Zephyr Field not unique as a prep football venue
Ready for today’s fun and informative history lesson?
The subject is fields. Not necessarily those of dreams. More like fields of lore.
The management of the New Orleans Zephyrs baseball team recently announced that the Catholic League will play eight football games in their minor league baseball stadium on Airline Drive in Metairie this fall.
It may be a first for the “Shrine on Airline,” but hardly a first for local baseball facilities hosting high school football games. Although a rarity these days, that’s been going on locally since the early 1900s.
The first was White City Amusement Park, located in the vicinity of South Carrollton and Tulane avenues in the early 1900s. It was primarily a baseball stadium, but had football markings, according to old photos I saw of it.
The second venue was Sportsman Park, which sat where City Park Avenue and the Pontchartrain Expressway now intersect (next to what was then the New Basin Canal).
Move to Tulane/Carrollton
Then came Athletic Park, built by entrepreneur Alexander Heinemann in 1901, originally across the street from Jesuit’s current home, but later moved down the block to White City Park. To make the facility a paying proposition, Heinemann allowed high schools to use the field in the fall and winter for a small fee.
The park later bore his name, then eventually became known as Pelican Stadium, named for the Southern Association baseball team he purchased.
Prep football had many “homes” in the three-parish area that make up Greater New Orleans. Very few were adequate accommodations for the games.
The football field at Heinemann was configured to seat spectators along the right field stands, which served as the home team’s sideline. Visiting team rooters sat along the left field side, which was, in fact, the north end zone.
For the most part, seating at Zephyr Field for football will be configured so that the home side will be the left field bleachers. The seats in right field will be end zone seats.
According to Zephyrs senior vice president and GM Cookie Rojas, there will be temporary bleachers added to the playing field. He said the stadium will seat about 10,000 spectators.
City Park’s Tad Gormley Stadium, where most of the Catholic League games have been played since 1956, seats 24,500.
I’ve known it to be filled just five times. Three were for football games.
Rental fee for Gormley is about $3,200 per game, if the teams want to avoid paying City Park a surcharge of $1 per head for walk-up patrons.
When the additional costs of football officials, ticket-sellers, a mandatory ambulance and security are figured in, the cost to the host school is nearly double the stadium fee.
Catholic League schools have an agreed-upon share-the-profit, share-the-cost agreement to make it plausible for both schools.
Rojas said the rental cost of Zephyr Field, which seats 59 percent fewer spectators than Gormley, will be similar to the fee for the City Park stadium.
The football venues
Off the top of my head, I can name nearly 40 facilities that have hosted prep football games around town.
The earliest games have been played at Audubon Park, at Tivoli (Lee) Circle, an open field adjacent to the Delgado Museum of Art, and on the Delgado (Trades School at the time) campus.
Holy Cross’ original on-campus baseball field, Kirsch-Rooney and Barrow stadiums are three more baseball facilities that had been used for football games.
Tulane’s original and its “Sugar Bowl” Stadium was the site of many prep games, including a 1936 clash between archrivals Warren Easton and Jesuit played before 33,000 spectators.
Before they were granted the use of Gormley, African-American high schools played before capacity crowds at Xavier and Dillard universities, Pontchartrain Park, Shakespeare and Fox playgrounds, among other more obscure facilities.
The New Orleans Recreation Department built a stadium on the corner of South Claiborne Avenue and Leonidas Street, dubbed NORD Stadium and later named Harrell Stadium. It was used by the city’s smaller high schools and recreation department Biddy teams.
And the list goes on.
Newman played its games one year at Fortier’s practice field behind the school (now Brees Family Stadium).
Jefferson Parish schools played on pastures from Westwego to Marrero to Gretna before Behrman (1939) and Hoss Memtsas (1960) stadiums were erected.
Jefferson Playground was the home field for East Jefferson before Yenni Stadium was built in 1960, and it is still used by small parish schools.Kenner’s Muss Bertolino was the exclusive home of John Curtis football until 2015.
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome has hosted state championship games since 1981.
Chalmette’s Bobby Nuss Stadium is the only large field remaining in St. Bernard Parish.
Today Newman, Lusher, St. Martin’s Country Day, and Ecole Classique have on-campus stadiums. So, welcome to the club, Zephyr Stadium.