,” Juan said. “For this, you can go see your friends, but you’re really not going out as much as you want to … There’s a lot of similarities just because of the restrictions you have on right now.”
Cole, however, said the circumstances between the two events aren’t the same.
“You feel like you should be playing right now,” he said. “All that work you put in in the offseason, then you play a little bit, and then all of a sudden when you start getting on a roll, everything just shuts down and you can’t do anything about it. You just want to be out there with your boys, and then you don’t know if you’re going to have another time.”
For Juan, the current situation has also brought back memories of the unknown, with him pointing to milestone moments like prom and graduation that could be up in the air now.
“With the flood, it was not knowing if we’re going to school again,” Juan said. “Just like with this virus, we may or may not be getting to go to school …” “It’s the point of you don’t know what’s going to come, and that’s the hard part is not knowing.”
Carroll said while going through the flood and the school shutdown as a result of the cornonavirus aren’t the best situations, he’s hopeful his players learn lessons they can carry with them while navigating through both and the rest of their lives.
“These guys have and are learning life lessons they don’t even have a clue that they’re learning yet until that they’re learning yet until they get older about having to deal with stuff,” Carroll said. “To me, that’s one of the best things about athletics. We don’t have a whole bunch of things running around out there that are going to teach you life lessons that you can apply later on. With cell phones, we have the strongest thumbs in the history of civilization, but as far as learning how to deal with things, these kids are dealing with things now that they have no idea of how it’s going to affect them later in their lives that they’ll have an idea of how to deal with things and approach things when they have some things in their lives happen to them. You try to tweak it around and find some kind of positive in it. If that’s a positive, then that’s the one we’ll go with it.”
Denham Springs pitcher Hayden Sills said if there’s one thing the Yellow Jackets’ Class of 2020 is, it’s resilient.
“Since the flood, my class has come together as a team, as a community, all of Denham Springs,” Sills said. “We fought through that, and I don’t think this is going to be any different. Strong group of guys, and that translates straight through to not giving up in life and fighting through tough situations. Just keep your head down and keep on going.”