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Original Issue

Hurricanes' Season

For a school shaped by Katrina, the sky's the limit

WHEN HurricaneKatrina bore down on Plaquemines Parish three years ago, Port Sulphur (La.)High coach Cyril Crutchfield Jr. was too absorbed in preparations for a gamewith archrival Belle Chasse to evacuate. Hours after the storm made landfall,while marooned atop the bleachers of the school gym as floodwater crested therims on the backboards, Crutchfield made a vow: Lord, get me out alive and I'llnever stay for a storm again.

Thus begins TheHurricanes, by New York Times sportswriter Jeré Longman (PublicAffairs, $26),which is the richest, most engrossing treatment of high school football andcommunity since Friday Night Lights. Longman conveys the pride of place felt bya people determined to live where and how they always have, marbling his storywith science (without extensive coastal restoration, Plaquemines won't likelylast this century) and history (as recently as the 1980s, the parish'ssegregationist political machine enforced Jim Crow; there was a high school forwhite kids, another for black kids, a third for everyone else). And Longmanlimns the folkways of bayou life, from "coonin' for oysters" to"slap-yo-momma" food—stuff so good, locals say, it makes you want tohit your mother upside the head.

Crutchfield mayhave survived Katrina, but Port Sulphur High didn't. Nearby communities Burasand Boothville-Venice lost their schools too and, after a year's absence, thethree reemerged as South Plaquemines High, with Crutchfield as coach, a gumboof kids who had left, then returned to the parish as players, and the newnickname of Hurricanes. In 2006, with no stadium, hot lunch program, lockerroom or weight room, the Hurricanes endured daily 60-mile bus to a practicefield and still won five of seven games. But they lost to Belle Chasse, thelargely white and well-to-do Class 4-A school at the upper end of the parish.Last year, even as they won an unlikely and inspiring state 1-A title, the13--2 Hurricanes lost again to Belle Chasse. Longman's book ends with a SouthPlaq player wondering aloud during this year's spring practice, "You thinkwe gonna beat Belle Chasse?"

The answer willhave to wait. Just before Gustav lashed lower Plaquemines 10 days ago,Crutchfield was again preparing for Belle Chasse, when he made good on hispromise to God and lit out for Baton Rouge; the game was later canceled becauseof flooding—even while Ike loomed as a potential threat. South Plaquemines,with 16 starters back from its title team, including quarterback Ridge Turner,might have rued the missed opportunity to beat its nemesis. Instead Crutchfieldconsidered that his school had reopened within a week and that his team hadsurvived Gustav intact. He told SI last week, "I'd say we received ablessing from the Lord."

The Skinny onHeavy Hitters

TVS ANDelementary-schoolers aren't the only things getting bigger. In 1972 the averagemajor leaguer weighed 186 pounds; this year he's 209. Pound for pound, whichare the best teams? Here are the heaviest and lightest (based on the 25-manrosters of Aug. 31). The first-place White Sox are living large, while thestruggling—and svelte—A's can't carry their weight.

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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ERICK W. RASCO (BOOK)

TURNING THE PAGE The book explores how Crutchfield and his remade team carried on.

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DERICK HINGLE/DH PHOTOGRAPHY (TEAM)

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DERICK HINGLE/DH PHOTOGRAPHY (CRUTCHFIELD)

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BETTMANN/CORBIS (SCALE)

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DAVID GODINEZ/CAL SPORT MEDIA (PATTERSON)

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JOHN CORDES/ICON SMI (JENKS)