Parish football thrives on passion of the community

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
The East Ascension student section is at their best during the Spartans' rivalry with St. Amant. Photo by DKMoon Photography.

Ascension parish is known for a lot of things--its claim to the best jambalaya in the world, its annual balloon festival and the widespread warmth and hospitality of its residents.

But every fall, it becomes well known for something else: its unrivaled passion for football.

"We're seeing a lot of growth in the parish, particularly in Gonzales. It has always been a great area for football, so as our community continues to grow, so does the passion for football," said Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux.

No one contributes more from that passion than the parish's players and coaches.

East Ascension head coach Paul Bourgeois has patrolled the Spartan sidelines for four years now, and he said that he has enjoyed every second.

"Obviously, the passion of the community makes the sport so much more exciting. When you talk about football, people here in the parish light up," Bourgeois said. "Seeing people in the community get so passionate about it, it really makes it special for me."

Whether you travel to the heart of Gonzales to see the Spartans or head out to St. Amant to watch the Gators, the community always comes out in droves under the Friday night lights.

The rampant tailgating creates almost a college atmosphere as the intoxicating aroma of barbeque and jambalaya fills the air.

Once the game begins, the student sections become electric.

Just like the teams they represent, they compete with the students on the opposite side of the stadium to see who can cheer the loudest and make the biggest impact on the game.

That's nothing new. This passion has always permeated through Ascension.

"Football has always been a great passion of the community. You're starting to see even more and more people wanting to get involved in the last year or so," Arceneaux said. "Any time we have a recreation meeting where football is discussed, there is always a big turnout. People are wanting to open more leagues and get more kids playing the game. The sport is really starting to grow."

Coach Bourgeois said that this universal excitement throughout the parish is one of the big reasons he took the coaching job at East Ascension.

"This is a football area. When I was thinking about taking this job at EA, I started hearing about the schools in the area--like St. Amant, Dutchtown and Donaldsonville. Those are all great programs," Bourgeois said. "Gonzales and Baton Rouge have such great football tradition. It makes it really exciting to be a coach here."

One of the things that have made things even more exciting over the years is the success Ascension football players have had at the next level.

Players like Jarvis Green, Glenn Dorsey, Eddie Lacy and Eric Reid all left the parish and won championships at the collegiate and professional level.

Their success has only fueled the competitiveness of Ascension's players.

"To me, it's very exciting. The EA vs. St. Amant rivalry is great," Arceneaux said. "So many fans go to the games, and so many friends and relatives throughout the community will go to different schools--like Dutchtown, or EA or St. Amant. So, it really elevates the rivalry and allows for some jousting between the fans.

"But the No. 1 thing I like to see is the young men participating. We always hope to see some of them move up to the next level. We love it when they move up to the college ranks and represent our community."

Of course, the many inter-parish rivalries ignite the community week to week.

"The people in the parish, they really make a difference in the rivalries. They make things interesting," Bourgeois said. "They support us and do all that they can do, and the players work hard and do all they can do to win. During the week of the big rivalry games, practices are always more exciting."

From East Ascension vs. Dutchtown, to Dutchtown vs. St. Amant, things always feel a little different when bragging rights are on the line.

However, there is no rivalry in Ascension that matches East Ascension vs. St. Amant.

It's the game everyone has circled on their schedules before the season begins.

Before the matchup even takes place, the fans compete in the Shout Out to see just which fan base is the most devoted.

Come game time, St. Amant breaks out their all-orange uniforms, while the East Ascension students are clad in camouflage from head to toe.

Many consider the rivalry the best Louisiana has to offer. Bourgeois is one of them.

"I have to say this. I've coached all over Louisiana, and this EA vs. St. Amant rivalry, in my experience, it's the biggest in the state," Bourgeois said.

The season officially begins on Sept. 4, but the passion of the parish's residents is already here. They're ready for some football.