Columns of cotton
Brian Campbell, the founder and former president of the Louisiana Chapter of the Maxwell Football Club, once wrote: “Many prep teams have rivalry games played within their city limits. This would undoubtedly be just another one of those games right? I figured the TCB was loved by the local community for obvious reasons, but probably nothing more than an average intra-city championship. Boy, was I wrong. Average high school games are not featured by NFL Films. I am pretty sure that most prep rivalries have not been blessed by Pope John Paul II.”
These words come from Campbell’s foreword of a book written by Mel LeCompte, Jr., that captures what the Tee Cotton Bowl is about.
The book entitled Sharpened Iron: The Tee Cotton Bowl Story was written in 2010 and traces the history of the game between Sacred Heart High School and Ville Platte High School that are separated by train tracks.
LeCompte’s journey into the world of Tee Cotton began while he was a part time sports reporter for The Daily World in Opelousas.
“It was the second Tee Cotton Bowl in 2001,” he explained. “Herman Fuselier was the sports editor there at the time, and he tapped me on the shoulder and said this guy Dr. Tim (Fontenot) called about this thing called the Tee Cotton Bowl. He asked if I wanted to cover it. I was the new guy there, so I didn’t mind traveling wherever they wanted to send me. So, I went there and was really pleased with it.”
LeCompte, Jr., continued, “That night of the game, I was coming home and caught a flat tire. I could not change it to save my life. The Ville Platte Police Department pulled up next to me, and the officers Kevin Fontenot and Chip Matte were two of the nicest guys that I’ve ever met. One of them went wake up his buddy to get a tire tool, and the officers were nice enough to help change the tire.”
What happened next will forever go down in Tee Cotton Bowl history. “When that occurred,” said LeCompte, Jr., I decided I had a good time there and that these people were exceptionally nice to me. I’m going to write a column about the good time I had. I wrote the column and didn’t think much of it.”
“When it came time for the third Tee Cotton Bowl,” he continued, “Herman tapped me again on the shoulder and said it was the Tee Cotton Bowl that weekend. Dr. Tim had called and asked if I wanted to attend again and mentioned something about the NFL Films Presents. I went over there, and that’s when Dr. Tim explained to me he had mailed a copy of my column to NFL Films along with some other Tee Cotton Bowl stuff and that a crew was sent to come cover the game for NFL Films Presents. That was a big boost to me that Dr. Tim could use my column to promote the game.”
Since then, LeCompte, Jr., left The Daily World and became hospitalized. Because of his sickness, he was off of his feet for two years. During that time, he was going through the local news and saw picture of Fontenot with NFL Coach Tony Dungy.
“I wound up finding Dr. Tim’s contact information and called him,” LeCompte, Jr., said. “He said that Tony Dungy liked the game and gave it an award and that the Pope blessed it. Ever since then, it’s been a part of my life. Even when I’m not writing about it, Dr. Tim is always in contact with me about it.”
That connection between LeCompte, Jr., and Fontenot led to Sharpened Iron being written.
“Dr. Tim got back in contact with me and asked me to go by his office one day,” said LeCompte, Jr. “He had some stuff he wanted to show me. While I was there, he asked me if I thought a book about the Tee Cotton Bowl would be a good idea. I said sure, and he said that he wanted me to write the book.”
“For Dr. Tim to put that request on me,” he added, “I thought Tony Dungy said yes and the Pope said yes, so how in the world am I going to say no.”
Writing the book allowed LeCompte, Jr., to find true humility through, what he called, Fontenot’s Yoda like wisdom.”
LeCompte, Jr., explained, “I can be sarcastic and can take digs at people. I used to write for The Daily World, and that didn’t end on the best terms. In one chapter of the book, I started throwing in a couple digs at my former employer. Every time I would write a chapter, I would send it to Dr. Tim to check for accuracy and all. He told me that he wanted me to be sure if I wanted to put this in because it’s really not good to talk bad about people or things.”
“He started telling me about two times in his life when he was going through really big issues where he felt like people betrayed him,” continued LeCompte, Jr. “He said that he just had to humble himself and that he couldn’t get angry at the situation. He could tell I was still angry at the situation from when I was writing at The Daily World, and it was like talking to Yoda because he was giving me all of this advice that I might need to humble myself and let off the gas of my sarcasm a little bit. I kind of removed 80-percent of what he wanted me to remove.”
The book is still available for purchase on Amazon and in an E-book format. LeCompte, Jr., will have a tent at tomorrow night’s Tee Cotton Bowl where he will have copies on hand, and he will also be signing copies at this year’s Book Fest at the main branch of the Evangeline Parish Library.
One copy of his book that was recently purchased made its way to an unlikely location.
“About three months ago,” he expressed, “I got an E-mail from a college student in New Zealand who had a copy of the book. He was actually writing his thesis on the influence of the Haka around the world.”
The Haka is a traditional ritual that is performed between rugby rivals in New Zealand and that was incorporated into the pre-game festivities of the Tee Cotton Bowl.
“Because of the little portion about the Haka that I wrote and how Dr. Tim implements it,” said LeCompte, Jr., “my book has made it to New Zealand and is sitting there in some professor’s house right now because some guy heard about the Tee Cotton Bowl.”
He concluded, “I don’t know how in the world he heard about it, but he got in contact with me, ordered a copy of the book, and wrote portions of his thesis on the Tee Cotton Bowl and how a little old town named Ville Platte, La., in the United States uses it.”