Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 26, 2008
By JIM MUSTIAN
LUTCHER – It was just before lunch on the first day of class last week at Lutcher High School and Tim Detillier was balancing on a ladder outside “The Dog Pound,” meticulously affixing a “players’ entrance” sign above the front door of the school’s brand-new athletic facility. It was another sweltering afternoon of Louisiana heat with the sun high in the sky, but it was Detillier, head football coach and athletic director at LHS, who was beaming.
“The kids have been coming in through the foyer,” Detillier said descending from the ladder, an almost goofy smile ear to ear. The foyer, he explained, serves another purpose – it showcases the state championship trophies and photographs the team salvaged from the 2006 fire that devastated the former athletic complex, “The Pound.”
Indeed, Detillier has a lot to smile about these days. After two years of making do without an athletic facility – the team had to lift weights and dress in shifts for games and practices in a few cramped trailers set up next to the field – the LHS football team this summer moved into its new home, a $1.3 million building with new offices, lockers and a spacious weight room that Detillier says “many colleges don’t even have.”
The whole thing makes Detillier giddy. “It’s like I died and went to heaven,” he said opening the door to a storage room. “We’re not living out of Tupperware boxes anymore.”
From the texture of the locker room floor to the windows in the film room, Detillier is overwhelmed by just about everything about the Dog Pound. During a tour of the facility, Detillier paused to indulge in a sip of water from the fountain in the locker room. “Something as simple as a water fountain,” he said exhaling loudly, “man, we missed that.”
Even before the season has even begun, the Dog Pound has already had an impact on the players. Attendance for weightlifting and training sessions this summer was the highest in recent memory, Detillier said. “We went from the worst facilities in the history of Lutcher football to the best,” he boasted. “It was like Christmas morning for the kids when we moved in.”
A Christmas morning that was eagerly awaited. Detillier said the team had been growing impatient with the construction and had already hoped to avoid spending the entire 2007 season in the trailers.
After all, the fire was a disaster they didn’t want to be reminded of every day.
From Ashes to the Dome
In the wee hours of the morning on May 1, 2006, a vending machine started an electrical fire that produced enough heat and smoke to leave the team with nothing. In his 2007 book “The Bulldogs: A History of Lutcher High School Football,” local sports writer George Becnel writes that the fire was so hot that it burned insulation.
“The fire was so intense, large metal I-beams that were used to support so much of the large structure’s weight were twisted and turned, taking on the look of a melted Tootsie Roll,” Becnel writes.
Everything was destroyed. All the weights, uniforms, helmets and films were lost on the same day the team was to begin spring football practice. Still, the team carried on and practiced in shorts. Trailers, which were hard to come by already because of Hurricane Katrina, were brought in to serve as a makeshift athletic facility, but players had to take turns dressing because there wasn’t enough space.
As for the team and the 2006 season, the Bulldogs seemed unfazed by the fire and its aftermath. In a story that isn’t likely to soon be forgotten, the team went on to win the LHSAA 3A state championship in the Superdome, defeating the Independence Tigers 27-7.
Shortly after the fire, the St. James Parish School Board drafted plans to build LHS a new complex, and one for St. James High School across the river while they’re at it.
According to parish school board records, insurance proceeds from the loss along with surplus general fund monies were used to begin construction by the beginning of 2007.
Jim Mitchell, executive director of business operations for SJPPS, said construction on the new St. James complex, which is not yet complete, began a little after Lutcher’s.
Mitchell said the complex would be the first of its kind at St. James and replace “the Cat Den” as the Wildcats athletic facility. Rick Gaille, head coach of St. James football, did not respond to telephone messages seeking comment.
Back in Lutcher, Detillier said that while the Dog Pound could have a long-term effect on recruiting numbers, he wasn’t sure whether it would impact the win-loss column so soon. “When it’s third and goal, we’re not going to be thinking about the building,” he said.