On Friday night, Saint Thomas Aquinas Falcons played its first homecoming game on the newly renovated Pete Valenti football field. In 1995, STA formed its football team and played the games in Strawberry Stadium located at Southeastern Louisiana University as home field. The Falcons had a field behind the high school but due to no lights and limited seating, the field served as a practice field for the team.
Academic Assistant Principal Alicia Oalmann said, “Homecoming at Pete Valenti Field was beautiful. Alums, homecoming court and a big Falcon win over Carver made for an especially magical night.”
The field was named after Pete Valenti. He was the first football coach and athletic director at STA in 1995. STA Communications Director Michelle Chauvin said, “He passionately believed in STA and about having football there.”
Rallied supporters of STA – namely Dickie Davidge and Porter Horgan as financiers – wanted to start the football program. It was scheduled to begin with the Fall 1995 season. In the spring of 1996, Valenti was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. He made it to see the first few games played and died on Sept. 30, 1996.
Chauvin said he listened to the STA game on the radio the night before he died. Valenti was friends with former LSU football head coach Gerry DiNardo, who spoke with him that night and said he would be here to see him after LSU’s game Saturday, but Valenti died before kickoff. Valenti even got DiNardo to speak at 1995 STA athletic banquet, said Chauvin.
“Actually playing at home has made a huge difference in many ways,” said Chauvin. “Our alumni are excited to come back and see the incredible growth we have had in the 30 short years since we opened our doors. STA has always experienced academic excellence, but this is a step that most people only dreamed of. The stands have been packed every week and we are seeing faces we haven’t seen in quite awhile. It’s simply generated a lot of buzz for us. And having the field honor the memory of a man that was so loved by everyone in this community has just tightened everyone’s heart strings.”
This year, celebrating 20 years of the football program, Pete Valenti Field and first ever Varsity game played at home with new lights, bleachers, press box, drainage, concessions. The first game was played on Sept. 4. It was a reunion of players, cheerleaders, STArlettes, alumni and friends. The Falcons defeated Chalmette which led up to a very successful Homecoming Week. STA had a large number of alumni attend the game (prevailed against Carver High School for a 6-0 record) as well as the alumni party following the game said Chauvin.
STA had a themed homecoming week, “Game On” and on Monday the students dressed up as their favorite board game. Tuesday was “Decade” day and each grade level was given a decade to replicate. Wednesday was “Red, White and Back the Blue” day and students paid $2 to receive a wrist band to dress in patriotic attire. All of the proceeds went to fallen officers. Thursday was “Pink Out” day and students were decked from head to toe in pink for breast cancer awareness month and Friday was “Spirit” day.
Oalmann said, “I’ve been at STA for 10 years now, and the kids just get more and more creative every year dressing up and using the theme. This year, they did not disappoint. Theme Day, “Red, White, and Back the Blue” Day and “Pink Out” day were all a blast, and the kids did a great job with everything.”
During half-time on Friday night’s game, STA alumni from the years 1995-2015 escorted the homecoming court mid field and the representatives met with their father to walk them rest of the way. Allie Ridgell, senior at STA was crowned homecoming queen by previous queen, Bailey Barker. Barker said, “It was such an honor crowing Allie, especially on the new football field. I wish we would have had the field last year but I’m just glad we finally have a field to represent our Alma Mater.”