Destrehan/Hahnville grudge match exemplifies sports-mad River Parishes

Published 1:13 pm Tuesday, March 24, 2015

In all his years of coaching football in the New Orleans area, Nick Saltaformaggio had heard about the “big” River Parishes rivalry between Hahnville and Destrehan. He imagined what it might be like to see two parish schools, one from the east bank of the river and one from the west, play each other for district seeding as well as for parish pride. But everyone kept telling him it was nothing like he could imagine.

“‘Just wait, just wait,’ they kept telling me,” Saltaformaggio said. “‘You have no idea.’ And, you know what? They were right. It was so much bigger than I imagined. And I was fortunate to see two in my first year.”

The fans of Hahnville High School and Destrehan High School have never been shy about showcasing their school spirit.

The fans of Hahnville High School and Destrehan High School have never been shy about showcasing their school spirit.

Unless you have been to a football game between Hahnville and Destrehan, you can’t imagine hundreds of parish residents lined up outside the football stadium gates three hours before kickoff, along with hundreds of high school students dressed in assorted costumes, most understood only by them.

No one can imagine the standing-room-only crowd hanging on every play. And no one could imagine them getting to do it twice in one season, as both the Tigers and the Wildcats advanced in the playoffs to set up a second meeting the day after Thanksgiving in 2014. No one could imagine all pre-sale tickets being sold out in a mere three days, despite both schools being closed for the holiday.

Saltaformaggio and his counterpart, Destrehan coach Stephen Robicheaux, like to spend the week of the game telling local media that it is just another game, that it’s just another opponent on the way to the ultimate goal of winning a state championship. But to those who have played in it, and those who still go watch it every year, it’s a lot more than that.

“To me, it’s really all about bragging rights with you and your friends from across the river that you grew up playing sports with,” Lee Tregre, Hahnville Class of  2001 and former Tiger football player, said. “That’s the week we all act like we hate each other and (then) pay each other with respect after the outcome. (It’s) St. Charles Parish pride.”

“This is what you go into coaching for,” Robicheaux said. “There is no bigger rivalry in the state than Hahnville-Destrehan. It’s exciting for the kids. It’s exciting for the community. It’s great fun.”

The Hahnville-Destrehan football game dates back to 1946. But the rivalry between the two towns, indeed the two sides of the river, dates back centuries when farmers used to try to outdo each other’s sugar cane crops.

Over the years, the rivalry has manifested itself in many ways, including politics, school test scores, crime statistics and even which school has the better marching band. It has even spilled over into other sports, with sold out gymnasiums for basketball games and fans being forced to watch some baseball games from the upper tiers of the Destrehan football stadium.

Mostly, it has been good fun. Local plant workers usually engage in some friendly wagering for lunch, dinner or drinks. The St. Charles Parish Court House and School Board offices can become battlegrounds, with sides chosen and colors proudly displayed.

Most locals know to pick up their lawn ornaments during the week of the football game, or risk having them stolen or painted garnet or purple. And there usually is a severe shortage of toilet paper in the area as students try to decorate as many players’ houses as possible.

Pranks have occasionally crossed the line into crime, however, as in the year some students sprayed diesel fuel on the grass at Destrehan’s stadium the week of the game.

Nowadays, the rivalry manifests itself mostly on social media as past, present and future players spend the weeks leading up to the game proclaiming why their team is the best; and the weeks after making excuses. And it still draws in strangers.

“People from all over the state circle this date on their calendars,” Saltaformaggio said. “This is the game they want to come watch.”

Tregre said the game means more as a player, “but the rivalry still exists inside us all.”