It’s all about context

By Gary D. Myers

I dig New Orleans history.

Literally, I dig it. On Jan. 7, I volunteered at an archaeological excavation in the French Quarter sponsored by the Greater New Orleans Archaeology Program at the University of New Orleans. It was a neat experience.

Three hundred years of occupation by several distinctly different cultures makes New Orleans a history-rich environment. There is much to learn in the soil of New Orleans, especially in the city’s oldest areas. But the oldest areas also happen to be prime real estate and the heart of the city’s artistic and cultural hullabaloo. These areas also bring in droves of big-spending tourists.

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More than a game

By Gary D. Myers

Baseball is a lot like life. At times it is slow and boring. Other times all the pressure seems to fall on you. There’s nothing like the excitement you feel when you are batting or when a hard-hit ball is coming your way. Like life, baseball requires knowledge, individual skill and the ability to work with others. It’s complex and unpredictable. It requires quick thinking in difficult situations. Sometimes baseball hurts.

This summer I had the privilege of serving as an assistant coach for the Bunny Friend Eagles baseball team, a 9- and 10-year-old New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD) team based at the Bunny Friend Playground in the Upper Ninth Ward.

It was great to reconnect with the game that I loved so much as a child and a teenager. All the fond memories of my playing days in grade school and high school flooded my mind. I thought about the first team I played on as an 8-year-old. We went undefeated (10-0) and won the league championship. I won’t revise history and claim that I played a huge role in that team’s success, but I did play a little.

I already knew that while learning the game of baseball is hard, playing it well is even harder. This summer I learned something new. Teaching little boys this complex game is even harder than playing the game well. During the Bunny Friend season, our team amassed an 0-8 record. Winless.

Our team was part Bad News Bears and part Fat Albert’s gang (with a mean streak). The Eagles never gained the focus needed to succeed at baseball. Moreover, they never mastered the mechanics of throwing and catching … especially during a game. As far as the situational aspects of the game, they never learned exactly when and where to throw the ball (or when not to throw the ball). If our only goal was to create a well-oiled baseball machine, we failed.

But that’s only half of the story. I joined the coaching staff to be an influence on these boys from a rough neighborhood. I had worked with most of them before in our church’s tutoring ministry, but there is something about hanging out on the playground. I really got to know them well and I got a glimpse into what life is like for these young men. Several of them have very sad histories.

Practice was difficult. Lot’s of curse words. Lot’s of fights and name calling. Lot’s of distraction and general bad behavior. Very little baseball. Most days I was at the point of utter frustration by the time practice ended. But it is the hope of the gospel that kept me coming. Jesus didn’t say go where it’s easy and go where the children are well behaved (are all the kids in our churches well-behaved?). Jesus went all the way to the cross and He sends us to the ends of the earth. The least I can do is go to the Upper Ninth Ward to invest in these boys.

I was able to connect with the boys in different ways. One conversation stands out. A little boy was talking about playing Wii, so I asked what was his favorite game. He said that he liked to play a Michael Jackson dancing game and started talking about dancing to the song “Billie Jean.” I told him I remembered when the song came out (I was in seventh grade). I asked him if he could do the moon walk. His eyes lit up and he tried it right there on the practice field.

Another neat experience came after one of our games. I had been gone for a while on my various trips (Alaska, Israel, Phoenix) and a new boy had joined the team while I was gone. When I told him to sit down in the dugout at the game he said, “You’re not my coach!” and refused to mind. He did apologize later at the prompting of another coach. I was not happy and that night I wondered if I was wasting my time with the team. At the next practice I made an extra effort to encourage this child. Not only did my attitude change, his did too. I didn’t have any more problems with him. I counted that a major victory.

Something else beautiful happened this summer — my 10-year-old son decided to play with the Eagles. That’s really how I got involved in the first place. He wanted to play with the Eagles because of our church’s connection with the team. I jumped at the opportunity and volunteered to help coach. Despite all their differences – racial, economic, social – Jonathan and his fellow team members got along well. Children have many things to teach us about the value of every person.

This summer was an investment — an investment in the future of New Orleans. It is rooted in the hope that these boys won’t end up as a crime stat in 10 years if they turn to Jesus. It was also an investment in my son’s spiritual development. He already has a missional bent. I hope that was strengthened this summer.

Some investments offer quick returns; others take a steady, long-term approach. The Bunny Friend Eagles are of the long-term variety. But the investment continues. At least six of the Eagles are attending Vacation Bible School at our church this week. And I will begin tutoring again now that the baseball season is over. I guess you could say this one is going into extra innings … and we still have a chance to win this one.

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Eat. More. Seafood.

By Frank Michael McCormack

On my list of dream jobs, commercial fishing is near the top. It’s not because I have experience commercial fishing. If I did, it might not still be on my list. I’m afraid I might not be tough enough. But until I know any better, fishing will remain near the top.

Seafood and fishing is an integral part of life in Louisiana, the Sportsman’s Paradise. And in many ways it’s symbolic of life in South Louisiana.

It’s romantic: Talk to a commercial fisherman or an avid recreational fisherman and you’ll see how passionate he or she is about it. Fishing isn’t just a pastime or a way of life. It’s an identity.

It takes dedication: Nights, days, rough weather, blue skies, hot, cold, fishermen are working. Fishing, like life in Louisiana, is not for the lazy or the faint of heart. You’ve got to work at it. You’re not going to catch anything if your bait’s not in the water.

It’s fragile: As we’ve seen with economics and both natural and manmade disasters over the years, the ecosystem and way of life in South Louisiana is quite delicate. And fishermen know that fragility all too well.

An April anniversary

An upcoming anniversary underscores just how precious and fragile life on the water is.

Later this month, the people of the Gulf Coast region will reach an anniversary most would probably like to forget. April 20 will mark one year since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded about 70 miles south of Venice, La., killing 11 rig workers. The explosion triggered the largest oil spill in U.S. history, which released over the course of three months an estimated 205 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Though responders capped the well on July 15, 2010, efforts to capture released oil and clean the region’s sullied coastline continued through the end of 2010. And much of Southeast Louisiana’s coastal marshes still bear the marks of the BP Oil Spill. The longevity of the environmental impact from the spill is still unknown.

Last year at this time, I was reporting for two small newspapers and was wondering what “news” I’d write about over the summer. After all, in rural Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parish, summers aren’t usually action packed. Then came the late-night explosion, daylong rescue operation at the rig site, eventual sinking of the rig and the ensuing spill and response.

Over the next several months, the 80-mile drive from my house to Venice, the staging ground for the response and the usual place for press conferences, became almost automatic. Interviews, Coast Guard press conferences, boat tours, media events. It was nonstop.

There were a lot of questions surrounding the BP oil spill, both political and environmental. Whether all, some or none of those questions have been answered is debatable.

But one thing is certain: the oil spill highlighted Louisiana’s commercial fishermen’s already tenuous situation.

Prior to the spill, Louisiana shrimpers made headlines in 2009 when they marched on the State Capitol and lobbied Congress to help boost low prices at market. Shrimp is the most consumed seafood in the United States, yet about 90 percent of it is imported. As a result, U.S. shrimpers have very little lobbying power, even though the quality of domestic seafood is head-and-shoulders above imports.

Domestic seafood is stringently tested and regulated by the government, while imported seafood undergoes very little testing (and may contain pesticides and antibiotics). In addition, imported seafood prices are kept artificially low, which pushes domestic prices lower, which in turn makes it difficult for the everyday fisherman to stay in business. And this isn’t a recent development: over the past 30 years, the number of Louisiana commercial fishermen has decreased while seafood imports have shot up.

Add to that the BP oil spill – which resulted in massive closures of fishing grounds, near fatal salinity levels for oyster beds east of the Mississippi River and higher fuel costs – and it’s plain to see that fishermen have had a rough few years.

April celebrations

But in addition to the first anniversary of the BP Oil Spill, April also brings some events that offer hope for fishermen and opportunities for seafood consumers to support them.

April will begin a round of Blessing of the Fleet events. At the start of the different fishing seasons, fishermen will line their boats along the banks of bayous and canals in the region. Then, a priest or pastor will float down the waterway, offering a blessing for a safe and successful season. Fishermen’s families also use this time to celebrate the start to the season. Blessings of the Fleet offer a great glimpse into the world of commercial fishing.

April is when festival season kicks it into high gear, and many of these festivals highlight Louisiana’s rich seafood culture. Even the mudbugs have ventured out in April.

The springtime is also a great time to pick up seafood at local markets and groceries and try old and new recipes. You may also want to attend a Friday fish fry at your neighborhood church.

It’s time to eat, folks. But not just any seafood. Eat. Local. Seafood. It’s a great way to support local fishermen.

I’m convinced that Louisianians could keep Louisiana fishermen in business if we all bought ONLY Louisiana seafood.

If you want more seafood in your life, click over to the Geaux Therefore events page. We’ve posted a wide variety of events there that will help you discover Louisiana’s fantastic seafood culture.

Clockwise from top: Our Lady of Lourdes Church's Father John Arnone and St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro bless boats along Bayou La Loutre in 2010; A pelican takes flight from a pile anchoring oil boom in Mississippi Sound; Oil in the water off the coast of Louisiana in May 2010; A shrimp boat outfitted with boom returns from offshore in June 2010; Crawfish soak in a pot at the 2010 Buras Fire Department Crawfish Cook Off.