Arceneaux cannot change direction of Shreveport by himself

To start the new year, the Shreveport-Bossier Journal is publishing a series of stories this week on Shreveport’s new mayor, Tom Arceneaux. In today’s finale’, Tony Taglavore writes about his conversation with the mayor.

One hour, six minutes, 55 seconds.

That’s how much time Tom Arceneaux gave me a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve had people refuse to give me the time of day, much less an hour. And they were doing much less than preparing to become mayor of Shreveport.

“I will try to be as efficient with your time as possible,” I said, at the start of our conversation.

“I have plenty of time, Tony. Don’t worry.”

Remember, this was after the election — just more than a week before Arceneaux took office. There weren’t any votes to be won. And he certainly didn’t have plenty of time. Since surprising many by defeating an African-American democrat and state senator on December 10th, the 71-year-old had spent pretty much every waking hour wrapping his brain around the city government of which he is now in charge.

But Arceneaux saw value in you — the reader — getting to know a little about him personally, and where he stands politically on some issues. But before he was sworn into office, Arceneaux thought it important to — at my request — let you know about him and his plans for the city. He answered every question thoughtfully, without hesitation, and void of mayor-speak.

I appreciate that.

Before our talk, I didn’t know Tom Arceneaux. I have met him on a handful of occasions, mostly back in the day when I was in television. He was always complimentary of my work. But after listening to Arceneaux and learning about who he is not so much as a politician, but as a human being, I feel like I know him.

And I like him.

Without being overbearing, Arceneaux let me know he is a religious person.

“Faith is a big part of my life because my Savior, Jesus Christ, saved and redeemed me,” he said. “He took me out of the miry clay and put my feet on the Rock.”

I like that. We need more religious people in elected office. You know, someone who believes in looking up to his or her most important constituent.

I also like that the mayor gets out a lot. Don’t be surprised if you see him at dinner, or the symphony, as I did a few weeks ago. You know, a mayor of the people. But one place you won’t see him is at Tinseltown.

“You get me in a cool, dark place and I’m going to fall asleep,” said Arceneaux. “It’s cheaper for me to fall asleep at home.”

That tells me he is going to be fiscally responsible with our money.

I like that.

By the way, the mayor and his wife of 29 ½ years, Elizabeth, do watch movies — on Netflix.

“We have different tastes,” he said. “I’m a TV movie Rom-Com (Romantic Comedy) guy, and she’s an action-suspense movie fan. We’re kind of cross-gender.”

If the mayor can navigate those differences for almost 30 years, surely he can change the direction of a city that seems to be headed in what many consider the wrong direction.

Or can he?

I am of the opinion he can’t. I am also of the opinion no one person can. Not even the mayor.

However, we — the people who make up the city — do have that power. We can start with the easy stuff.

Stop throwing your Whataburger wrapper out the window. Offer a smile or an act of kindness to a stranger. You own a piece of land? Cut the (blanking) grass.

To paraphrase the late, great comedian Rodney Dangerfield, when you don’t have self-respect, you have no respect at all.

Then, we can move on to the hard suff. Like settling a disagreement with conversation instead of gunfire. Like raising your children in a loving environment. Remember, today’s young ones are tomorrow’s future.

Election night, my fiancée and I were at an event attended by many smart, successful people (we were given free tickets.) I checked my phone and saw that Arceneaux was going to be Shreveport’s mayor. I passed along the news to someone at our table. That person’s response?

“Thank God. Maybe now we can go outside of our house without fear of getting shot.”

I hated to break it to that lady — and I didn’t — but Tom Arceneaux isn’t going to prevent you from being shot. No one is going to do that.

I asked Arceneaux what he would say to her—and others—who believe the mayor will be the savior of the city.

“There’s one savior, and his name is Jesus — not Tom.”

Amen. 

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com


What we’d like to see in ’23

JOURNAL STAFF

After sharing what we expect to see in ’23 in Wednesday’s edition, your Shreveport-Bossier Journal team is back today with what we’d like to see this year. Before Christmas, ideally. 

LOCALLY, ladies tees at Querbes, please. It would be easy – just get the red balls out of the equipment shack and put them back out on the golf course. Just think, the ladies’ leagues may start playing there again.

In PREP sportsNO high school football games affected by bad weather (as in delayed, postponed or cancelled). Oh, and I’d love to see them start at 6:30.

In COLLEGE sports, a full stadium at the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl. The staff does such an amazing job putting on a great event year-in and year-out that the stands should be full (and I’d like to see more stadiums full during all college bowl games).

In the PROS, see the NFL change its overtime rules (it’s ridiculous that a team can win the game in OT without the other team having a possession) and NO games end in a tie (this is football, not futbol).

  • Harriet Prothro Penrod

In HIGH SCHOOLSfootball players wearing regular pants not cut off above the knee.

In COLLEGES, Bossier Parish Community College’s softball team make it to the NJCAA national tournament and win.

In the PROS, MLB batters that don’t step out of the box after EVERY pitch.

  • Lee Hiller

In PREPS, the football hydration rule during games adjusted to go by temperature, not time. If it’s a rare cool September night, keep playing; no break.

In COLLEGE, baseball teams stop using walk-up music. Please please please make it stop. Think about what homeboy is about to throw you and not about whether or not fans like your song. Walk-up music is embarrassing for everybody. Hit a home run? Drive in a run? Stand-up triple? Take an extra base? OK — NOW you can have music. But not just for making it from the dugout to the plate.

In PROS, every team in the NFL to finish the regular season 8-8-1. Yay for parity! So awesome. (Yawn … )

  • Teddy Allen

In COLLEGES, Northwestern State football returning to its winning ways — which hasn’t happened since 2008. Good, hard-working people who deserve success.

LOCALLY, Shreveport hosting more mainstream sporting events to enhance our quality of life. Cornhole and dart-throwing tournaments don’t do it for me.

In the PROS, Louisiana Downs promote more horse racing and less bounce houses and outdoor concerts in 100-degree heat.

  • Tony Taglavore

In PREPS, an All-District team that actually has some merit to it.

In COLLEGE, coaches to stop putting up the stupid screens on the sidelines so they can act like the second coming of Bear Bryant who, by the way, never put up a screen and hardly ever wore a headset.

LOCALLY, something actually comes from the bizarre minor league baseball stadium announcement that was made in October. Just throw us a bone.

In the PROS, the Saints hire Sean Payton back and bring Tom Brady with him.

  • John James Marshall

I covered many wishes in my Tuesday Journal column, but let’s get greedy and ask for more.

In PREPS, recognizing the big-time calls for a big box. Northwood provides one of the best game-day atmospheres in the area and the Falcons are dang good, too – they had one of the best post-season runs of any team. The press box screams Class 1A, and it’s not the school’s fault. It’s time for Caddo Parish to give the school and that program a press box it deserves.

In PROS, “Musky” to get Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame love. Scott Muscutt was the first player the Shreveport Mudbugs signed 25 years ago. He’s since won multiple championships as a player, a coach and a general manager. He’s a major reason why hockey has thrived in Northwest Louisiana — the Mudbugs perennially lead their league in attendance — and no job is too small. You are as likely to see a unicorn as to spot “Musky” somewhere other than George’s Pond at Hirsch Coliseum.

He cuts the ice, replaces glass, cleans the aisles – and does whatever it takes to make this community a better place. He’s also helped establish healthy youth hockey and high school hockey programs.

The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame honors the best of the best. It’s time to bring this man into the discussion for future, but hopefully not way-down-the-road enshrinement. Hockey in Louisiana’s Hall may sound strange, but this is a no-brainer.

  • Roy Lang III 

In PREPS, more high school coaches organizing clinics on their own — like Green Oaks’ Chad Lewis, with the help of his friend, North DeSoto’s Christopher Wilson, did over the holidays. It started with a post on Facebook and ended up with a full-fledged clinic at the Hamilton Branch of the Shreve Memorial Library. Kudos to Lewis and Wilson for spearheading that effort.

I’d like to see our school districts in Northwest Louisiana catch up to school systems in Northeast Louisiana. Strength and conditioning coaches working at every school, tasked with the athletic development of all teams. It’s overdue to see certified athletic trainers on each campus, who teach in the classroom and look for young people who want to go into that vital field.

I’d like to see us identify high school athletes who demonstrate an ambition of going into the coaching profession. Lewis and Wilson were once student-athletes at Byrd High School. Why can’t we “grow our own” next generation of outstanding coaches in this area? Let’s give them a head start by mentoring them right now.

  • Jerry Byrd Jr.

In PREPS, at the coin flip before kickoff, along with the team captains, bring out a couple seniors from the band, cheerleaders, dance line, and National Honor Society, and a teacher. Efficiently and sufficiently recognize all of them on the PA system, not as an afterthought at halftime, but when the energy level in the stadium is peaking. Celebrate their efforts and realize they are representative of their peers.

In COLLEGES, home-and-home competition in every sport between our four nearby Division I schools. I’ll grant that Tech and ULM aren’t playing football at Grambling or NSU, or against them at the I-Bowl. It’s absurd the Bulldogs and Warhawks don’t square off annually, and also host the Tigers or Demons. Common sense. Uncommon gate receipts.

LOCALLY, more neighborhood pick-up games. Less travel ball. Didn’t we find ways to play, no charge, instead of adults organizing everything – and then soiling too much of it with egos and selfishness? The best homefield is at home, somebody’s home, in a yard or driveway or even the street. Somebody’s mom will make lemonade after the game.

  • Doug Ireland

What we expect to see in ’23

Your Shreveport-Bossier Journal crew humbly offers our predictions for the 2023 sports year. Ladies first.

In PREPS, the Calvary Lady Cavs softball team goes BACK2BACK2BACK (winning a third straight Division IV state championship).

In COLLEGES, the Louisiana Tech baseball team makes the College World Series.

In the PROS, Sam Burns wins his first major (after his 2022 season, this is bound to happen sooner than later).

  • Harriet Prothro Penrod

In PREPS, improvements to continue at Lee Hedges Stadium with the construction of new locker rooms and training rooms along with a new press box.

In COLLEGESanother successful year for LSU and Tulane in football.

In the PROS, new rules making a difference in how we watch MLB games. 

  • Lee Hiller

In PREPS, a student-athlete makes more than his working parents off an NIL deal.

In COLLEGE, I’ll be keeping up with Centenary Football and caring about recruiting news for the first and only time in my feeble life. In the autumn of 2024, Centenary takes the football field for the first time since 1941. Ninety years ago this past fall, Centenary was 8-0-1. 1932. You could look it up. Nationally, the Gents were in the top 25 in per-game scoring average at 20 a game and had the fifth-stingiest defense in ’Murica; Centenary gave up just 26 points all season. Centenary was 8-0-4 in 1933, when playing for the tie must have been an “in” thing. In 1934, which will be 90 years removed from Centenary’s 2024 re-boot, Centenary was a salty 10-2.

In the PROS, Jake from State Farm will be on every commercial of every NFL, NBA, and MLB game. (Thankfully, I like Jake from State Farm.)

  • Teddy Allen

In COLLEGES, LSU once again will contend for the SEC Championship — and will knock on the door of the College Football Playoff. They will do so without QB Garrett Nussmeier, who surely will transfer.

In the PROS, the Saints and Cowboys replace their head coaches. Dennis Allen is in over his head, and Mike McCarthy has the talent to get to the NFC Championship Game — but won’t.

LOCALLY, Louisiana Downs will continue to promote less horse racing and more bounce houses and outdoor concerts in 100-degree heat.

  • Tony Taglavore

In PREPS, sadly, the quality of high school athletics continues to drop. Football coaches almost have to beg kids to play and if you watch any other sport, you quickly realize that the talent level simply isn’t as good as it was 5 or 10 years ago.

In COLLEGES, we’ll see a slight move toward normalcy in NIL. It’s not going away, but it’s also a two-way street. Somebody has to finance that and these people aren’t in it to watch Jimmy SuperStud (a.) think about transferring, because he can (b.) complain that his deal isn’t as good as the guy playing next to him (c.) start mailing it in around if he’s not getting the ball enough.

In PROS/LOCAL, what’s left of Fair Grounds Field will still be standing. The Independence Bowl will be played on a sunny, 55-degree day. The laws of probability HAVE to even out at some point.

  • John James Marshall 

In PREPS, some local high school football offenses will “struggle” early. The 2022 season offered ridiculous offensive numbers, or bad defense depending on your view. Expect the defenses to fight back – at least early — in the 2023 campaign.

No fewer than five 1-5A teams will have new quarterbacks, not to mention the expected changes at other local schools. In theory this would lead to gray hair on the top of some OC’s heads, at least while the new signal-callers get their feet wet.

Also in PREPS, here’s a “stat nerd” alert. A change could be coming to one of the dumbest rules in high school football. Unlike the NFL and college football, a holding penalty behind the line of scrimmage in high school is marked from the spot of the foul. Currently a first-and-10 could turn into first-and-28 simply with a holding call.

The National Federation of State High School Associations has surveyed coaches regarding a change to move in line with the next levels of football. Bravo.

  • Roy Lang III

In PREPSI expect to see more high-scoring games. The passing offenses were ahead of the passing defenses in 2022, and it wasn’t even close. Northwest Louisiana has had a good run of defensive backs who have made their way to the league. See Tre’Davious White, Morris Claiborne, “Greedy” Williams, and Israel Mukuamu. But there were simply too many great quarterbacks … and too few defensive backs.

While 2022 seemed to be the year of the quarterback, I expect to see 2023 to be the year of the kicker with Byrd’s Abram Murray, who committed last summer to the University of Miami, and Parkway’s Aeron Burrell being two of the best locals to ever put toe to leather.

In COLLEGE, unfortunately, I see local colleges and universities continuing to struggle in the transfer portal/NIL era. I think Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Cumbie and Grambling’s Hue Jackson are the men for the job and great coaches, I just think it’s the most difficult time in history to be a college football coach. There is one exception to this. I expect to see Centenary College — under the direction of former Evangel and LSU standout defensive lineman Byron Dawson — thrive locally, with home-grown talent familiar to local football fans.

In the PROS, in light of Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest on Monday Night Football, I expect to see all professional contact sports double down on player safety. For all of those attracted to the violence and entertainment football provides, I expect them to be in for a rude awakening.

  • Jerry Byrd Jr.

In PREPS, scheduling tough intersectional games pays off for the Parkway Lady Panthers, who leave no doubt as they win the girls basketball state championship. Mikaylah Williams IMMEDIATELY joins the LSU roster for March Madness and starts for Kim Mulkey.

In COLLEGES, the men’s basketball rules committee shifts from playing 20-minute halves to four 10-minute quarters, mirroring the women and the pros. Mostly, providing more TV commercial breaks for Teddy’s pal Jake, that guy from State Farm.

LOCALLY, Shreveport’s Tim Brando adds another sport to his vast broadcast resume when he becomes the lead announcer for USA Pickleball on FOX.

  • Doug Ireland

Coming Thursday: What we’d LIKE to see in ’23.


Losses of Leach, Wahl harsh reminders to embrace today and its opportunities

For those of us who love sports, as well as great content, it’s been a rough few days.

Friday evening, we learned Grant Wahl, among the elite writers at Sports Illustrated for more than 20 years, died while covering soccer’s World Cup in Qatar.

He was only 48 years old.

Tuesday morning came word Mike Leach, Mississippi State’s head football coach perhaps known more for his hilarious — and often-times thought-provoking comments — instead of winning games, passed away after reportedly suffering a massive heart attack Sunday.

He was only 61 years old.

I loved reading Wahl’s stories. He used to write a lot about basketball — including a 2002 SI cover story where he introduced the world to a high school kid named LeBron James — until sharpening his focus on soccer. I appreciate great writing and have the utmost respect for those who have the talent to bring their subjects to life. I’m not a soccer fan, but if a story had Wahl’s byline, I was in. I knew I would be educated and entertained.

Before Leach arrived in Starkville, I wouldn’t take five minutes to watch a State game — unless the Bulldogs were playing LSU. But the past three seasons, if I were flipping through networks and saw where Leach’s team was playing, I stopped and watched. He was quirky. Make that flat-out odd. But Leach was also one of the smartest offensive football minds in the game — and had been for years.

His interviews were often comedic. In 2019, when asked how he wants to be remembered when people write his obituary, Leach said “Well, that’s their problem. They’re the one writing the obituary. I mean, what do I care? I’m dead.”

Then earlier this year, there was his post-game interview with Alyssa Lang from the SEC Network. Engaged, Lang asked Leach for wedding advice.

“Go elope,” he deadpanned. “Because basically, every female in the family is going to terrorize you until it’s over.”

Leach made college football — and the usually mundane interview — fun.

Wahl made reading time well spent.

But what strikes me most — what’s hit me hardest — about the past few days is their age.

I already mentioned Wahl was 48 and Leach was 61.

It’s worth mentioning again.

I recently turned 59. My fiancé’ is 62. We have plans. Getting married. Building a house. Watching her grandkids grow up.

I haven’t really thought about dying before all that happens.

Until recently.

If you are older than 48, think of how much life Wahl will miss.

If you are older than 61, think of how much life Leach will miss.

Then do what I’ve done the past few days. Stop thinking about next week, next month, next year.

Start thinking about TODAY. Enjoy what TODAY has to offer. Be a blessing to someone TODAY.

Wahl thought today, he would be writing a preview of Sunday’s World Cup finals.

Leach thought today, he would be at practice, getting his team ready for its bowl game.

For both, today never came.

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com


Coaches or travel agents? This week, some are planning for more than their opponent

 WORKING THE PHONE: Parkway’s Coy Brotherton has been arranging everything from transportation to lunch, in preparation for the Panthers’ playoff trip to Geismar. (Submitted Photo)

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

Need an event planner? Chadwick Lewis might be your man.

Looking for a good place to eat? You may want to call Coy Brotherton.

Want someone to put together your dream vacation? Adam Kirby pays great attention to detail.

All three carry the title of Head Football Coach. But this week, they are spending a lot — if not most — of their time doing everything but coaching football.

“That’s the part they don’t tell you about when you want to become a head coach,” Lewis said.

The Green Oaks coach, along with Brotherton (Parkway) and Kirby (Captain Shreve), have been busy planning road trips for the first round of the state playoffs. Friday, the Giants will travel the farthest — 316 miles to Metairie (Country Day). The Panthers will head 251 miles south to Geismar (Dutchtown).

Comparatively, the Gators get off easy, going 126 miles to Ball (Tioga).

But no one is complaining.

“This time of year, you always want to be planning instead of taking inventory,” Brotherton said. “You want to pick up the helmets and shoulder pads after Thanksgiving.”

Brotherton got a head start on logistics after last Friday’s loss to Airline. He crunched the numbers and knew his team would be going south.

“Saturday morning, I called coach (Guy) Mistretta down at Dutchtown. We got on the phone with each other, texted back and forth, figuring out all the logistics — trading film, ticket prices, what time we’re going to arrive, where we can dress, and all those fun things.”

But when you’re bringing 55 players, 15 coaches, and five managers, playing the game may be the easy part.

“You’re calling places to eat,” Brotherton said. “You’re calling your principal to get (players) out of class. You’re calling and checking on charter buses — how much is it going to be? It gets very busy.”

By the way, the answer to Brotherton’s question is around $6,000 per bus — and the Panthers will need two of them. That’s why Parkway will take school buses this week. If the Panthers win, they will enjoy chartered comfort next week.

Shreve’s Kirby is in his office by 4 a.m. each day. That’s right, 4 a.m. This week, he’s needed every minute of the day.

“I do it on my own,” the first-year head coach said of putting together his team’s travel itinerary. “Then, I get input from the coaches … I’m looking at the itinerary I put together, and there’s one, two, three, four, five, six changes to it. They had good ideas, too.”

The Gators will eat lunch around 1:30, then hit the road. But it won’t be a non-stop trip. Shreve will do a walk-thru at Louisiana College in Pineville. That’s not so much to stretch their legs, as it is to let them see — and be seen.

“A goal for our program is to get as many scholarships (for our players) as we can,” Kirby said. “What that allows our kids to do is see Louisiana College’s facilities and see a college campus. It gives (head coach) Drew Maddox an opportunity to come out to walk-through and see some of our kids that he may want to come and recruit when their season is done.”

One of the easiest things Brotherton did when planning Friday’s trip was choosing where to have lunch.

“Last year, we went to Alexandria in the playoffs. We stopped at Lasyone’s (Meat Pie Restaurant) in Natchitoches, and we won that game. So, the superstitious side of me said let’s do that again. The food’s good. They take care of us. They give us a good price. They’re good people to work with.”

Green Oaks’ players will enjoy a sit-down lunch at Piccadilly cafeteria in Baton Rouge, before doing a walk-through at Southern University.

“(The restaurant is) giving me one price,” Lewis said, “and (the players) will get one entrée, two sides, a roll, and a drink. They will have an option on what they want to eat. It won’t be a situation like I’ve done in the past where everybody eats the same thing.”

It’s a lot of work — and takes a lot of time — planning for an opponent and a one-day road trip. But it sure beats the alternative.

“Like I tell the kids,” Lewis said, “‘You have four more quarters. This is what you dream about every year.’ Hopefully, I can get to do this again next week.”

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com


Grambling kicker has learned about more than football

UP AND DOWN: Garrett Urban strives for improvement in his final games at Grambling, beginning at home Saturday afternoon. (Photo courtesy of Grambling State Athletics)

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

GRAMBLING — Garrett Urban sat in a team meeting led by his then-head coach, Broderick Fobbs.

But the subject was far from football.

“He handed out this red bag,” remembered Urban, now a senior kicker at Grambling State. “It was (like a) little envelope sleeve with a zipper. He gave them out to the whole team. He said, ‘If you get pulled over (by police), I want you to put your insurance, your ID — everything they would potentially ask for — I want you to put it in that envelope. I want you to grip the steering wheel, and whenever the officer approaches, I want you to say everything is in that red envelope, sir (or ma’am).’ That was an interesting meeting.”

And that’s just one example of the non-academic education Urban, who is White, has received during his six years at Grambling. Playing for one of the country’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), Urban has learned about race, and what it’s like to be Black in America.

“At the end of the day, we’re all very, very similar,” Urban said. “There’s not a lot of forced interaction, per se, between cultures. There’s room for a lot of misinterpretation or misunderstanding. By going to an HBCU, you’re able to widen your horizons.”

Out of Fort Bend Travis High School in Houston, Urban received his first — and only — scholarship offer from Grambling. He didn’t have any hesitation about attending and playing at an HBCU.

“My parents did a pretty good job of acclimating me to different types of cultures,” Urban said. “When I was younger, I played soccer and ran track. The track club I ran for, it was predominantly Black. I think I was one of three White people on a 600-kid team. Whenever I was playing soccer, I came across all walks of life. I’m talking Middle Eastern, Islanders, Black, White. Being from Houston, a majority were Hispanic. There were kids from Denmark and Scotland that I played with. It’s insane how many cultures I’ve encountered.”

A captain on this year’s team, Urban isn’t having as good a season as he would like. Urban is 5-of-8 on field goals, including two misses in Grambling’s last game, against Florida A&M University. Urban also missed an extra point.

“It was an unfortunate day,” Urban said.

But Urban is not the type player to go deep in a valley about one bad performance.

“Whenever stuff like that happens, it’s just about damage control,” Urban said. “You know you’re not doing well. You’re not hitting it well, and things aren’t going good. You just try to limit the damage and try to make it through the next day. I’ve had bad days in the past. When they happen, it’s more about just getting back to my center. Those rough kicks — they don’t last long.”

Urban will graduate in December with two degrees in his back pocket (kinesiology and criminal justice). But before he pursues a career off the field, Urban would like the chance to continue his career on the field.

“Regardless of what my future holds, I would still like to reach my potential,” Urban said. “I’m not doing that right now. My kickoffs — I would like them to be higher as well as farther. I’m just trying to work that into the fold, as well as my field goals. I’m not hitting the ball consistently like I want to. I’m not stressing myself over it, but I would like to improve. That’s what I shoot for every day.”

Urban will get another chance to improve Saturday afternoon, when the Tigers host Alcorn State in a 2 o’clock contest at Eddie G. Robinson Memorial Stadium. 

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com


Racing commission sets minimum standards for state tracks

MORE THAN NUMBERS: The Louisiana Racing Commission wants video capability added to the Louisiana Downs tote board. (Photo courtesy Louisiana Downs)

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

VINTON — At Wednesday’s meeting at the home of Delta Downs Racetrack, Casino, and Hotel, the  Louisiana State Racing Commission received an update on the unaccounted-for horsemen’s purse money discovered at Louisiana Downs this past summer.

That update did not last long.

The Commission was told that the Louisiana Attorney General’s office is still looking into the matter. No specifics were given, and no timetable was shared as to when the issue might be resolved.

However, the Commission acted on other items during the approximately six-hour meeting.

Notably, it passed parts of House Bill 1055. In this year’s legislative session, Governor John Bel Edwards gave the Commission power to introduce and enforce minimum standards for each of the state’s four racetracks. Those standards cover everything from infrastructure, to staffing, to marketing.

“Anything that needs improving, we put it on the list to improve,” said commission member Mike McHalffey, who represents Bossier Parish. “We got with (the tracks). It’s not like we’re forcing them to do anything. We suggested it. ‘Is that OK? Yes.’ It is or it’s not. In most cases, it is. They know it needed to be done.”

One area of particular importance to McHalffey is improving the living conditions for backside workers.

“We’re making (the tracks) build dorms that are up to living standards,” McHalffey said. (People) were living in sub-standard housing on the backside for a long time. It’s time to upgrade. Of course, the (corporate owners) don’t want to upgrade, so we gave them a little boost. We’re going to make them upgrade the dorms and build dorms.”

That means renovations are coming to 48-year-old Louisiana Downs.

“They have a barn in the back called the Stakes Barn,” McHalffey said. “It hasn’t been used in years. It has some pretty good dorm rooms. They’re going to remodel that barn and use it.”

That’s not the only area of the Bossier City track which will receive attention. “They’re going to redo the interior of all the stalls,” McHalffey said. “They’re going to do some road work and some drainage work.”

Louisiana Downs will also have to improve its tote board — more than applying a coat of white paint, which was done earlier this year.

“They will have to upgrade it to video capability,” McHalffey said. “You can spend two million (dollars), or you can spend $200,000 and put a video screen up there. We have to approve it, though.”

The Commission also wants to make sure each track is spending what’s needed to make it — and the sport — attractive to the public.

“They have to show a marketing plan,” McHalffey said. “Every meet, I have to approve the marketing plan. I asked all the tracks for marketing numbers, and I want marketing numbers split for casino and racetrack. ‘How much money are you spending on each? How do you think it impacts what you’re doing?’”

Each track has a monetary incentive to abide by the Commission’s mandates.

“Ten percent of their profits after taxes goes into escrow, and they have to keep a $3-million balance,” McHalffey explained. “If we don’t approve the project that we’ve asked them to do, we keep their money until they do. We won’t release it.”

In an effort to increase revenue — and purse money — Louisiana Downs is installing Historical Horseracing Machines (HHR), and wants to open several off-track betting sites. McHalffey has asked track management to present a plan within 30 days.

“We’re making them go forward with that and not drag their feet.”

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com


Before building a new ball park, be sure the shoes fit

“Are Shreveport and Bossier City sports towns?”

I’ve been thinking about that question since last week’s announcement by Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins — in a media event that came 22 days before election day. He said there are plans (after watching the press conference, I use the word “plans” loosely) to build a multi-sports venue at the State Fairgrounds. It will be home to an independent baseball team (not a minor league team — there is a difference).

My answer? Of course, we are not sports towns. Just look at the long list of teams — in Shreveport and Bossier — that have come and gone because of a lack of fan support. Not to mention our history of often finding reasons to sit out going to one-off events. You know, the weather, date, Bachelorette finale’.

We just don’t have the appetite for supporting teams and games like you would expect from real sports towns.

What we do have is an appetite for anything benefiting our kids and grandkids. Build a really nice place (see Natchitoches, Ruston and Monroe) for youth baseball, and we will be eating all day long.

Build something that will be home to an independent baseball team? In a part of town a lot of people are iffy about going to during the day, much less at night?

On The Tim Fletcher Show last week, the mayor said, “I think sports betting will drive people to the stadium.”

Did I miss something? Is there going to be a Sportsbook inside the stadium? Surely the mayor doesn’t think we are going to bet on an independent league baseball game? (Twice, I asked the mayor’s office if the mayor would like to clarify his statement. I did not receive a response to the query.)

The mayor said this multi-sports facility will be a “public-private partnership.” How ‘bout a “public-private partnership” to fix our streets, so we don’t have to keep fixing our cars and trucks?

I spoke with someone who was in a meeting with REV Entertainment — the folks who have “partnered” with the city to, as the mayor said, “reimagine Shreveport.” This person said the REV folks were professional and impressive. This person also told me REV executives placed more emphasis on things surrounding a stadium — restaurants, music venues, etc. — than a stadium itself.

Now, had the mayor made that the focus of what he said, his announcement would have been better received, although eyebrows still would have been raised about the location.

But back to my original question.

In horse racing, bettors rely on past performances to predict future success. If Shreveport-Bossier were a horse, we would be a longshot to win.

Remember the Bossier City (and later Bossier-Shreveport) Battle Wings? In the heat of the summer, what more could you ask for than sitting in the cool comfort of the CenturyTel Center (now Brookshire Grocery Arena) watching arena football, where teams scored as often as Benton and Airline are doing this high school season?

We didn’t go.

Centenary College plays Division III basketball — and draws flies. If we are a sports town, wouldn’t we go see our local team play a Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference game against Schreiner College?

Heck, Shreveport-Bossier was even kryptonite for the seemingly invincible LSU brand. In 2010, the Tigers came to Bossier City for a basketball game against Wichita State. Usually, anything with the letters “L-S-U” draws a big purple and gold-wearing crowd.

However, for whatever reason, few people went. For LSU’s athletic department, the poor attendance was an embarrassment.  I was told then-athletic director Joe Alleva said it would be a long time before the Tigers returned to Shreveport-Bossier. (They did, 11 years later, last December against Louisiana Tech, and that crowd of 6,868 in the Brookshire Grocery Arena was hardly overwhelming.)

And then there is the Independence Bowl, one of college football’s oldest bowl games, and run by some of the hardest-working folks you will ever meet. The game enjoyed tremendous local success in the mid-’90’s through the 2000’s. From 1995 (LSU vs. Michigan State) to 2009 (Georgia vs. Texas A&M), only once was the official attendance below 40,000.

But the way bowls and schools are paired has changed. A brand name like Miami, Florida State, or North Carolina can’t overcome a six or seven-win record. The average “official” crowd for the last five I-Bowls was 29,898 — and we know less people showed up than seats were sold. If we were a sports town, wouldn’t we be at Independence Stadium each year around Christmas, no matter how good the teams are?

Speaking of Independence Stadium, the city is paying $693,700 to replace the turf. The project starts Nov. 1. That much-needed improvement will help keep players from area high schools and visiting colleges safe. That’s money well spent.

But hey, sometimes, a longshot wins. The Shreveport Mudbugs have led the North American Hockey League in attendance each of the past four years. Their average crowd during that time (2,302) represents a small — albeit intensely loyal — fan base. By any measure, the Mudbugs put out a professional product, both on and off the ice.

Look, I’m all for Shreveport-Bossier having nice things. But here’s some unsolicited advice for whomever is sitting in the Shreveport mayor’s office next year. If you’re going to build something, build it for the kids. Build it for the parents who want to see their baseball, soccer, and lacrosse players play in a nice facility — with clean restrooms and plenty of shade for those summer tournaments. Build it for local economic impact.

But don’t build it expecting local sports fans to show up regularly, year after year. Otherwise, it will eventually sit empty, and decay beyond repair.

Sound familiar?

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com


Despite a ‘Rash’ of changes, Grambling receiver has stayed the course

A BRIGHT SPOT – It’s been a tough season for Grambling, but Lyndon Rash believes the Tigers are close to turning things around. (Photo courtesy of GRAMBLING STATE UNIVERSITY ATHLETICS)

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports 

The roller coaster at the upcoming State Fair of Louisiana will look like a merry-go-round compared to the highs and lows, twists and turns, Grambling’s Lyndon Rash has ridden.

As a redshirt freshman, Rash was a member of the 2017 team that won the SWAC (7-0) and went 11-2 overall — losing in the Celebration Bowl to North Carolina A&T.

Now a fifth-year graduate student, Rash is the leading receiver on a 1-5 team that’s 0-3 in conference. Two of the Tigers’ five loses have been by 55 and 42 points.

In between, the Baton Rouge native has played for two head coaches and so many coordinators, Rash has lost count.

One more thing. Rash tore his ACL in early 2021. He missed that year’s spring Covid season and the fall campaign.

“I’ve seen the good and the bad,” Rash said. “I’ve seen the ups and the downs. I’m thankful for it all. I know what the winning looks like, and I know what the losing looks like. It’s like different seasons. You learn different things. I’m thankful for the different things I learned each season.”

For example, while playing under so many coordinators, Rash took a little something from each one.

“It’s been tough, but it’s also been good. Guys preach different formations. I learned a lot of football with all the different coordinators. I learned different things from each one. It’s tough as far as learning plays as quick as possible, but once you get it, you understand it.”

In those 2021 seasons, there wasn’t any point in learning plays. All Rash could do was watch, and offer encouragement to his teammates. It was encouragement they needed, as Grambling went 0-4 in the conference-only spring season, and 4-7 (3-5) in the fall.

“It was tough. It was tough. I took responsibility because I’m a competitor. When we went (winless) in the spring, I felt like I let my team down with my injury. They were depending on me so much. I’m one of those guys who likes to be depended on. I wasn’t out there to help them.”

Despite his team’s rocky start to this season, Rash is having a nice year. He has 18 catches for 351 yards and three touchdowns. Two of his TD’s have gone for 83 and 74 yards.

“I feel like I’ve been playing okay. I could play better . . . I’m not really caught up in how good I’m doing stat-wise. I just want to get better than the week before.”

And Rash believes his team is getting better, just in time for its home opener Saturday (1:05pm) against Florida A&M University.

“We were missing (the mindset of) playing for your brother early in the year. Lately, games have been coming down to the wire because we’ve been playing more for our brother. Now, we’ve just got to clean up our self-inflicted wounds — like penalties — and we’ll have this thing rolling. We’ve just got to keep growing.”

In this era of “transfer first, stay second” thinking, Rash said even at his lowest point, he never thought about leaving to play for another school.

“I have a championship pedigree. I came here as a winner and I want to leave here as a winner. I want to be one of the ones who helped turn Grambling around. When it gets tough, there’s no need to quit and go someplace where things are good. I live by the quote ‘You judge a man in times of conflict and struggle.’ Like right now — what better time to help the ‘G’ get back on the map and get back to its winning ways?” 

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com


Should I stay, or should I go? A Tiger fan’s quandary

I don’t like to brag, but that won’t keep me from bragging.

I had a great seat for last Saturday’s LSU-Tennessee game, even though the game wasn’t great.

Jack Bech fumbled the opening kickoff right in front of me!

I was so close to the field, surely Brian Kelly heard me yell “No!” when he went for it on fourth down — three times.

When Kayshon Boutte came to the sideline — uninspired body language and all — I was staring his pouty face right in the eye.

But when the beatdown was done — I stayed ’til the bitter end — I didn’t have to hear Tennessee fans sing Rocky Top for the umpteenth time.

I simply changed the channel.

That’s right. I watched the game from my couch. In my climate-controlled (68 degree) house, and with a stocked fridge just a few steps away.

Oh, my fiancé and I had tickets to the Top 25 matchup. And since we make only one, maybe two LSU games a year, we were really looking forward to going. But when it was announced kickoff would be just after 11 a.m. (yawn), there was a choice to be made.

1: Go to Luke Bryan’s Friday night concert — we still had tickets from his pandemic cancellation two years ago — then get up before dawn to drive south.

2: Let Luke Country On without us and leave town Friday.

Upon further review, there wasn’t much of a choice at all. On the road before sunlight was less likely than LSU establishing the run.

And therein lies a problem universities across the country are facing.

People are choosing to watch games from the comfort of home, instead of dealing with the hassles (large crowds, less than pristine bathrooms, expensive concessions, parking, traffic … ) of seeing a game in person.

According to a story by Yahoo Sports, average attendance nationally for college football games has declined the past seven years. CBSSports.com says the 39,848 people who — on average — sat in a college stadium each game last year was the fewest since 1981.

You can argue both sides. Going to a game, especially an LSU game, can mean fun like tailgating, yelling “Tiger Bait” to opposing fans, seeing Mike the Tiger (if you’re lucky), and feeling like you’re back in college. For some of us, way back in college.

Watching from home can mean staying in your pajamas all day and throwing burgers on the grill, which usually isn’t far away from a 65-inch (or bigger) window — otherwise known as an HDTV.

No dressing up. No stopping for gas and food. No loud screaming from folks in the hotel room next to yours (assume what you wish).

And there’s a financial gameplan to consider. The in-person experience is not inexpensive. The face value for our two south end zone seats were $115 each (thankfully, I was able to sell them, even if it was to Tennessee fans). Of course, that’s not the only expense. Two tanks of gas ($90), hotel room ($158 with tax — and 55 miles west in Lafayette, by the way), three meals for two ($120), and you’re looking right at $600.

We get paid writing for the Shreveport-Bossier Journal, but not that much.

A couple pounds of hamburger meat? A couple packages of Down Home Sausage?

30 bucks. Tops.

And in 2022, thanks to technology, it’s all about convenience. We like checking our phones for scores of other games. Try doing that while competing for a cell signal with 102,000 other people. Not so convenient.

We love watching other games before and after THE game. A “convenient” click of the remote is all it takes. Can’t do that at the stadium.

Yes, we have tickets to other LSU games. Will we go? I don’t know.

Let me think on it while I’m in my PJ’s, flipping these burgers.

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com


A tumultuous ’22 at the Downs: High hopes, low returns

A week ago today, Gold Included crossed the finish line last in the 9th race at Louisiana Downs, bringing an end to the track’s 2022 thoroughbred meet.

Thank goodness.

I have covered our hometown horseracing track as a media member — or have been an avid follower as a fan — for 36 years. I don’t remember more off-track drama.

There was Grade I optimism even before the meet began, fueled by the bold statements Kevin Preston made after he bought Louisiana Downs Casino and Racetrack early this year. For example, Preston was bringing back the Super Derby after a two-year absence. The Derby, which first ran in 1980, helped put the Downs on the national map.

Preston said he was “committed to bringing this iconic racetrack back to life.”

In springtime, track management whispered about a big announcement coming “in a couple of weeks” of a fine dining restaurant located on the property. Preston even told me — to my face — “I will give you the story.”

All empty promises.

Just a month before it was scheduled to return, the Derby was “postponed” until 2023. As my colleague Roy Lang wrote in an Aug. 15 Shreveport-Bossier Journal column, “there’s not much proof” that track ownership ever intended on hosting the race, other than talking about it. None of the standard prerequisites were taken.

Is the Downs “back to life”? Well, I guess it depends on the criteria you use. I like to apply the eye test (attendance), as well as if there’s a lot of buzz around town.

In medical terms, by both of my standards, it’s a flatline.

Maybe if the track’s marketing department would focus on promoting horse racing instead of food trucks, bounce houses, and concerts in 100-degree heat, there would be more than a faint pulse.

And about that fine dining restaurant: I haven’t been “given the story,” so all I can tell you is it’s been a long time since “a couple of weeks.” The only upscale restaurant name I’ve heard is one that Preston had hoped, but was unable, to land.

Oh, I haven’t even mentioned the cut in daily purse money, the unaccounted-for purse money, about $2.3 million (the mystery unrelated to new ownership, which would certainly love to have it) which is still being looked into by the state Attorney General’s office — and the sudden resignation of Mitch Dennison, the General Manager of Racing, only three months after the well-respected horseman was hired.

Now, let’s be fair. I am told some good things did happen this meet. Preston has made improvements (with more planned) on the backside — where folks who are the heart and soul of any racetrack work (and sometimes live). It’s my understanding the jockey kitchen has been remodeled, a long overdue move. Also, the track has a new, more aesthetically-pleasing “finish line” and more visual enhancements.

And maybe there’s more. I don’t know, because Preston and track management refuse to speak with me — missing an opportunity to share the positives with thousands of SBJ readers.

I will give Preston credit. He has taught a masterclass in how to use the media to his disadvantage. The Journal is the only local outlet to show any interest in covering the Downs — which desperately needs coverage — on a regular basis. Yet, because (I assume) Preston didn’t like my “open letter” in the Journal’s July 7 issue, questioning his approach to marketing the track, Downs officials won’t (and I presume have been told not to) speak with me. I’ve made unsuccessful efforts.

Throughout this year’s 84-day meet, thanks to a local horse owner and businessman’s sponsorship, I wrote 22 well-read, weekly stories about the people of Louisiana Downs, and horse racing in general. I’ve learned a lot.

The hard truth is the Downs, and most other tracks nationally, aren’t focused on the foot traffic, people like you and me. They make their money from off-track betting sites.

Think about it: the money from people betting at multiple tracks and OTB parlors across the country, wagering on races at Louisiana Downs, is a lot more than money made from a few hundred people on any given day at the Downs.

Why did Louisiana Downs ask to run only on weekdays next year — a request which was denied by the Louisiana State Racing Commission? There’s less national competition for the betting dollar on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. But, are those days better than a Saturday or Sunday for you to bring your family to the races?

Probably not. And there aren’t enough dollar hot dog and dollar soda promotions to make up the difference.

So, as you look ahead to the 2023 Quarter Horse (starting Jan. 5) and thoroughbred (May 6) meets, remember this: If you want to watch local horse racing, by all means, go to Louisiana Downs. It’s a fun, exciting way to spend a few hours. Bring the kids. Take them out to the paddock and let them see the horses up close.

Just don’t expect much of what you’ve been promised.

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com


State’s Quarter Horse industry alive and well, heading back to Louisiana Downs

A QUICK TRIP: Quarter Horses, such as Mrs Kennedy TLC, can run start to finish in as little as 12 seconds. (Submitted Photo)

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

The 84-day thoroughbred meet at Louisiana Downs ended a week ago. But that doesn’t mean you have to wait until next May to watch horseracing at the Bossier City track.

The Downs’ 2023, 46-day Quarter Horse meet starts Jan. 5 and runs through April 1.

Thoroughbred racing gets most of the headlines, but for those of you who are impatient, Quarter Horse racing may be more to your liking. For example, in a six-furlong race, it takes thoroughbreds more than one minute to navigate their way home. A Quarter Horse can cover 220 yards — a traditional race length — in around 12 seconds. That means there is excitement as soon as the starting gate opens.

“It’s like looking at a short-distance runner, compared to an athlete who runs the mile,” said Bruce Salard, executive director of the Louisiana Quarter Horse Breeders Association. “The horses are built entirely differently. A Quarter Horse is going to have more muscle — that short twitch muscle — so I would tell (people) to really watch for the speed. You’re going to be watching the entire track, from gate one to gate 10, as they come down the track and across the finish line. It’s like watching the 100-yard dash in a human race. If you look at the Olympics, it’s the shorter distances that are the most exciting.”

While Quarter Horse racing takes place at all four Louisiana tracks, Salard is pleased with the quality of racing at Louisiana Downs.

“It’s very fortunate that we’ve had the Mardi Gras Futurity and the Louisiana Downs Futurity, which is an open race, at Louisiana Downs,” Salard said. “Trump My Record  – who won the Louisiana Downs Futurity — started his career there. This year we had a filly, Jes An Angel, who started her career at Louisiana Downs and moved to Delta (Downs). She was the (morning line) favorite for the $3 million All-American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs.

“There have been a lot of quality horses come through Louisiana Downs. (The meet) is at a good time. It starts early. People are trying to see what Sires are hitting — who’s hot. They’re watching those races.”

Jes An Angel was a steward’s scratch the day of the All-American Futurity. But the point remains – quality Quarter Horses make their way to Bossier City, and will next year.

In 2023, Louisiana Downs will feature a new Quarter Horse race — one just for the ladies.

“We know that historically, our broodmares have gotten stronger and stronger here,” Salard said. “To capitalize on that, and people wanting to buy really nice fillies, we’re trying to give them more opportunities to run just against fillies. At Louisiana Downs, we will have the Mardi Gras Futurity, which is for colts and geldings, and we will have the Mardi Gras Oaks, which is for 3-year-old fillies.

“We’re trying to make sure the fillies have the opportunity to run just against fillies, and to get black type (running first, second, or third in a stakes race).”

For a little more than three years, Salard has been in charge of the Quarter Horse Breeding Association in Louisiana. His move back to Alexandria, where he was born and raised, was the result of quite a career change. Salard has spent most of his adult life in banking and public accounting. When he took this job, Salard was working in private equity.

“The gentleman before me had resigned,” Salard said. “I got a call asking if I would be interested. I said, ‘Yes.’ I had a condo in Dallas and probably three weeks later, I was working back in Alexandria.”

But that’s not to say Salard didn’t have experience with Quarter Horses. His father owned and raced Quarter Horses, starting before Salard was born. Then, when Salard would get home from school, he would clean stalls every day.

“It has been my passion — following and keeping up with Quarter Horse racing,” Salard explained. “(I’ve been) trying to be involved. (I’ve been) breeding and racing Quarter Horses. My dad and I bred a horse (Magic Black Jack) that won the Mardi Gras Futurity at Louisiana Downs in 2015. Two years later, he became the first accredited Louisiana-bred to set a world record (220 yards in 11.46). He did that at Delta Downs.”

Overall, Salard thinks the state’s Quarter Horse industry is in good shape.

“Our breeding program is definitely the best in the country, by far,” Salard said. ”So far, we’ve had the right Stallions, and our owners, our breeders, have really built up the quality of the broodmare.”

However, something Salard would like to see improve — along with folks on the thoroughbred side — is an increase in everyday purse money.

“We need larger purses in our overnight races, and not necessarily in our Stakes races,” Salard said. “They’re holding just fine. I think the management at Louisiana Downs has been trying to get the OTB’s (Off-Track Betting sites) established, and other new ideas to try and get those purses higher. There’s just more and more competition for everybody’s entertainment dollar.”

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com

Mr. Menu is an advertising company that produces in-house and take-home menus for locally owned restaurants statewide. The menus are full color, printed on heavy stock paper and provided to the restaurants at no charge. The menus cycle every three to four months and they allow advertisers to speak to the customers of popular locally owned restaurants.

Mike Whitler became the owner/operator of Mr. Menu in 2006, and has since grown the business to include dozens of menus and hundreds of advertisers across the state of Louisiana.


Wilson, Lozada win titles at Louisiana Downs

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

Shane Wilson won the trainer’s title, and Carlos Lozada won the jockey title, at the Louisiana Downs thoroughbred meet which ended Tuesday.

For Wilson — a Haughton native who was featured in the Aug. 23 edition of the Shreveport-Bossier Journal — this is his second straight title. Wilson finished the meet with 50 wins in 217 starts. That’s 12 more wins (177 starts) than Joey Foster, who finished second.

“We came in with lots of horses ready to run,” Wilson told the Journal. “We had horses for nearly any condition they could write.

“My clients claimed several good horses this winter that really fit well here. We picked up a couple of new clients that brought us quality horses to run. Several talented two-year-olds we were able to run here at the end. So we started with a strong barn and the horses really ran hard all summer for us.”

The race for the jockey title was much closer. Lozada won 85 races (378 starts). That’s five wins more than Jose Andres Guerrero (402 starts).

“First and foremost, I want to thank the Lord Jesus,” Lozada told the Journal, through his agent, Ronald Ardoin. “Second, I want to thank all the owners, trainers, groomers, exercise boys, and anyone who had anything to do with my success this summer.”

The 2023 Quarter Horse meet starts Jan. 5. The 2023 Thoroughbred meet begins May 6.

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com


Rodman: Downs’ Golden Voice from Golden Era

ROOM WITH A VIEW: Former Louisiana Downs announcer Dave Rodman calls the races high above fabled Pimlico Race Course in Maryland. (Submitted photo)

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

Dave Rodman’s first day at his new job did not start well.

Not well at all.

“The first race I called, I called the wrong winner,” the now-veteran track announcer remembered.

“But they gave me the job anyway.”

That was back in 1981. Rodman — then in his very early 20’s — was replacing Jefferson Downs’ previous track announcer.

“I was just so nervous, I believe I flipped the horses,” Rodman explained. “But it didn’t matter because they needed an announcer, and they liked my voice and they liked my style.”

Rodman survived that first day, and has built a 40-plus year career. A New Orleans native, Rodman is in his 32nd year calling races at Pimlico Race Course — home of the Preakness Stakes — and Laurel Park.

But in-between the now-defunct Jefferson Downs in Kenner, Louisiana, and the Maryland circuit, there was a five-year layover at Louisiana Downs. From 1985-1990, Rodman was the golden voice during some of the Downs’ golden years.

“It was a fun time,” Rodman said. “All of the employees at the track were really caught up in the momentum of the meet.”

Rodman was the Downs’ third track announcer, following Bob Kinney and Tony Bentley.

“It was a dream come true, because it was what I wanted to do for a living,” Rodman said. “To be able to call (races) when the big trainers came to town. We would take them around and do radio shows and interviews with them. To be on that level, I never thought I would get there, coming from a bread-and- butter track.”

Rodman is forever grateful that Tom Sweeney, then the track’s general manager, gave Rodman the opportunity to live his “dream.” In fact, Rodman enjoyed a measure of notoriety while at the Downs.

Most every race day, local television stations would show the stretch run of a featured race. “Here’s track announcer Dave Rodman with the call,” the sports anchor would say. But it wasn’t Rodman’s race calling that one night endeared him to diners at a Bossier City restaurant.

“I distinctly remember doing a seminar, and I gave out some ridiculous trifecta … (After the races), a bunch of us walked into Ralph and Kacoo’s. A group of people at a table, who were at the seminar, recognized me and got up and started applauding. They paid for dinner. I’ll never forget that. Instead of, ‘Great job calling the races’, it was, ‘Thanks for the trifecta!’”

After five years on Highway 80, Rodman had a chance to move on up to the East Side. Pimlico and Laurel — which combined offered Rodman year-round work — were looking for a new announcer.

“It was a bigger circuit,” Rodman said. “More national exposure, and obviously calling a Triple Crown race — I had to jump at that opportunity.”

That “opportunity” led to his calling the Preakness each of the past 32 years.

“At LAD, on the weekends, there would be 15 — sometimes 20 thousand (people),” Rodman said. “My first Preakness, I was completely in awe. I looked out in the infield and saw three times that number of people. Calling the Preakness, saying, ‘They’re off!,’ and hearing the crowd through the window—I can tell you the binoculars were shaking, that’s for sure. I’m just glad Hansel (the winner) drew off by many lengths, and it wasn’t like a three-horse photo.”

Rodman’s love of racing was born during his childhood years.

“It’s all my father,” Rodman said. “He was a weekend horse player. He would bring me to the racetrack in New Orleans … He would sneak me into Jefferson Downs, because there was an age limit. I would sit in the corner, be quiet, and watch the races.”

As Rodman grew older, he found another passion.

“In high school, I was very interested in getting into radio. I said, ‘This is cool. I can talk and play records for a living.’ So, my next love was wanting to become a DJ … I had my own set-up in my room with a turntable, and I would practice introducing records.”

As a race caller, Rodman thinks of himself as being “on-air.”

“In a way, it is like being on the radio,” Rodman said. “I try to make my calls mimic what’s going on at the track, as if you were listening to the radio, so you’ll know what’s going on without actually seeing the picture. It helped me immensely. The merger between radio and race calling was like the perfect Roux, as they say in Louisiana.”

And that “Roux” has been the foundation for what has become a long, successful career.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I’ve awakened in the morning and said, ‘You know what, I don’t feel like going into work today.’ If that happens, it’s probably time to hang up the binoculars.”

But that time hasn’t come. At age 63, Rodman doesn’t feel like he’s nearing the finish line.

“As long as my memory will let me do it. My memory and my health.”

Louisiana Downs wraps up its racing season today. Post time is 12:45.

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com

Mr. Menu is an advertising company that produces in-house and take-home menus for locally owned restaurants statewide. The menus are full color, printed on heavy stock paper and provided to the restaurants at no charge. The menus cycle every three to four months and they allow advertisers to speak to the customers of popular locally owned restaurants.

Mike Whitler became the owner/operator of Mr. Menu in 2006, and has since grown the business to include dozens of menus and hundreds of advertisers across the state of Louisiana.


Late-arriving date still paying off 33 years later

WINNING COMBO: Brent and Sharilyn Gasaway fell for each other after Brent had a love for the horses, and more recently, they’ve become successful owners.

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

Had Shreveport native Sharilyn Gasaway held a grudge one night 33 years ago, she might not be enjoying success in the horse-ownership business.

Gasaway was waiting to be picked up for dinner by her boyfriend, Brent.

She waited. And waited. And waited.

“He was still at the races,” Sharilyn remembered. “I’m sure he got into a big race and had to stay for it.”

Eventually, Brent, a horseracing enthusiast, showed up. “I was really kind of mad at him because he was late,” Sharilyn said. “I was really in a bad mood.”

But as the evening grew late at Queen Chinese restaurant on Fairfield Avenue, Sharilyn’s mood changed.

Brent made up for lost time by asking Sharilyn to marry him.

All was forgiven.

Sharilyn graduated from Captain Shreve High School, then earned an accounting degree from Louisiana Tech. Eventually, she became Chief Financial Officer for Alltel — the former cell phone company. After Alltel was bought out by Verizon in 2008, Sharilyn came into a little extra money.

“Well, could we buy part of a horse now?” Brent asked.

How could Sharilyn’s answer have been anything but yes?

“He always, always wanted to own one.”

Now, the Gasaways, who live in Little Rock, have part-to-full ownership in 20-25 horses.

“We do a lot of partnering,” Sharilyn said. “We don’t want to own one percent. If the horse wins, you want to feel like you should be in the winner’s circle. A lot of horses, we own 50 percent with someone else. Some horses we own a third. It just depends on the partnership.”

This racing season — which for Gasaway began last December at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs — horses in those partnerships have grossed more than $1.073 million. Not bad, for someone who didn’t grow up around animals, someone who knew nothing about horses until after she met her husband.

“We just love nothing better than getting up and going to wherever the horses are,” Sharilyn said. “If they’re at the track, we go there that morning and see them in the barn, talk to the trainer, talk to the jockeys that are coming by. It’s just a whole race family.”

Sharilyn and Brent have had their share of excitement. They’ve found horses just about every way possible. Some, they learned about through their racing relationships. Some, they bought at sales.

“I think we only paid $20,000 for this horse,” Sharilyn said, referring to All Right, of which they owned half.

“He broke his maiden his second time out, in a $350,000 stakes race. That’s the highest race we’ve ever won.”

Unfortunately, the Gasaways weren’t trackside to watch.

“Louisiana Tech was playing Arkansas (in football) and my nephew, Connor Smith, played for Tech. We thought, ‘He can’t win a $350,000 stakes race. He hasn’t even broken his maiden.’ It was his second time to run.”

And some horses were claimed by the Gasaways. Honey Bunny was wanted by 15 people.

“We won the shake and got (him),” Sharilyn said. “That horse won five in a row for us. She won the Winning Colors Grade III race. We ended up selling her as a broodmare for $300,000.”

Not bad for a $16,000 investment.

“That doesn’t happen every day. Those are the things you wish for.”

Currently, Sharilyn and Brent have three “big” horses.” Hollis was claimed for $50,000 in 2020 and “has won over $500,000 just for us.” Mucho was claimed for $80,000 in late 2020. “He’s earned close to $400,000 for us.” Top Gunner was claimed last year for $30,000. “He’s won more than $340,000 for us.”

That includes a fifth-place finish in last Saturday’s Louisville Thoroughbred Society Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Sharilyn’s parents live in Shreveport, but it’s not easy for them to get in the car and drive to see their daughter’s horses race. They could travel the short distance to Louisiana Downs, but right now, it’s not good business for Sharilyn to have her horses run at the Bossier City track.

“The (purse) money just got so bad,” Sharilyn said. “A Maiden Special Weight (race) is 20-something thousand. At Oaklawn, it’s $85-90,000.”

“The purse structure at Oaklawn, the purse structure at Churchill Downs — it’s just gone so high that an Allowance race is $140,000 now,” Sharilyn said. “You can spend more money on horses because you now have a better chance of getting it back. Before, you never could.

“We would never spend $500,000 on a horse, but if we were in a partnership that did, the only way it makes sense is the fact that if they win a couple of allowance races and break their maiden, you’ve kind of broken even and you just hope they can do something else and go on to stakes races.”

Now semi-retired, Sharilyn sits on the board of two public companies. She also manages her family’s horse-ownership business. And she has set a good example why not to stay mad at someone.

Had Sharilyn not been so forgiving all those years ago, look at all the fun she would have missed.

Louisiana Downs races Saturday through Tuesday. Post time is 3:05.

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com

Submitted photo

Mr. Menu is an advertising company that produces in-house and take-home menus for locally owned restaurants statewide. The menus are full color, printed on heavy stock paper and provided to the restaurants at no charge. The menus cycle every three to four months and they allow advertisers to speak to the customers of popular locally owned restaurants.

Mike Whitler became the owner/operator of Mr. Menu in 2006, and has since grown the business to include dozens of menus and hundreds of advertisers across the state of Louisiana.


Haughton’s ‘Fashion Designer’ makes jockeys look good

SILKY SMOOTH: Betty Matthews sews racing silks for jockeys around the country.

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

It’s a question asked often of models or celebrities, as they walk the red carpet.

“What are you wearing?”

The answer may be “Gucci,” “Prada,” or “Armani.”

Ask that question to a jockey as he or she walks from the winner’s circle, and their answer might be “Betty Matthews.”

In a 25-foot-square building in the front yard of her Haughton home, for 36 years Matthews has made jockey silks. Those are the colorful tops a jockey wears while racing. Each silk represents the colors and design of a horse’s owner. Surrounded by 11 machines and a 6’ x 10’ cutting table, Matthews — owner of Betty Matthews Racing Silks — sews outfits for riders around the country, and beyond.

“I have some on the board to send to New York,” Matthews said. “I do quite a few for the East Coast. I do some for the West Coast. I do some for out of the country sometimes.”

Like the silk Matthews recently made for an owner in Puerto Rico.

“His colors are red, white, and blue,” Matthews said. “The front left-hand side, and the back left-hand side of his silks are tiny stars the size of a quarter. You know how many stars that is? Then he has stars on one sleeve. The rest of it is red and white stripes. So, it’s really the flag that he’s doing.”

Not all the silks Matthews makes are that intricate. The simple ones, she can have ready in two or three hours. On average, a silk — depending on design and material — costs from $100 to $250.

“I had been sewing my whole life,” Matthews said, remembering 1986, when she was working as a secretary in the racing office at Louisiana Downs. “Two friends kept telling me I could do this, and I didn’t think I could. Finally, I did one. I did it for (local owner) John Franks. He was so happy, he ordered four more the next day.”

Back then, when Franks — who won four Eclipse awards as the nation’s outstanding owner, and is in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame — liked something you did, you were “in.”

“I was a very, very fortunate person,” Matthews said. “By the time the news traveled around — the next day — I had 80-something orders. I had to find somebody to work for me. The next year, I quit the track and went into business.”

Business has been good ever since. Matthews has “no idea” how many clients she has, but knows there have been right at 5,000 customers. They have bought everything from silks, to blinkers, to saddle towels.

“One time, I opened the mailbox and there was a package from a lady who had her sweater in the box,” Matthews said. “She wanted her silks to look like the sweater.”

Sometimes, the owner knows exactly what colors he or she wants on their silks. But what they want is not always what’s best.

“The owner says, ‘We want blue and pink’ or ‘We want green and yellow,’” said trainer Joey Foster. “Miss Betty will say, ‘Those two colors aren’t going to show up. You don’t want to put a white with a pink.’ She will tell you right up front, you don’t want to mix two colors together if you can help it, because they’re not going to turn out the way you want them. She’s done it so long — she’s the best of the best.”

Another reason “Miss Betty” is “the best of the best” is because she does something a lot of people don’t do. She listens.

“You can tell her something and she remembers it,” said Cheryl Foster, Joey’s wife. “She has a vision. There have been many times when I’ve called her and thrown around ideas for silks. She listened, then the next thing I know she’s sending me a picture or a proof. She’s just one of a kind.”

Early on, Matthews listened to the jocks who wore her work.

“At the time, Ronald Ardoin was riding. Donnie Simington was riding — that group of jockeys,” Matthews said. “(The wife of a trainer) told Ronald in front of me, ‘If you want to ride our horses, you’re going to have to help her.’”

Before long, Ardoin and Simington were Matthews’ guinea pigs.

“Those poor guys had to try on silks out in the parking lot when I would make them, until they said I had the right size,” Matthews remembered. “They would say, ‘The tail end that tucks into your pants needs to be longer. We have longer torsos. When we bend over to ride, our shirttails come out.’ They hated that. So, I made it much longer than I ever thought it needed to be. They were happy. Then they said, ‘The sleeves are too short. When we bend our elbows, the sleeves ride up.’ So I made them longer. Much longer.”

When Matthews started, she used one fabric — nylon. But then came aerodynamic material, designed to reduce drag. In a sport where a tenth of a second can be the difference between first and second-place money, every second counts.

“Now, out of 100, I’m going to say maybe nine or 10 (silks) are nylon,” Matthews said. “The rest of them are aerodynamic.”

NFL great Deion Sanders once said, “If you look good, you feel good, and if you feel good, you play good.”

A jockey wearing a Betty Matthews-made silk is going to look good, feel good, and hopefully, ride good.

Louisiana Downs races Saturday through Tuesday. Post time is 3:05.

Contact Tony at SJBTonyT@gmail.com.

Submitted photo

Mr. Menu is an advertising company that produces in-house and take-home menus for locally owned restaurants statewide. The menus are full color, printed on heavy stock paper and provided to the restaurants at no charge. The menus cycle every three to four months and they allow advertisers to speak to the customers of popular locally owned restaurants.

Mike Whitler became the owner/operator of Mr. Menu in 2006, and has since grown the business to include dozens of menus and hundreds of advertisers across the state of Louisiana.


Shreve kicker/punter making quite an impression

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK – Captain Shreve kicker/punter John Chance is a standout on the field with his performance — and his shoes. (Photo by KEVIN PICKENS, Journal Sports)

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

You won’t need Lee Hedges Stadium public announcer Harold Ashcraft to tell you when Captain Shreve kicker/punter John Chance enters Thursday’s game against Calvary.

You can’t miss him — and his bright orange shoes.

Emphasis on the word bright.

“A lot of the players like them,” Chance said. “Some of the coaches were crackin’ on me, saying they could see (the shoes) from a mile away.”

When the junior — playing his first year of varsity ball after kicking for the freshman and JV teams – went online to order his New Balance cleats, he wasn’t planning on choosing the color orange. In fact, Chance thought he was buying yellow shoes.

“I’ve always worn black cleats,” he said. “I got kind of bored with them, so I wanted to go for a vibrant color. I felt like the yellow would have looked good with our green jerseys.”

Out $150, Chance thought about sending them back.

“For about a minute, then they caught on with me,” he said.

In last week’s 38-7 season-opening win over Loyola College Prep, Chance showed he’s got substance to match his style. He was 5-for-5 on extra point attempts, connected on his only field goal try (27 yards), sailed five of six kickoffs in the endzone for touchbacks, and punted three times for a 47-yard average — including a 67-yarder.

“I think (fans) should expect that from me,” Chance said. “I like to set a high standard by not missing extra points or field goals and being able to punt the ball pretty far.”

Now that Chance has a game under his foot, he doesn’t expect to be nervous against the Cavaliers.

“I’m definitely 100 percent more comfortable, because I saw my results from last week. I’m hoping to see around the same this week. Being as how my snapper and holder have done it in a live game, I’m expecting about the same.”

The Gators and Cavaliers kick off at 7 p.m.

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com

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WEEK 2 CAPSULES

Calvary (1-0) vs. Captain Shreve (1-0), at Lee Hedges Stadium

Series: first meeting

Last year: same as above

Last week: Shreve beat Loyola 38-7; Calvary beat Logansport 45-22

Ranking: Shreve No. 8 LSWA; No. 2 SBJ; Calvary is No. 7 in LSWA, No. 5 in SBJ

Radio: CS (KLKL 95.7 FM, www.Klkl.FM); CBA (Promise, 90.7 FM, www.promisetalkradio.org)

Notable:  One area in which Shreve coach Adam Kirby says his team needs to improve this week vs. Calvary is penalties. Against Loyola, the Gators were flagged seven times for 66 yards. Kirby believes to have success against Calvary, his team needs to do two things: establish the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and pressure the quarterback. The Gators play their first two games at home, but Kirby doesn’t see that as an advantage. “It’s a non-factor. We have the mindset that it doesn’t matter where we play. We’re going to play to our standard every week.”

The Cavs scored on their first five possessions last week against Logansport and sat their starters for most of the second half. Abram Wardell and Bryce Carpenter shared the quarterbacking duties and both were impressive. Combined, they were 11-for-12 for 214 yards and 3 TDs. Quarterback problem? “I have no problem playing either one of them,” said coach Rodney Guin.

___________________________________________

Woodlawn (0-1) vs. Southwood (1-0), at BTW’s Leonard C. Barnes Stadium

Series: Southwood leads 20-11-1

Last year: Woodlawn 20-16

Last week: Woodlawn lost to Natchitoches Central 18-14; Southwood beat Green Oaks 14-12

Rankings: none

Radio:  none

Notable: One of the oldest rivalries in the city. The Cowboys look to be back at full strength after being without six players last week (four were injured; two had COVID). Southwood snapped its 17-game losing skid against Green Oaks last week. “It’s important for us to improve in order to beat Woodlawn,” said Southwood coach Jesse Esters. “It’s going to be an emotional game for our boys coming off a season-opening win.”

The Knights are coming off a tough 18-14 loss at Natchitoches Central. Woodlawn coach Thedrick Harris said that he was not surprised that his team played the Chiefs so close, but he thinks his players were surprised. “I think this game is going to come down to four or five crucial plays,” said Harris. “Whoever can focus and make the most of those opportunities is going to win it.”

This game was originally scheduled for Friday night.

___________________________________________ 

Lincoln Prep (1-0) at Plain Dealing (0-1)

Series: Tied 3-3

Last year: Lincoln Prep 32-0

Last week: Plain Dealing lost to Delta Charter 54-8; Lincoln Prep beat Madison 14-6.

Rankings: none

Radio: none

Notable: The Lions scored their lone TD on a 44-yard run by Tyrese Kimble, who then caught the 2-point conversion from Joshua Miller. Kimble finished the game with 102 yards on 10 carries. A fourth-quarter score lifted Lincoln Prep to victory in Tallulah.

 


Bat-free Fair Grounds Field ready to tumble

It was a bat s#%& job, but somebody had to do it.

That “somebody” was David Perault. He has a family business in Denham Springs — the business of evicting bats from their homes.

Like Fair Grounds Field.

Before the stadium is torn down — that process could start next week — the bats had to go (said the federal government). So recently, Perault and five other brave souls packed up their bat traps, gloves, protective suits and respirators, and came north.

In August.

“It was tough during the day, I’m gonna tell you,” Perault said after returning home. It was hot. Luckily, it rained. We almost worked ’til we dropped every day.”

Perault and his team spent nights watching where the bats were flying in and out. During the day, they put their traps in place. The crew started with 13 traps, but soon had to add one.

“Around the third base side of the press box, we found another bunch of bats coming out.”

Of course they did. While in that dugout, the Shreveport Captains made the Texas League playoffs 14 times and won three Texas League Championships. Every bat loves a winner.

The number of bat skins Perault can hang on his wall (and I’m not sure I’m not being literal)?

1,232. A lot, but short of a personal best.

“I caught 1,440 at one place here in Baton Rouge.”

I didn’t ask where, in case it was at a restaurant or hotel I may want to visit this football season.

But that’s not to say Perault’s trip to Shreveport wasn’t a milestone event. He and his team collected 3,000 pounds of bat waste. That’s 60 bags, weighing (at least) 50 pounds each.

“It’s definitely a record on the bat poop,” Perault said with pride.

So now that the bats are gone, soon Fair Grounds Field will be gone, too.

Tuesday, I spoke with Ida Henderson at Henderson Construction Services here in town. She said it will probably be next week when her crews start tearing down the place which gave us so many enjoyable summer nights.

Go ahead. Get out your big-boy equipment. Tear up concrete. Rip out seats (If you hurry, you can buy one for $80).

But you will never demolish our memories.

I was working in television when FGF opened in 1986. We — all local media — made the event seem like the second coming of Yankee Stadium. After so many years of playing in dilapidated SPAR Stadium, the Captains had a new, shiny, 6,200-seat home. Just like that, our hometown minor league baseball team that drew flies at the old place, was pitching and hitting and throwing in front of thousands.

No, Shreveport didn’t suddenly become a baseball town. No more than a handful of those in the crowd could name the Captains’ starting nine without a program. But going to FGF wasn’t about baseball.

It was about seeing and being seen. It was about family fun. It was about the Beer Garden, the San Diego (which became the Famous) Chicken, and soft-serve ice cream in those plastic batter’s helmets.

For local media folks, it was about a free meal. As soon as the 6pm news ended, every sports staff in town sprinted to the stadium. Chef Leroy did the cooking. I don’t know if Leroy was really a Chef, but his food tasted good — especially for the price (free). Contrary to what you may think, local TV and print folks didn’t make a lot of money then (and they certainly don’t now.) So, for us, getting full without paying was our version of a perfect game.

We — at least myself and the guys I worked with — enjoyed our trips to FGF a little too much. One time, Captains owner Taylor Moore asked our boss, the late Bob Griffin, that we stop calling Leroy each afternoon to ask what was for dinner. By the way, the last night of a homestand was always a smorgasbord of what was remained from previous nights. Leftovers never tasted so good!

Ahhh…Good times. But as my Dad likes to say, nothing lasts forever.

Except the memories.

And for Perault, hopefully not the stench of bat poop.

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com

David Perault (center) and bat crew.


Shreveport’s ‘Muffy-Man’ finds the winner’s circle

INTERNET SUCCESS: Rev. Patrick Fertitta’s on-line shopping experience is paying off.

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

You can buy a lot of things on the internet.

Patrick Fertitta bought a dream, a dream that is paying off more than he ever “dreamed.”

“I always wanted to own a horse,” said Fertitta, who helps his mother run Fertitta’s Delicatessen, “Home of the World Famous Muffy” in Shreveport. He also oversees Padre Fertitta Foods, an online store which sells sauces, olive mix, and other products from his family’s recipe book.

“When I was 18 to 20 years old, that’s when I really started getting interested (in racing) and wanting to do something, but I never really had the money. They call it the Sport of Kings, and there’s a reason. You’ve got to have a lot of money to do it.”

Last year, Fertitta, now 41 years old, did what a lot of us do when we want to go shopping.

He went online.

“I saw an ad on the internet.”

That ad offered the opportunity to own shares of a thoroughbred.

“They go in and figure out an 18-month allowance for expenses such as training costs, feed, stable, and all of that. That’s all packaged together. They have an equity price on the horse itself. They split it up into a certain number of shares, and they sell it at $50 a share.”

Just like a lot of products on the internet, the description sounded too good to pass up.

“I thought since there are no additional expenses, this would be a fun way for me to realize my dream, and I’m not going to have ongoing expenses. I thought, ‘I will throw some money at this.’ I fully expected to lose it, but I would get to own a horse and have fun, watch it race, and say ‘That’s my horse.’”

There were several horses that Fertitta could choose. One caught his attention — Country Grammer.

“I started reading about him, and noticed Bob Baffert was his trainer. I’ve always liked Baffert as a trainer. I think he’s a phenomenal trainer. I looked at the history of the horse, and I thought that would be a good horse to put some money behind.”

So, last July, Fertitta clicked “Pay Now.” But it wasn’t long before he thought he should have paid later.

“The first notice I got after the investment was made was that Country Grammer won’t be able to run in the Pegasus World Cup because he has an injury to his ankle. I was like, well, there goes my money!”

But Country Grammer’s ankle eventually healed. He resumed training and was entered in this year’s Saudi Cup in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Cup is the world’s richest race, with a $20 million purse.

In deep stretch, it looked like Country Grammer had the race won. But a 99-1 shot made a late run and got to the wire first by a half-length. Still, Country Grammer earned a healthy $3.02 million.

Fertitta didn’t watch.

“I was in the hospital room with my stepfather. He was passing away. We were with him as he died, and I missed the race.”

Fertitta’s stepfather died the same time the race began.

“I was thinking my stepfather missed the race. Then, I thought, well, maybe not.”

Exactly one month later, Fertitta did watch Country Grammer’s next race—the $12 million Dubai World Cup. As the field hit the top of the stretch, Country Grammer was third. But in deep stretch, he found another gear, and won by a length and a half.

“I was watching at home with my mom and cousin. I’ve got a big-screen TV. As he was running that last leg, my mom and cousin both thought I was going to have a heart attack. He let loose, took off, and won that race.”

The first-place prize of $7.5 million gave Country Grammer a two-race total of $10.52 million. Added to his previous winnings — plus $60,000 for a second-place finish in the San Diego Handicap July 29 — and Country Grammer is eighth on the all-time list for most money earned.

Fertitta won’t say how much money he has invested in Country Grammer, or how much money he has made. But…

“I have made back at least six times my investment.”

This is a good place to let you know Fertitta is a reverend in the Lutheran faith. That’s right, a reverend is a horse owner (“I own about one square inch of his hind end”).

So, how does Rev. Fertitta square an ordained priest being involved in a sport in which there is gambling?

“When I invested in Country Grammer, I had no idea that this opportunity to share the Gospel would result from it. But Jesus did, and maybe that’s the bigger story. Sure, Grammer is an amazing horse, and I love being able to say I have an ownership stake in him. However, I love even more that someone who may be struggling with their faith might read this article, and the Holy Spirit may work in their lives to strengthen them, or produce faith as a result. Nothing is by accident with God.”

Country Grammer is scheduled to race in Saturday’s Grade I, $1 million TVG Pacific Classic—Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s richest and most prestigious race. A win, and Country Grammer is guaranteed a spot in November’s $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“If he pulls out those two wins, he’s going to become the fourth-highest earnings horse in history.”

And Fertitta’s dream — bought on the internet — will continue to earn dividends.

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com

Submitted photo

Mr. Menu is an advertising company that produces in-house and take-home menus for locally owned restaurants statewide. The menus are full color, printed on heavy stock paper and provided to the restaurants at no charge. The menus cycle every three to four months and they allow advertisers to speak to the customers of popular locally owned restaurants.

Mike Whitler became the owner/operator of Mr. Menu in 2006, and has since grown the business to include dozens of menus and hundreds of advertisers across the state of Louisiana.


Finally, with outside help, horse sense applied to Louisiana Downs

When kids grow up, they don’t necessarily want to be around their parents.

But they do want to know their parents are around — just in case.

Louisiana Downs is like that. Judging by low attendance in recent years — including this one — a lot of people don’t want to go. But it’s good to know the 48-year-old track is there, just in case.

At my age, not much surprises me. But early this week, I was in disbelief.

On the agenda for yesterday’s Louisiana State Racing Commission (LSRC) meeting, I saw that the Downs had requested next year’s thoroughbred racing dates. I didn’t think much about it. But something —perhaps journalistic intuition — told me to pull up the calendar on my phone and see which days of the week corresponded with which dates.

Saying I was surprised would be an understatement.

Was Louisiana Downs actually asking the racing commission if they could not have live racing on either a Saturday or Sunday?

Again, I checked the dates against the calendar. Sure enough, the track was requesting to race Monday through Wednesday some weeks, Monday through Thursday other weeks. There were also three Friday dates.

No Saturday racing. No Sunday racing. Wow.

Thank goodness common sense — by way of the LSRC — prevailed. With help from Mike McHalffey, Bossier Parish’s representative on the LSRC, the commission came up with an alternate proposal, which was approved. Next year, the Downs will operate very similar to this year’s schedule. The 2023 meet — also 84 days— will start on Kentucky Derby Day, May 6, with live racing weekly Saturday through Tuesday.

“We need to get the young people involved,” McHalffey told me Tuesday on his way back from the commission meeting in Opelousas. “We need to get the families involved. By running on the weekend, that’s the right approach at this time. You have to introduce them to it some way, and I believe that’s the way to introduce them.”

My memory is terrible. So, I reached out to Kent Lowe. The Shreveport native was very well-respected in the horse racing industry during his years as a member of the Downs’ publicity department. Can he ever remember the track not racing on a Saturday or Sunday?

“I can’t recall the track not racing on a weekend during racing season,” Lowe said, “unless something specifically canceled those dates.”

I wondered why the Downs would not want to run at least part of the weekend. So, I asked Andrea Butler, the track’s spokesperson and marketing director. She did not respond. Again, I turned to Lowe, who has been a keen observer of the racing industry for some 40 years.

“I understand exactly what they are hoping to do,” Lowe said. “If you watch (the national horseracing network) TVG on a Saturday or Sunday, they aren’t showing Louisiana Downs races. If you watch on a Monday or Tuesday, you can see Louisiana Downs races a good bit.”

In other words, the more national exposure a track gets, there’s a better chance more money will be bet on those races at off-track betting sites. The bigger the handle, the better the purse money, and the better the quality of horses and races. And nowadays, you can bet on races at Louisiana Downs while at another track, on your couch, or in your beach chair in Destin.

“It’s a TV game and they don’t need on-track attendance like the old days,” Lowe said. “They need people watching and betting — wherever that might be.”

I wondered what Bossier City Mayor Tommy Chandler thought about the track not wanting to race on at least one weekend day. So, I asked him.

“He’s never mentioned that,” Chandler said, referring to Louisiana Downs owner Kevin Preston. “I would like it to be open every day!”

I also wondered what Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau president Stacy Brown thought, since her organization promotes the track to visitors. So, I asked her.

“We have been a well-rounded destination place, not just on the weekend,” Brown said. “Weekday (hotel) occupancy often surpasses weekend occupancy. It’s not as crucial as years ago.”

Brown said she knew the track was working on racing dates for next year, but was not aware they were asking to not run on the weekend.

Then there’s this from Butler, in her marketing capacity for the track, at yesterday’s meeting.  She told the commission she was working on hosting different activities such as a cornhole tournament and wiener dog and unicorn races on “family days.”

“If I could have a cornhole tournament, specials, unicorn races, free T-Shirts, concerts, and live entertainment to get those families in the door, then maybe they’ll come back on the next date night when it’s just the parents,” she said. “I’m just trying to get bodies in the door.”

No mention of horse racing.

I give credit to Butler and applaud her efforts to market the facility to non-horseracing fans. But this summer’s low attendance and general public disinterest is proof that plan isn’t working. Just as a jockey must change strategy when he or she can’t get his or her mount to the rail, the Downs must change its approach to get “bodies in the door.”

Racing on the weekend is part of the solution.

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com


State racing commission weighs Louisiana Downs issues today

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

No weekend thoroughbred racing at Louisiana Downs next year?

That’s what the Bossier City track proposed, ahead of today’s regularly scheduled meeting of the Louisiana State Racing Commission. The 10 a.m. session will be at Evangeline Downs Racetrack and Casino in Opelousas.

However, the Shreveport-Bossier Journal has learned the commission will counter with a schedule which mirrors the current 84-day meet, with racing Saturday through Tuesday.

According to the meeting agenda published on the commission’s website, the track requested dates mostly comprised of Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. There were three Friday dates, but no Saturday or Sunday dates.

The track also proposed that the 2023 meet start May 8 — two days after the Kentucky Derby. In recent years on Derby Day, the track has had live racing and has offered the opportunity to wager on the first leg of the Triple Crown. The track has also encouraged fans to dress in Derby Day attire.

Andrea Butler, spokesperson for Louisiana Downs, did not respond to questions from the Journal as to why the track would not want to race on at least one weekend day.

Also at today’s meeting, the commission is expected to receive an update on the “purse issue” between the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, and Harrah’s Bossier City Investment Company. As the Journal first reported July 29, approximately $1.9 million was unaccounted for —apparently a result of the transition of purse money when the sale of Louisiana Downs Casino and Racetrack was closed last February. Caesars Entertainment sold what was then Harrah’s Louisiana Downs Casino, Racing and Entertainment, to Rubico Acquisition Corporation.

On Aug. 1, the Journal reported the amount of money unaccounted for was actually $2.3 million — the $400,000 difference thought to involve money from video poker machines at the time of the ownership shift. Following the Journal’s reporting, the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office issued its first public statement on the issue, saying it was aware of the complaint, and was working with the Commission “and other parties to resolve the matter.”

Late Monday, a spokesperson for the AG’s office told the Journal there wasn’t any new information to provide. That may be under wraps until today’s commission meeting.

Other items on today’s agenda include the consideration and anticipated approval of 17 off-track betting sites (OTB’s) for which the Downs has applied. Six of those are in Caddo Parish, with 11 others in surrounding parishes.

Also at today’s meeting, Louisiana Downs will ask for approval of a 46-day quarter horse meet. Racing would take place January 5-April 1, mostly on a Wednesday-Saturday schedule, with some racing Thursday-Saturday and Tuesday-Saturday.

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com


New coach, same high expectations for Captain Shreve

ONE TO WATCH:  State champion sprinter Marquez Stevenson (1) is an explosive part of Captain Shreve’s potent offense.

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

Three months before the season is not the best time to change head coaches.

But it sounds like Captain Shreve hasn’t missed a beat.

When Bryant Sepulvado left the sidelines in July, after seven years leading the Gators, to become the school’s assistant principal, Adam Kirby was named interim head coach. Kirby was Shreve’s offensive coordinator in 2021. Last month, the “interim” tag was removed.

“(The players) know me,” Kirby said. “They know my expectations. I ran the weightroom last year. I was assistant head coach. When Bryant was away, I ran practice. They know me. They know my personality. And, we didn’t have any staff turnover.”

Which means the Gators are in position to pick up where they left off.

“We’re looking to build on what we did last year with a 10-win (10-2) season and a number one (power points) ranking. But (the players) want to go further in the playoffs. This team is really hungry to put Shreve on the map statewide. We want to be one of the top 5A programs in the state.”

The Gators return several skill players — including quarterback Kenyon Terrell — from a squad which was upset in the second round of the playoffs. The senior is Shreve’s seventh all-time leading passer, after throwing for 2,072 yards and 21 touchdowns last year.

“Kenyon’s phenomenal,” Kirby said. “He is the best quarterback in North Louisiana by far, in my opinion. His football IQ is through the roof. He’s a competitor. He loves the game. He’s very quick with his feet. He can make reads in a split second.”

Terrell’s main target will be Marquez Stevenson, a Texas Tech commit and state champion sprinter who is one of the fastest high school athletes in the state.

But the Gators won’t be one-dimensional. Running back Jayden Edwards returns for his senior season, after rushing for 484 yards and 3 TD’s.

“It’s going to take more than one guy to bring him down,” Kirby said. “He runs the ball hard, and is really, really good in pass protection.”

Defensively, Kirby will allow his coaches — a group he calls the best in the state — to take care of the game plan.

“I told our defensive staff if he’s putting that much trust in us, we’re going to step up for him,” said seventh-year defensive coordinator Chip Kendall. “We’re going to do whatever we have to do to be successful on that side of the ball.”

You can’t label this year’s defense as either experienced or young.

“We are kind of mixed this year,” Kendall said. “We are very experienced in certain spots, and not so much in others. (Defensive ends) Bryce Lopez, Aaron Holley, and Terrance Green (all seniors) bring a lot of experience. The interior of the D-line got a little playing time last year, but they’re going to get thrown to the wolves this year.”

In the back end, there will be some familiar names, and some newcomers.

“We bring back both safeties, Tre Fuller (So.) and Jake McGee (Sr.), which is good, because they make the calls in the secondary,” Kendall said. “But our corners will be new. So, it’s a good mix of experience and new.” Fuller started as a freshman before getting hurt. McGee also started several games.

On special teams, John Chance (Sr.) will be busy. He is expected to handle all of the Gators’ kicking duties.

Captain Shreve starts its season Sept. 1, at home, against Loyola College Prep.

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com

Photo by JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports


Football or horse racing, it’s all about the competition

REPEAT BID:  Shane Wilson (right), pictured with his son, Connor, is aiming to win his second-straight training title at Louisiana Downs.

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

Horse racing.

Football.

What could those two sports possibly have in common?

Shane Wilson has a one-word answer.

“Competition.”

In the mid-to-late 1980’s, the Haughton native, currently the leading trainer at Louisiana Downs, was an offensive and defensive lineman for the hometown high school Buccaneers. In 1988, Wilson made the 1-AAA All-District team as a guard.

“I wasn’t great,” Wilson said. “Just a good, small, high school football player.”

A good, small, high school football player who loved the game and had the drive to be better than the guy across the line of scrimmage.

“I enjoyed the physicality of it. I liked the one-on-one. The combat. Either you win or he wins … I never took a day off from lifting weights, because I didn’t want anybody in the city to be a day ahead of me. I always felt like I could outwork them and beat them, even if they were physically more blessed than me.”

Long past his playing days, the 51-year-old husband and father of two sons is again outworking them and beating them. But “them” isn’t other football players. It’s other horse trainers.

Wilson is trying for his second straight training title at the Downs. So far, he is ahead of the field. Through last Sunday, in 159 starts this meet, Wilson has conditioned 40 winners, 13 more than the second-place trainer. Sixty percent of his starters have finished in the money.

“It’s constant competition. Every day, other trainers are wanting to win, too. It’s very, very competitive.”

For Wilson, the drive to finish first was born at an early age.

“I always wanted to win, no matter what it was. My father taught me how to play chess. He used to get mad at me. He would say, ‘If I go use the restroom, you change the board before I get back. I’ve never seen anything like it.’”

Wilson’s father told his son something else.

“My Dad said I had to get a job if I wanted a vehicle.”

So, Wilson started flipping burgers and salting fries at the local McDonald’s.

“I was making $75 a week. A gentleman came in early one Saturday morning. I asked him if he was going fishing or hunting? He said he was going to Louisiana Downs — he worked there. I asked him if there was anything I could do there.

“He said, ‘You could probably walk horses.’ I asked him what it paid. He said $125 a week. I could make more money doing that, than working at McDonald’s. So, I started working at the track in the morning, hot-walking in the afternoon, and I got the late shift at McDonald’s so I could bring home about $200 a week.”

Before long, Wilson was behind the wheel of a 1980 Ford F-150 pickup, “Three-speed on the column,” Wilson remembers. No air conditioning. No radio.

“I thought I had a really nice truck.”

But Wilson’s career in the horse industry got off to a less-than-impressive start.

“The first day I was out here, one of (the horses) about ate me alive. I had never touched a horse before. I grew up in a subdivision. They gave me a horse. I’ll never forget his name — “Frightener.” He was a stud horse. Before I made two laps around the barn, he had bitten me about three times. I was shocked. I went home and showed my dad all the bite marks.”

Wilson’s father passed away in 1998, the first year his son began training on his own. He would no doubt be proud of how far Wilson has come. In 24 years, his horses have earned more than $13 million. Last year — when he won his first Louisiana Downs training title — Wilson’s horses earned $1.4 million.

That’s a long way from $200 a week working two jobs.

“This is so much fun, because you have so many different personalities. Every horse wants something different. Some want to be in front. Some don’t want dirt in their face. Some don’t mind it. Some like to run at the end and save their energy. It’s about figuring out what each horse wants to do, and once you can figure that out, and then win, it’s rewarding.”

Wilson compares being a winning trainer to being a winning coach. Not in football, but in basketball.

“Phil Jackson wasn’t a great coach until he got Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippin. Then, with the Lakers, Kobe and Shaq. It’s the same thing with us. I’ve been blessed with some (owners) that have stuck with me. I’ve got some owners that have been with me 12, 15 years. They continue to upgrade and get better horses as they go. It’s really about getting better athletes and learning from the mistakes you made early on.”

Next January, Wilson’s youngest son, Connor, will join his brother (Peyton) at LSU. Connor got his assistant trainer’s license and has been helping his father the past couple of years.

“He’s going to be a big loss for me when he heads off to school,” says the proud dad.

But Wilson will surely survive. After all, there’s competition waiting at the track.

Louisiana Downs runs Saturday through Tuesday. Post time is 3:05.

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com

Submitted Photo

Mr. Menu is an advertising company that produces in-house and take-home menus for locally owned restaurants statewide. The menus are full color, printed on heavy stock paper and provided to the restaurants at no charge. The menus cycle every three to four months and they allow advertisers to speak to the customers of popular locally owned restaurants.

Mike Whitler became the owner/operator of Mr. Menu in 2006, and has since grown the business to include dozens of menus and hundreds of advertisers across the state of Louisiana.


Anniversary of Elvis’ death brings back memories of the King

In my dreams, I was the King.

Forty-five years ago today, Elvis Presley died a death unbefitting perhaps the greatest performer of our time. The King of Rock and Roll was found unconscious near the toilet on the master bathroom floor at Graceland — Elvis’ legendary Memphis, Tenn., home. He was pronounced dead at Baptist Memorial Hospital at 3:30 p.m.

I was 13 years old when a heart attack ended Elvis’ life at the much-too-young age of 42.

Sadly, doctors said Elvis’ death was likely brought on by his addiction to prescription drugs.

By the time Elvis died, the once lanky, handsome man without a wrinkle on his skin, was a shell of his younger self. Elvis was pale, overweight, and slept all day. His gyrations — which once sent women young and old into an all-out frenzy and caused network television executives to insist Elvis not be filmed below the waist — had turned into a twitch.

Growing up, I was infatuated with Elvis. Closing my eyes, I saw myself wearing his trademark jumpsuit with that very wide collar, and that larger-than-life belt which secured his swollen belly.

What a feeling it must have been, just walking on stage and having the ladies scream your name and lose their minds. And talk about being “All Shook Up!” If one of them was lucky enough to get a scarf from Elvis, wet with his sweat, she was indeed “Girl Happy” — and likely moved to tears.

I saw Elvis in concert twice — both times at Hirsch Coliseum. I remember in one performance, he wore a white jumpsuit with a gold belt. The other time, his jumpsuit was light blue, with a white belt. I wasn’t sitting close enough to get peppered with his sweat, but I was close enough to hear the range of his voice — from the opening, upbeat “C.C. Rider” to the closing, passionate “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Elvis’ voice remained strong until his last concert at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis on June 26, 1977.

Just 20 days later the King, hopefully, met the real King.

I once had an Elvis-themed brush with greatness. My mom, dad and I took a summer trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn. On the way back, I wanted us to drive by Graceland. So, we stopped at a gas station, filled ‘er up, and my dad asked someone if they could give us directions.

A middle-aged man said “Yes”. He was on his way to Graceland and offered for us to follow him. Then, my dad asked, “Why are you going to Graceland?” The man answered, “I’m Vernon, Elvis’ father. I live there.”

We had “Suspicious Minds,” until the car in front of us drove through the white gates decorated with black musical notes. Holy peanut butter and banana sandwiches! There we were, right in front of Elvis’ home. I was as stunned as that Hound Dog to which Elvis sang on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Oh, what it must be like to be the King — known the world over by your first name, living in what was then considered a mansion behind gates, and having people standing across the street — hoping to get a glimpse of a larger-than-life figure.

The first night I ever stayed awake the entire night was August 16, 1977. Earlier that day, news came that Elvis was gone. I could not sleep. I remember a vertical, blue and silver radio on the nightstand to my right. All night long, I twisted the dial ever so carefully, trying to pick up stations playing Elvis’ music non-stop.

Two days later, I was glued to the evening network news, mesmerized by the video. A white hearse led a long procession from the Memphis Funeral Home to Forest Hill Cemetery, where Elvis’ body was buried before eventually being relocated to Graceland. Thousands of people lined the streets — weeping as if they had just lost a loved one.

In fact, they had.

Many years ago, I won an Elvis impersonator contest. I also lip-synced an Elvis song on live, local television. I live in a gated subdivision. All of that is as close as I will get to being Elvis.

But almost 57 years old, I still dream of being the King.

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com