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Southwest Louisiana ,
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(Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)

(Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)

(Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)

(Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)

Tarpons, like the town they represent, resilient as ever

Last Modified: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 10:11 PM

By Albert Burford / American Press

CREOLE — There are only two roads leading to South Cameron High School from Lake Charles, and the main one is closed for construction. There isn’t much cellphone coverage in the area, which makes it difficult to re-route on the fly.

After a couple dropped calls and unsuccessful attempts at navigation, the front office worker at SCHS relays directions.

The school, a state-of-the-art building with a red brick façade, towers over the ground. So do most buildings in the area, even a hospital, propped up a few feet above the earth. After climbing two flights of stairs in front of the school to get to the entrance, one can look out almost to the Gulf of Mexico.

Radios, not cellphones, work as the school’s method of communication due to the unreliable service.

On a Wednesday morning in late August, South Cameron head football coach Mark Delaney was out on the Tarpons’ field, doing the work of a high school football coach that goes unnoticed by most. He and some assistants were making sure the fields were lined correctly, the equipment was in order and everything was prepared for a jamboree the following day.

Southern Cameron Parish is a polarizing place — everything seems to be either brand new or a destroyed shell of what it once was. Most of the area was demolished by two storms in a span of four years, Hurricane Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2008.

“After Rita everybody was trying to rebuild and get their lives back together and then all of a sudden, just when they started to get on their feet, Ike hits and blows everything else away,” said South Cameron assistant coach Stevie Barnett. “My mom lost two houses — and not just her, but a lot of people around here lost more than one house. It’s hard to rebuild and from my understanding, people just can’t afford to come down here.”

There are reminders of those storms littered throughout the towns in the area.

Foundations sit with no building, a couple wrecked houses rotting with all the furniture still inside, jumbled as if some giant had picked it up, filled it with water, shook it around and set it back down. These places are abandoned and not worth the pain or effort of moving back.

But some people have returned since the storms, and they’ve dealt with significant insurance costs and numerous building regulations in doing so.

“With all the stipulations of moving back to Cameron with what the insurance has done, you’ve got to build up so high and it costs you just as much to jack up a trailer as it does to buy a trailer,” Delaney said.

When South Cameron took the field in its jamboree, it didn’t put up a point in either of its scrimmages. Success has been elusive for the Tarpons in recent years, but that wasn’t always the case.

South Cameron has played in four state championships games, never quite pulling off a championship. Parry LaLande played on one of the teams that went to the state final in 1969 and went on to coach the team in two of its other state finals appearances during his 28 years at the helm at South Cameron.

“There’s a rich tradition of football down there from the earliest beginnings,” he said. “(Football) was big. It was the thing to do.”

Delaney and LaLande share many of the ingredients necessary for a successful high school football team — impressive local support, experienced coaches and players who bond well and are ready to learn and top-notch facilities. The only asset LaLande had that Delaney is missing is people.

LaLande said he usually had between 60 and 70 athletes on his rosters and sometimes as many as 86. Barnett, who coached under LaLande, and Delaney, said there are about 85 students in the entire high school now, due to the mass exodus caused by the storms.

“Everybody’s got their own niches and problems, but you don’t have the problems that a bigger school has because of bigger population and different backgrounds,” Delaney said. “Over here, everybody knows each other. That makes it ideal.”

Despite the lack of numbers, the influence of South Cameron football is apparent and widespread. Go to football games in Southwest Louisiana and it’s difficult to avoid running into someone with ties to South Cameron sitting in the stands, coaching on the sidelines, or announcing in the press box. Displaced families are all over, with many former Tarpons moving on to coach or be involved with football in some capacity at schools in Calcasieu, Jeff Davis, Allen and Beauregard parishes.

The priorities of a football program seem to change after disasters like the ones in Cameron Parish. Of course, South Cameron is still focused on winning games, but after the storms, the games became about much more than the final score.

Barnett recalls the first football game after Hurricane Rita, when the Tarpons were playing at Barbe’s stadium, at a time when something as simple and seemingly menial as a game of football was vital in uniting the community.

“We had no uniforms, we had nothing,” he said. “With the storm, we told the kids ‘Take your stuff with you. See you next week.’ (The storm) took everything. (Former Barbe coach Jimmy Shaver) let us borrow their stadium and any equipment that we needed, so that was a big plus. That was pretty special. That was a huge step forward to get a little normalcy. I think our community needed that. Everybody at that time was everywhere. The football team really brought everybody together as a community again.”

Since then, the Tarpons have struggled, but Delaney, the third coach in as many years when he was hired in July 2012, is making strides.

After a preseason that didn’t promise a change from the Tarpons’ recent losing ways, South Cameron showed its progression, winning its first game of the season 50-0 against Gueydan. It was the Tarpons’ largest margin of victory in the last 15 years, and their second win since the end of the 2009 season.

South Cameron is at 1-2. It will be another uphill battle for South Cameron if it plans to return to the status of the Tarpons’ glory days. But that’s just another bump in the road for a resilient football team and the population it represents.

Posted By: Nneka On: 9/27/2013

Title:

We are the TARPONS!!!!!! The mighty, mighty TARPONS!!!!!

Posted By: Lana On: 9/26/2013

Title: Tarpon Pride

I am so proud of the Tarpons....they are the mighty tarpons, they give 110% to each game and they have a community who is always behind them.

Posted By: Jessica Badon On: 9/26/2013

Title: Rock on LETS GO ALL THE WAY!

Coming from Johnson Bayou we know this feeling all to well! We hope the tarpons go ALL the way this year! The community and the kids deserve it! GO TARPONS! Us REBELS are backing you! :)

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