More than a memory

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 19, 2009

By David Vitrano


RESERVE – Discussions at St. John Parish School Board meeting often get heated, but few carry the emotional weight of Thursday’s debate over the renaming of the East St. John High School gymnasium in honor of Troy Giordano, the girls basketball coach who was killed in an automobile accident earlier this year.

A crowd of supporters of the endeavor — many wearing shirts emblazoned with “FOR COACH TROY” across the front — gathered for Thursday’s meeting at the central office in Reserve.

When the anticipated agenda item came up, a number of them waited anxiously with statements in-hand for their turn to take the podium.

Current girls basketball coach Jackson Manuel stood first and delivered a speech that would set the tone those who followed.

“Take this opportunity,” he said. “Because that’s what this is, an opportunity.

“Let’s honor Troy. Let’s allow (the team) to play in Troy Giordano Memorial Gymnasium.”

The renaming of the gymnasium was originally scheduled for Dec. 9, but a statement made at the Dec. 3 school board meeting forced the board to table the item pending further discussion.

The stream of supporters who followed Manuel echoed his sentiments and reinforced his words with tales of the character of Giordano.

Especially moving were the statements made by Heather and Wayne Giordano, Coach Troy’s wife and father, respectively, who fought back tears as they told of the man’s dedication to his team, a dedication that sometimes came at the expense of his own family.

The elder Giordano said his son rarely saw his own children during basketball season because he had to leave for work before they woke up and returned after they had gone to sleep. He said Troy lived very near to his alma mater in Belle Chasse, and that the school wanted Troy to coach there, but his commitment to the girls at East St. John kept him from accepting that offer.

East St. John Principal Patricia Triche chose to speak on behalf of the students at the school.

“At the last board meeting, when this idea was pulled, I had a lot of upset school children,” she said.

She spoke of a girl who had come to her office in tears and said, “Coach Troy believed in me.”

Triche recognized the coach’s faults but said none of the people who have buildings and streets named for them were perfect.

She then rattled off a long list of Giordano’s accomplishments, including his 391-105 record, his being named district coach of the year eight times and his standing as the winningest coach in the history of the River Parishes.

Triche ended her impassioned speech by saying, “If there’s anything I could possibly do, I would do it to get this gym named after Coach Troy.”

Another supporter, Devon Harris, said since this debate began earlier in the month, it seems as though the girls on the team no longer have their heart in it when they are out on the court, and the community should take them into consideration.

“As adults, we have to come together to facilitate this happening,” he said.

In addition to all the personal support shown at the meeting, the school board also received a petition signed by 400 community members in support of the renaming. Furthermore, a survey of East St. John staff showed 66 out of 75 backed the action.

Despite the outpouring of support, the motion’s detractors remained steadfast.

Carolyn Jean Batiste, the East St. John teacher who triggered the argument when she took the stand at the last meeting, once again spoke out against renaming the gym. Though she declined to mention specific reasons for her opposition last time, on Thursday she said she thought there were people who deserved the honor as much if not more than Giordano.

She also questioned the action because Wildcat Drive has already been renamed in his honor. In the end, however, she seemed resigned to the inevitable, saying, “Do what you have to do because you have to answer to the public.”

Board member Albert Burl III backed her position citing that he thought the recognition given to Giordano perpetuated the stereotype of incapable black parents.

Although he did not totally oppose the renaming, board member Russ Wise also thought naming both the gym and street in Giordano’s honor was somewhat redundant. He further thought the district should have allowed itself a little more emotional distance before taking action.

To remedy Wise’s first complaint, board member James Madere offered a substitute motion that the gym be dedicated in Giordano’s honor provided the board approach the parish council about reverting the former Wildcat Drive back to its original name.

Ultimately, that motion passed by a vote of 6-3 with two abstentions.

Despite the victory, emotions regarding the evening’s proceedings seemed somewhat mixed as the black-and-gold clad supporters filed out of the meeting room.

Board member Russell Jack, who abstained from the final vote, said what must have been on the minds of many that evening: “We should have handled this better.”