DENHAM SPRINGS - Just two short years after historic floods besieged Livingston Parish, the bonding that took place as the community was forced to rebuild is still evident, even among the athletes who compete for Denham Springs High.
For Yellow Jackets baseball players Josh Preston and Noah Juan, the bonding came after the floods displaced them from their homes as well as the Denham Springs High campus. It became a learning experience that showed how human kindness and goodwill come to the forefront after a natural disaster.
The Jackets’ baseball players and coaches, who were fortunate enough for their family homes to have escaped floodwaters, stepped up to provide shelter for other family members, neighbors or friends. Meanwhile, a receptive Live Oak High School worked with Denham Springs to set up platooning at its school while repairs were made.
“We tried to help around the community as much as we could,” said Preston, now a senior outfielder and pitcher for the Jackets. “We had to face adversity and try to come out that season fired up and ready to go.”
Preston had a first-hand view of adversity at school and at home. Along with his parents, sister and their five dogs, his family took up residence in a FEMA trailer for seven months before being able to move back into their home. The move from trailer to house occurred during the baseball season, when the Jackets tried to lead with their attitude and their on-field play.
“We didn’t want to act like nothing had happened, but we didn’t want to act like it got to us as much as people thought it would,” Preston said. “We wanted to have an eventful season.”
Juan, a junior third baseman and pitcher, was preparing to play for the Denham Springs football team as a freshman in 2016. Already a communal event for the team and its fans, football games that fall brought out a palpable sense of fellowship.
“The football season really helped bring us together,” Juan said. “It was something for the city to come to. Our football team played every Friday night, and it was something to get people’s minds off their houses for a few hours.”
Juan’s family chose to make do in its home while waiting on repairs to be finished. Sleeping on a couch and mattresses in their living room was the norm for a while, but Juan saw many good things, too.
“I think it helped the community come closer together,” said Juan, who has given up football to concentrate on baseball. “You had neighbors, friends, family – everybody coming to help out. Then you would go help somebody else. Everyone just pulled together.”
Part of pulling together involved accepting a helping hand from Live Oak, which went to split shifts to accommodate both schools during the fall of 2016. Live Oak students attended classes from early morning to midday before giving way to Denham Springs’ faculty and students, who would finish up in the late afternoon.
The move made an impression on Preston and his classmates.
“Seeing them come out of nowhere and saying, ‘Our school is a great place, and if you need any help we’re here for y’all,’ – I have major respect for Live Oak,” Preston said. “I’ve lived in Live Oak, and I know most of the people there. It’s a great community to be around.”
In a parish rivalry that was borne out of proximity, Denham Springs has won three of four baseball games against Live Oak in the two seasons since the flooding occurred. Still, the teams have shared an unspoken bond when they take the field.
“Every time we play them, whoever wins, they win,” Preston said. “It’s one of those things where we want to beat each other, but whoever wins, there are no bad feelings. The teams have total respect for each other.”
It is a sentiment shared by most residents of the Denham Springs and Live Oak communities.