After several years of playing iron-man football, the end of the road has come for the South Cameron High School varsity football program.
The Tarpons started last week's game at Merryville with 14 players but finished with 11 after three players left the game with injuries ranging from a concussion to a possible anterior cruciate ligament tear.
"We just don't have enough (players), plain and simple," South Cameron head coach Darryl Lee said. "We were trying our best to get through (the season).
"I think the only thing we would accomplish right now is having another kid go out with a season-ending injury."
Because it was the Tarpons' second voluntary forfeit in three weeks, their season is over, as per Louisiana High School Athletic Association Rule 6.7.3.
South Cameron will have to field a junior varsity team for the next two seasons in order to restore the varsity program for the 2021 season.
But with nine seniors on this year's team, Lee said the coaching staff and administration will have to look at the number of players available for next season to see if a JV team is possible. If the Tarpons do not field a JV team, they will likely drop from Class 1A to Class C in the next reclassification.
South Cameron's enrollment figures for the 2016 LHSAA reclassification was 95 students.
"We are going to look at our numbers and see what we have," Lee said. "We are going to try to do JV if at all possible.
"If we have enough we will play some games like that so we can stay where we are at."
South Cameron forfeited its Week 6 game to Basile. The remaining teams on its schedule — Elton, Oberlin and Grand Lake — can choose to receive a forfeit or elect to schedule a replacement game with another school, pending LHSAA approval.
Lee said the players took the news well.
"They love football," he said. "Some of them were upset, but a lot of them already knew.
"They had come to me and said, ‘Coach, we are not getting anywhere like this.' They said they didn't want to start a game then have to stop the game right in the middle because we don't have enough players. They said that would be the ultimate insult."
Despite the struggle to field enough healthy players, the Tarpons ended a 13-game losing streak with a 41-26 homecoming win over Hamilton Christian in Week 4.
"I told them they have no reason to hang their heads," Lee said. "These kids have put forth more (effort) than anyone anywhere.
"They have played multiple positions and they never come off the field. The kids play with so much heart and pride. It was an honor to work with these kids."
When Lee took over the program in 2017, he did so because he didn't want to see the program disbanded. Lee, who was the athletic director at Johnson Bayou several years ago, lives in Sibley in North Louisiana and makes the 8-plus hour round trip to Creole every week, spending half the week in Cameron.
"It is a real hard decision for me," Lee said. "I know the numbers have steadily gone down since that last hurricane (Ike in 2008), making it difficult to field a team.
"I hate to see it. My deal was to keep the program alive, but I can't reach in the hat and pull out a rabbit when there is not a rabbit in there. It is a real tough decision all the way around."
South Cameron has a rich football tradition. The program started in 1956 and reached the playoffs 36 times, including four state runners-up in 1969, 1974, 1986 and 1996.
Parry Lalande was part of three of those state finalist teams as a player in 1969 and as head coach in 1986 and 1996. He was the Tarpons' head coach from 1982 to 2010, compiling a 215-101-1 record
"It is tough," Lalande said. "The kids and the community gave everything they had to the program and to me.
"It was a fun ride, but those two storms (Hurricanes Rita and Ike) that hit made things tough. It is unfortunate that this had to happen. There have been a lot of good athletes and good people that came out of it. They played hard and took pride in what they did. I knew that this would possibly happen this year, but I was hoping it wouldn't."
It is the second time South Cameron has had to put its program on ice. In 1957, a year after the program started, Hurricane Audrey roared through Cameron Parish, forcing the team to miss a season.
The Tarpons played the last two games of the 2016 season with 14 players and have struggled with numbers since Hurricane Rita (2005) and Ike caused a huge population drain.
South Cameron is the third Cameron Parish high school to fold its football program. Hackberry had a team from 1955 to 1972 and Grand Lake stopped playing in 1960 before reviving its program in 2013.