Last Friday, the high school was closed and Kendrick Lewis was in this small town about 50 miles northeast of Atlanta, catching 6 passes for 58 yards and helping the Gainesville High School Red Elephants upset their crosstown rival, North Hall, 28-21.
Even though he had practiced only
two days with his new team, it was hardly a surprising performance. Lewis has
orally committed to accept a football scholarship to the
But how dozens of blue-chip
football prospects like Lewis from
Tommy Henry, the commissioner of
the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, not only has heard the
allegations about coaches scouring shelters across the South for players, but
has also fielded e-mail messages from boosters and coaches across the nation
requesting leads to contact promising athletes. Normally,
"The way things are so messed up,
you're going to have to bring me a videotape of any acts of wrongdoing," Henry
said by telephone from the association's office in
"I know that I've had several e-mails that say, 'We need a quarterback and receiver, or a couple of basketball players.' Like everything else, this storm has brought out the best and worst in people. I'd like to think mostly the best."
The New Orleans area has a long
history of producing standout football players, among them running back Marshall Faulk of the St. Louis Rams and cornerback Patrick Surtain of
the Kansas City Chiefs, both Pro Bowlers. With 85
football-playing high schools in the
The Louisiana High School Athletic
Association moved quickly, and within days of the hurricane declared that
athletes would be eligible immediately at new schools if they met residency and
academic requirements. And so far, Henry said, more than 200 have registered
with the association in new schools, primarily in northern
But the hurricane created a confusing vacuum in the high-school-football-crazy South, where the line between charity and chicanery has perhaps been blurred.
Jai Eugene, for example, one of the
most heavily recruited defensive backs in
"They were telling me that if my
home was damaged, I could go to their school," said Eugene, who has since
"My cousin back home was telling me
that schools in
Kendrick Lewis landed in
Two days before Katrina hit, Lewis
fled the west bank of New
It was easier than he imagined,
partly because of the tight-knit network of national high school recruiting
gurus who are plugged into coaches across the country, and partly because of the
good will of communities eager to help those displaced by Katrina rebuild their
lives. Briscoe was given the names of several schools, including Lee High in
The school's coaches received
Briscoe and Lewis warmly. They directed them to a local shelter that, with the
help of the Red Cross, found them an apartment. They told Briscoe about job
openings at a local dealership selling cars, as he had done in
Baytown Lee Coach Dick Olin said he
had no idea who Lewis, and the five other players from the
Lewis briefly attended a Baytown Lee practice and started the paperwork to enroll.
"I didn't want Kendrick living in a
shelter, and I wanted him in school," Briscoe said in a telephone interview from
But Kendrick's mother, Clarissa
Lewis, had other ideas. She lived in the harder-hit east bank of
When Clarissa Lewis was placed in public housing here along with her mother, her two other children and some cousins, she sent for Kendrick.
"He disappeared as suddenly as he
appeared," said Olin, whose stepson, Drew Tate, is the starting quarterback at
Gainesville High School Coach Bruce Miller also said he did not know that the 6-foot, 188-pound Lewis was a
blue-chip recruit when he showed up in his office last week with Dennis Lore, a
friend of the Lewis family, who runs
When Lewis produced a transcript from O. Perry Walker that said he was ranked 38th in a class of 236, Miller was impressed, but concerned that Lewis was too good to be true.
"I've never coached a Division I
prospect, and we only got about five students in the whole school from
Lore explained to Miller that Clarissa Lewis was placed in public housing a few blocks from the high school and wanted her son with her.
Lewis had his transcript with him, Lore said, only because he happened to be preparing his paperwork for the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which has to validate his eligibility before he can sign a letter of intent to attend Ole Miss.
"I had to pinch myself," Miller said, "and wonder if this was really happening - that a kid of Kendrick's talent can show up at Gainesville High. But then the reality sets in, and you realize that here's a kid who thought his senior year was over, who lost everything. We had to make him at home."
Lore, who also coaches freshman
College recruiters are trying to reassure potential players that the universities will honor scholarship commitments, but they are limited by N.C.A.A. regulations to contacting the players only once a week. High school regulations, however, are not as stringent and can sometimes be open to self-serving interpretations.
Clarissa Lewis was given a job in the high school cafeteria; a bedroom set and clothes were delivered to their cramped home; and Kendrick was embraced by his teachers and teammates. One of them, the sophomore Trevor Bernal, relinquished his jersey so Lewis could wear No. 4, as he had since peewee football.
When Lewis came off the field after
"It was the first time I had seen him smile in weeks," Clarissa Lewis said.
By the look of the message boards
A defensive coordinator for a
private school in
And perhaps not surprisingly, someone with the screen name HurricaneHelp touts a "tremendous football" program in a community that will "embrace your family and help in any way for you to move forward in your life."
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