The ‘secret’ game that helped integrate New Orleans prep sports
In February 1965, at a time in which schools were segregated and athletic associations did not allow white and black high schools to compete against one another, the all-white Jesuit Blue Jays and the all-black St. Augustine Purple Knights basketball teams met in secret — to avoid potential altercations — in a barrier-breaking matchup at the Jesuit gym.
The “secret game” paved the way for the desegregation of all prep sports in Louisiana. Today, Jesuit and St. Augustine are two of the most influential high schools in the area, both academically and athletically. They are also longtime friendly rivals in the famed Catholic League.
- Jesuit, the defending Louisiana High School Athletic Association champions, went into the game with a record of 26-1. St. Aug was 30-0 and the top team in the Louisiana Interscholastic, Athletic and Literary Organization. As such, the game functioned as an unofficial championship match.
- The “game” was more of a scrimmage, comprised of five quarters. Technically, St. Augustine won, and handily, by a score of 81-59.
- Harold Sylvester, who played for St. Augustine in the game, wrote the screenplay for a 1999 made-for-TV movie about the event called “Passing Glory.”
- Sylvester would go on to become the first black scholarship athlete at Tulane University.
- The game took place four days after the assassination of civil rights activist Malcolm X.
- “When I think back, given the climate of the times, I have to say Jesuit deserves plenty of credit for agreeing to the match,” Sylvester said in a 1999 interview. “What did it do? I’ll tell you: It helped fuel the fire for a lawsuit the St. Aug’s Dad Club had filed looking to become a member of the LHSAA. Two years later, St. Aug was in.”
Prep sports are a major part of the fabric of New Orleans. Schools that were once white or black schools have been successfully integrated. Though New Orleans, like other large cities, is not a color-blind community, high-school athletic competition has been, and continues to be, more of a unifying than dividing force between the races.