August 29, 2005. Hurricane Katrina slams into Louisiana as a massive category 3 storm, causing widespread destruction across New Orleans, levee failures and colossal flooding on a scale never before seen on American soil. It is one of the worst natural disasters in modern-day history, resulting in almost two thousand deaths and the displacement of hundreds of thousands.
Just a few nights earlier, the Patriots of John Curtis Christian School compete in their final pre-season game, focused on an impending run for a record twentieth Louisiana state football championship. A team from a small, private school of modest means, which had improbably become a New Orleans football powerhouse under the guidance of legendary coach (and son of the school’s founder) J.T. Curtis, the Patriots were unsure how their season would progress, with inexperienced new starters at several key positions. They were concerned but optimistic, certain that their team would come together and succeed as they always had.
Then Katrina hit. And with it, their lives were changed forever.
HURRICANE SEASON (Free Press) is a full-access account of the Patriots and their miraculous 2005 season. Journalist Neal Thompson vividly illustrates the challenges faced by the players and staff as they struggled to piece together a team and a season following Katrina’s brutal landfall on the bayou. In particular, Thompson focuses on J.T. Curtis, the second-most winning coach in high school football history, and his dogged determination to not only reopen the school and reconstruct his scattered football team, but to refocus the players’ minds on the task of returning to their “normal” lives and, of course, winning on the field. After a demoralizing first-game defeat, the Patriots achieve victory after improbable victory in a thrilling run towards the state championship, and along the way they provide an inspirational model of discipline, hope and strength for their entire community – of which many (including the players and coaches) are tasked with the grueling and painful process of tearing out moldy walls and salvaging what little remains of their homes and businesses. Thompson shows how the team’s emphasis on hard work, spirituality and leadership (all principles that Coach Curtis demands of his players) would become a beacon of New Orleans’ resurgent spirit and how their ultimate triumph would provide a healing salve for their shattered community.
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“Katrina still possesses the power to shock—the scenes of the hurricane, its aftermath and the difficult season will move even the stoniest of hearts. ‘Friday Night Lights’ in crisis mode, this book packs an undeniable emotional punch.” – Publisher’s Weekly
“Thompson deftly profiles a generous selection of players and families torn apart by the disaster … He delivers a fully realized interpretative portrait of a coach and a sports organization willing to sacrifice all in the name of football. [An] affecting tribute to resilience and solidarity.” – Kirkus
“A rousing page turner. Like all great sports stories, the saga of the Patriots has a larger spiritual dimension. This inspiring story is perfect reading for these dog days of summer, a cheering reminder of what can happen when we give things that best shot, when we get off the sidelines, into the game.” –The Times-Picayune
“Thompson personalizes the Katrina tragedy in a way all sports fans can relate to. Actually, you don’t even have to be a sports fan … It’s not often a non-fiction sports book will put a lump in your throat.” –Montreal Gazette
“The concept of ‘overcoming adversity’ is certainly nothing new in the world of sports. Here, though, we see a truly extraordinary example of boys and men facing raw trauma and striking back with both passion and purpose.” -Jeffrey Marx, author of A Season of Life
“One unforgettable season” – Entertainment Weekly
“Veteran journalist Thompson’s compelling account chronicles Curtis’ struggles inthe aftermath of Katrina … It’s an inspiring story, thanks to the meticulously drawn context of the travails faced by average New Orleanians.” – Booklist
“A fantastic and inspiring read … You find out very quickly, and are reminded throughout the book, that J.T. Curtis is more than a football coach. He is a life coach. Curtis’ single-mindedness is what drives him. He exists for his students, and not just the football team. His main goal, as mentioned several times throughout the book, is to teach his students to be great people, and to give the lessons and resources to succeed at everything they do for the rest of their lives. And that is what this book is about. Football is a side story. Katrina is a side story. This is a book about doing what it takes – taking the opportunities you are given, and turning them to your favor.” – The Chicago Sports Review
“The return of high school football was critical to the region’s rehabilitation, which, of course, remains shamefully and embarrassingly incomplete. ‘Screaming on Friday night for the Patriots is like screaming back at Katrina’ “- The Boston Globe
“The Patriots’ story is a distinctive wrinkle on the traditional big-game sports comeback. How do you beat a hurricane? Where do you start? … Players have lost their homes and have evacuated to places all over the South… One Patriot’s home in the Lower Ninth Ward is crushed by a barge that was torn from its moorings. Another player, who reaches his flooded house by boat, sobs on his mold-caked bed when he sees the water-logged wooden stock of a shotgun that was a gift from his grandfather… [H]aving described the frequently desperate attempts by players to reach their coaches after Katrina, (Thompson) shapes a moving scene in which one player, then a trickle more, and then nearly 50 arrive in a steady stream of cars for their first post-hurricane practice. It has an effect similar to that of seeing the miles-long line of cars waiting to visit the spectral baseball field that Kevin Costner carved out of his Iowa corn in ‘Field of Dreams’.”- The New York Times
“It would seem that we knew all there was to know, knew the effects of the storm on people, places and things. But none of the coverage, none of the follow up reports on the storm and its aftermath can top the book Hurricane Season for sheer impact, both on knowledge and emotions… a devastating chronicle of not only nature’s worst but of mankind at its best and worst… Thompson has written a book that will resonate will all readers – nonfiction at its most effective.” – Front Street Reviews
“Captur(es) the empty and desperate feelings of an entire nation watching a city drown… His characterization of the storm and its aftermath is gripping … (and) seeing what the Patriots went through, and the way Curtis champions their cause and molds them back into a team makes this a season worth celebrating.” – The Bergen Record