Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Fletcher Articles

For The Shreveport Times
Date night in Haynesville Online Version
By: Tim Fletcher

Pulling into Haynesville this foggy, Friday night, there is no need for signs directing us to Red Franklin-Memorial Stadium.  Above the pine trees we spot a glowing, vapory mushroom-stadium lights limited in reach by the low hanging clouds.

Pulling off the main highway, nosing toward the shining mist, we curve around the neighborhood that hugs the stadium.  Yards and houses decorated with Christmas lights serve as the 12th man, welcoming us to a place that is home for Golden Tornado football and their faithful following.

To our left, the stadium appears, crystal clear as the fog drifts upward above the lights.

“How beautiful,” my wife, a first time visitor to the stadium gasps.
“Do you want me to let you off near the stadium?”
“No.  I’ll walk.”

There is no parking spot close-by less than twenty-minutes before kickoff. Especially tonight: State semifinal pitting the second-seeded Tors against the #3 seed West St. John Rams.

Three minutes later, parked close enough to the Arkansas state line to hear a hog call, we make the trek. 

Aly voiced her only regret of the night, “I should have gotten out earlier.”

While I grabbed a pair of tickets, Aly was already chatting up the cheerleaders and clutching our soon-to-be well-used game program.

We entered the stadium visiting with our friend, Kevin, who also made the trip. “My neighbor is a Haynesville alum and I’ve been telling him that I wanted to go to a game one day. What better game than Number 2 vs. Number 3?”

Kevin was decked out with a black cowboy hat, gold long-sleeve shirt over a black t-shirt.
Aly had a gold fleece jacket over a black t-shirt.  I wore a black sweatshirt. 
Three out-of-towners appeared on the doorstep of north Louisiana’s football kingdom dressed appropriately. 

Once inside, Aly said, “I forgot to bring something to dry off the bleachers.”  A lady three rows back handed us a garbage back to sit on. Family looks out for family.

Quick demographic check of those surrounding us: White, black, old, young, male, female, repeat.

Blood-type: black and gold.

On come the Tors! Bursting through the paper sign, third-and-fourth generation Golden Tors experience the magical transformation from an unknown chanting, bobbing mass to “our boys”, hell-bent on doing their daddies, brothers, uncles and grandpas proud by punching their ticket to a 24th state championship game.

It didn’t take long for the elements to make its presence felt.  Haynesville’s first of nearly ten fumbles ended a promising drive at the Rams 30 yard line.  The Tors’ defense clamped down on the visitors from south Louisiana throughout the early portion of the game, limiting the Rams to -1 yard on their first 12 plays. 

Public Address announcer Tommy Franklin (Red’s son and head coach David’s younger brother) voiced his genuine concern for the visitors with specific instructions on the location of the women’s restroom, the men’s restroom, the visitors’ concession stand as well as the gumbo hut near the home concession stand.  He banged the drum for the voters in the crowd to hit the booth on Saturday---an important millage for the school system is on the ballot. 

On the final drive of the first half the Rams found traction in the Claiborne parish muck.  Lamore Boudoin (Franklin pronounced it Boo-DAN… I would have done the same. He’s a south Louisiana kid for crying out loud) gained 11 yards; the Rams sent another running back on the same path and he chewed up 13 yards.  The home crowd yelled. They rattled their two-liter bottles filled with beans. A cowbell clanged from up above us.  Nothing worked. On 4th and goal from the 1-yard line, Boudoin balled into the end zone. The Rams grabbed a 7-0 halftime lead.

‘Preacher Man,’ a frequent caller to our radio show found us at the half telling us he wasn’t worried. “David says, or does something at halftime that transforms those boys.  He’ll drop a dang-it and a durn-it but that’s as bad as it gets.”

Led by star quarterback, Kendrick Jackson, the Tors had some fire in their bellies in the third quarter. The hulking 240-pounder will be a linebacker on Saturdays but he is the heart and soul of the offense on Fridays.

He has plenty of help though. Keandre Harris narrowed his body to squeeze through a small crease and then jetted toward the Haynesville sideline. 18 yards later a Ram defender banged him out of bounds into the roux of mud and sweat beneath the Tors cleats.  That play is what turned the tide. 

The octogenarian school-teacher, who has enjoyed the same box seats for decades near midfield clapped in delight. The crowd roared their approval as Harris slid, belly-side up clutching the ball like he was rescuing the pigskin from a burning building. When he stood up, the “44” on the back of his jersey was a secret, hidden by layers of muck.

Harris punctuated the drive on a touchdown gallop that looked like a carbon copy of his mud run, minus the gleeful slide. Success on the 2-point try turned the scoreboard into a hometown delight with the Tors on top 8-7.

Demarcian McCutcheon’s 80-yard lightning bolt early in the 4th quarter featured a stutter step in front of the Haynesville bench that froze a Ram like a set of high-beams.  It provided just enough breathing room when McCutcheon geared back up to stave off the defender.  More bottle-shaking, cowbell-clanging and shrieks of joy. 

West St. John cut the lead to one with a score on their next drive but a heavy dose of Harris, Kendrick Jackson and James Jackson left the guests on the short end of the 26-13 decision. 

Our well-worn program, with dollops of chili dog, Sprite, rain and mud, will serve as a constant reminder of a night under the lights in beautiful Haynesville, Louisiana.  We arrived as guests but were leaving as brethren.

We began to stand when a larger than life cowboy sat on Aly’s purse, pushed back his big black hat and engaged us.  “When you showed up, I mentioned how other schools in Shreveport get the ink and attention.  I said y’all didn’t cover us enough.  I’m just proud of these kids and these coaches. Here in Haynesville, we do things right. Have y’all seen ‘Dances With Wolves?”

This caught me off guard, “Uh, sure.”
“’Do you see that I am your friend? Can you see that you will always be my friend?’ Do you see that this is what football is about? Do you see it’s not about recruiting, it’s bringing together kids that grow up here, live here and play in your hometown.”

This Golden Tor devotee and local attorney, Jack Slaid obviously knew how to drive home a point and left us with a smile and a handshake.

Aly and I strode out of the stadium, arm-in-arm, relishing our time with company that knows no strangers. In the dimly lit area where we parked, a young man who was next to our vehicle asked quietly, “Sir. You interested…”

I didn’t quite understand him. 

“What?”
“We have turkey legs for $8 and sausage for $2.  You interested?”

The grill was still smoking with meat as I saddled next to his tailgate. Presented hand sanitizer, a loaf of white bread and a bin of steaming hot sausage, I handed the man $5; sanitized my hands, grabbed four slices of bread and two sausages. 

The night, complete with entertainment, friends and dinner, was a success.