Football league protests ban from Joe Keller

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 22, 2011

By David Vitrano


RESERVE – The theory about there being strength in numbers was tested Thursday evening as scores of coaches, players and parents from the St. John the Baptist Parish youth football league turned out for the school board meeting to protest a recent decision by the school district’s administration.

At the last meeting, the board approved a measure to let the club teams use the newly renovated Joe Keller Stadium for special occasions, which amounted to 10 dates per year. Although the measure was for 2012, a gentlemen’s agreement allowed the teams to use the field this year as well.

After the agreement was struck, however, cooking oil was found on the also newly redone track at the stadium, and Superintendent Courtney Millet issued a letter to the leagues rescinding the privilege.

“As superintendent, they put me in charge of the facilities,” said Millet.

She said although district maintenance workers were able to clean most of the spill up, it cost the district valuable man hours.

“We have to keep in mind our Maintenance Department is dwindling,” she said.

She added that if the board chose to override the letter, she hoped it would at least make the organization pay for a maintenance worker to be present, just as other private organizations must do when using school district property.

Heat head coach Raphael Neal, however, pleaded with the administration to reconsider and questioned the timing of the event.

“We worked it out last year and had no incidents,” he said, surrounded by a sea of youth league players.

Tina Neal also attested to the league’s innocence.

“That stadium was pristine when I left there,” she said, fighting back tears. “This was done intentionally by someone.”

Coach Daran Falgoust said the teams had a right to use the field.

“We’re taxpayers,” he said.

He and other coaches put some of the blame for the restrictions on new East St. John High School Athletic Director Phillip Banko.

“It’s not really East St. John High’s stadium to control,” said coach Brian Armstrong. “These kids will probably go to East St. John when they go to high school. These are kids they need to be taking care of.”

Millet, however, said she was taking care of the children by putting the restriction in place.

“Our duty is to make sure that when you are in high school, you have a track to use that is not condemned,” she said.

Many of those present, however, did not see it that way.

“ We had an agreement,” said coach Roderic Bergeron. “The only thing they’re going to show these kids is how to lie and go back on an agreement.”

The impassioned pleas did not fall on deaf ears as the board ultimately agreed to let the teams use the stadium for the two remaining dates this year. They also agreed to pick up the tab for a worker to be present for the group’s arrival and departure to attest to the stadium’s condition.

In other action Thursday, the board agreed to accept proposals for group health insurance. The motion came because the current provider, United Health Care, wanted to increase the district’s premium by 35 percent, or $2.765 million.

“Obviously, we’re not going to take a 35 percent rate increase,” said Executive Director of Business and Finance Felix Boughton.

District employee Iona Holloway urged the board to take swift action in the matter.

“If we do not act tonight, we won’t have insurance,” she said. “I ask you please to vote on this issue.”

Her concern came because last year the board chose an agent of record, and some board members disputed using an agent of record, fearing it would drive up costs. Not using the agent of record, however, may have slowed the process down.

Boughton also gave his first quarterly budget report for the current fiscal year.

“Unfortunately, it’s happening exactly as we budgeted,” he said. “2012-13, I keep telling you guys, is going to be the problem. We’re going to have a big hurdle to climb next fiscal year.”