Bat banishment to start demolition of Fair Grounds Field

DESTRUCTION LOOMS:  Abandoned for many years, dilapidated Fair Grounds Field is slated for destruction in a two-phase process beginning Aug. 22.

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

Fair Grounds Field doesn’t have a specific demolition date, but there is now a timeline for its demise.

The removal of flocks of bats will begin Aug. 22. As the Shreveport-Bossier Journal reported in April, the bats — which have lived in the stadium for years — must be removed and relocated before the city-owned, abandoned former home of Shreveport minor-league baseball can be demolished.

The process was stalled due to federal regulations protecting some bat species during their mating season, which runs from April to August. That pause ends next week.

“We will be taking these bats and trapping them live, and replacing them 25 miles away from the stadium,” said David Perault with Perault’s Nuisance Wildlife Control, in Denham Springs. “Basically, they’re getting a new home.”

Perault will catch the bats using traps he invented. Perault and his six-person crew will bring 10 traps to Fair Grounds Field.

“We have caught up to 400-500 bats in a trap,” Perault said. “We will put multiple traps in places where there are a lot of bats, and just see what we’ve got. It’s going to be around-the-clock work for us. We’re going to watch for them in the evening when the bats come out. If (a trap) starts to get too many in it, we will switch it out.”

Perault has twice scouted Fair Grounds Field. He doesn’t know how many bats he will catch, but he knows it will be a lot.

“My record is 1,440 in one place,” Perault said. “I think we’re going to beat the record. I have seen four or five hundred at the stadium, but you don’t know what’s behind everything. That’s why this system works so well. When the bats come out, they will go into the system. We will get a good count of them.”

Once the bats are trapped, they will be released outside the city.

“Usually, we like to get 20-25 miles away at least,” Perault said. “That’s to make sure the bats don’t come back. There’s no guarantee they won’t, but we will have them gone enough in time for the stadium to be taken down.”

Perault hopes to have the bats removed in seven days. Then, Henderson Construction Services of Shreveport can begin the stadium demolition process. There will not be a “3-2-1 BOOM!” moment.

“There won’t be any explosions,” said Ida Henderson, who runs Henderson Construction with her father, Shelton. “We will take it down with machines. We’re going to do it section by section. We’re going to get the building down on the ground, and we will haul the debris to a landfill. We will take environmental measures to keep the dust controlled, so anything won’t get out in the neighborhood, to the hospitals, and the Queensboro community.”

Henderson cited safety concerns.

“We’ve been doing demolitions for a couple of years now, and that’s the way we’ve done them,” Henderson said. “We’ve taken down buildings at Louisiana Tech and Southern University in Baton Rouge. We’ve found that’s the safe way to do things.”

Lately, Henderson Construction has become more of a call center for people asking how they can get items from Fair Grounds Field before it’s too late.

“Someone called,” Henderson said, “because there’s a sign they vividly remember and they want to get it. Someone called about a metal knife sharpener they remember. They know exactly where it was left, and they want to get it. Some people were season ticket holders. They want the seats they sat in. Some people want some benches.”

Henderson said it hasn’t been decided if there will be a charge for items.

“We’re still working that out. We will have to pull those items because of safety. Our employees will have to do a little labor to get those items out.”

Anyone interested in memorabilia from Fair Grounds Field can call Henderson Construction at 861-0512.

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com

https://shreveportbossierjournal.com/2022/04/12/untended-fair-grounds-field-set-for-demolition/

https://shreveportbossierjournal.com/2022/04/15/fair-grounds-field-left-us-a-long-time-ago/

https://shreveportbossierjournal.com/2022/04/21/spotlight-swinging-bats-delay-demolition-of-fair-grounds-field/


Long odds against Super Derby this year

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

Early this spring, new Louisiana Downs Racetrack and Casino owner Kevin Preston spoke proudly about bringing the Super Derby to the Bossier City oval for the first time since 2019.

“It puts us back on the map and shows that this new ownership group is serious about racing, and about bringing this track back to life,” Preston said in an April 6 Shreveport-Bossier Journal story.

Four months later, there are doubts about the Super Derby taking place Sept. 10 as planned.

Wednesday, a source with direct knowledge of the situation — who spoke on the condition of anonymity — told the Journal that as of now, what used to be the Downs’ biggest race will not be reborn this year.

The source said there are several reasons. The main reason is that the Downs is cutting daily purses by $1,000 starting next week. In a recent meeting with Preston, local horsemen voiced their displeasure about a planned $300,000 Super Derby purse likely going to out-of-town horsemen, while purses are being reduced for those who run at the Downs every day.

“I’m glad the horsemen were able to voice their opinion, and their opinion was taken to heart,” said Mike McHalffey, who represents Bossier Parish on the Louisiana State Racing Commission. “They put on the show and should have some say in such decisions to have the race or not. Maybe next year, Louisiana Downs will be in a better position to bring back the Super Derby.”

Other reasons for the apparent cancellation, according to the source, include the Louisiana Attorney General’s office looking into $2.3 million of missing money stemming from the ownership transaction a year ago; and the recent, clearly unrelated resignation of Mitch Dennison, who was hired in April as the Downs’ General Manager of Racing and reportedly left due to philosophical differences.

The source said horsemen did not think all things considered, staging the Super Derby was a “good look.”

Wednesday evening, in response to a request for comment, Preston e-mailed the Journal, “We have no comments for you specifically at this time.” Earlier, Andrea Butler, the track’s marketing director, said details would be released Friday. She would not confirm or deny the Super Derby’s cancellation.

As industry observers wonder if a 2022 Super Derby could, at this late stage, attract nationally-competitive horses, one local trainer said there are long odds against Louisiana Downs pulling off an event on the level of past Super Derby races.  He said he believes there won’t be a 2022 edition, but didn’t totally discount the possibility of a race bearing the title being staged a month from now.

“It’s still not (officially) dead, but I think it probably is…They haven’t said it’s on, but they haven’t said it’s off,” the trainer said.

Asked if enough time remains to pull together a quality field, the trainer said, “They better get on the ball.”

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com


Trainer specializes in getting young horses ready to race

IN TRAINING: Sunny and Clear is a two-year-old filly that trainer Al Cates (at left) is preparing for her first race, assisted by Noel Almenarez.

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

Just as a child has to crawl before it can walk, a horse has to walk before it can run.

That’s where Al Cates’ horse sense pays dividends.

A full-time trainer since 2005, Cates works with racehorses of all ages. He is noted for having a knack for getting two-year-olds — the “babies” — ready for the track.

“I really enjoy the young horses because you just never know,” Cates said. “When you get one, no matter what they look like, you just never know until you get going with them and see what kind of heart they’ve got.”

Actually, with one horse, Cates did know.

In 2012, Our Quista was bought for $5,000 at a yearling sale in Monroe. Cates began training the dark brown mare when it was two years old. Our Quista finished in the money in nine of his 11 career starts, won multiple stakes races, and earned more than $266,000.

“I was never more confident that it was going to be a racehorse,” Cates remembered. “It had the look. It was big, and trained lights out. When I put the jockeys on it for their work, they would come back telling me how good it was. They were right on that one.”

But it doesn’t always work that way.

“Sometimes you can just get a feel if they’re going to be a racehorse or not,” Cates said. “There are some, that it’s just the opposite. It just doesn’t look like racing is going to be their career. But it’s a guess, because they can fool you. I don’t think you really know for sure until you put them out in a race.”

But before a horse ever leaves the starting gate, there is a lot of work to do. Work that includes teaching a horse how to leave the starting gate.

“The first time we go (to the track), we will take two (horses), so they will have a buddy with them,” Cates said. “We’ll just go up there and let them look at it. We’ll have the gate crew open the gate, and just let (the horses) walk through. That’s it — just walk through, then come on back. We’ll do that a few times, then slowly, we’ll let them stop and stand in there. Eventually, we will set the front, then hand-open it — not machine-open it — and let them walk out.”

Then, it gets serious.

“(The rider) will let them do it like they want — come out easy — a few times, and then that rider will start asking them a little bit. Then, when it comes time to ring that bell, that will startle them and help them come out.”

Training a young horse requires Cates to be mindful of more than how fast it breaks from the gate, or how quickly it breezes through three furlongs.

“With babies, you have to be careful,” Cates said. “Their legs aren’t fully developed. They don’t have a great immune system yet, so they catch a lot of colds. You just have to kind of monitor them as you go along.”

Owner Mike McDowell has trusted Cates to get several of his young horses ready for the show.

“He really does a great job of evaluating a two-year-old, as far as where they are physically, and maturity-wise,” McDowell said. “If he feels like one needs to be turned back out for another six months to mature a little bit more before they send them to the track, he’ll be flat-out honest with you.”

Patience is key when it comes to training a two-year-old. For example, Sunny and Clear — owned by McDowell — had been preparing for her first race. But . . .

“We worked her three furlongs a couple of weeks ago, and she came back with some sore shins,” Cates said. “That’s kind of common in babies. All it means is that we have to go kind of easy on her maybe the rest of the month. Then, she will resume her speed work. That will get her ready for a race.”

Sunny and Clear isn’t a particularly big horse, but that doesn’t mean she won’t win big.

“She’s kind of on the small side, but she was born in the middle of May, which is kind of late for a baby,” Cates explained. “That’s why we’ve had to go a little easy on her.

“One of the things she’s impressed me with is that she’s intelligent. It seems like she picks up things really easy. We’ve had her at the gate training, and she took that good. She’s easy to ride. She’s easy to train. Sometimes those may be a little slow in developing, but they usually come around.”

The 68-year-old Cates, who began training full-time after a 30-year career with AT&T, has more than 1,400 career starts. His horses have earned more than $4.9 million. Through the years, Cates has noticed something that separates the average newbie from a really good one — and it has nothing to do with physical ability.

“Some of the horses do it easier,” Cates said. “It comes more natural to them than others. I think they’re just smarter. I like a horse who has a good head on it. One that catches on quick (and) is not really spooky. And you can tell. Some of our babies, they’ve just got what I call, ‘A good head.’ They catch onto everything. Everything kind of comes easy to them, and I think they’re just smart.”

Cates runs his horses at Louisiana Downs, Oaklawn Park, and Keeneland — site of this year’s Breeders’ Cup. But when getting his younger horses ready to race, Cates prefers they do their work at Louisiana Downs.

“Billy McKeever is over the track,” Cates said. “He’s been there a long time, and I can’t say enough good things about him. He has us a good surface to train on. It can get a hard rain, and it’s still not bad. He just does a good job. I think that’s why I don’t have a lot of trouble with my two-year-olds.”

And the last thing a trainer — or a parent—wants is to have trouble with a two-year-old.

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.


Dream denied, former Woodlawn coach found another path

FORMER KNIGHT FOND OF FRIDAY NIGHTS:   Former Woodlawn High School football coach Jerwin Wilson is a college assistant coach at Texas Southern, and fondly recalls the Friday night rewards of coaching local high school football.

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

The only thing standing between young Jerwin Wilson, and his dream of playing college football, was a routine physical exam.

Except this physical turned out to be not routine.

“I’ll never forget it,” Wilson remembered. “Dr. Shane Phillips. He’s still the doctor there to this day.”

“It” was the news delivered by Louisiana Tech’s team physician. Wilson, who had recently graduated from Arcadia High School, had a previously-undetected heart murmur. The preferred walk-on defensive back would not be playing for the Bulldogs — or anyone else.

“It was gut-wrenching,” Wilson said.

So gut-wrenching, Wilson went in search of a second and third opinion. Both were the same as the first opinion.

“It was very disappointing,” Wilson said. “I felt like I could compete with the best of them. You see guys out there playing on Saturday, and knowing you have the athletic ability, but it wasn’t in my best interest for me to be out there longevity-wise, with the condition I had.”

At 17 years old, with a dream denied, he  was down, but not out. Wilson turned frustration into a future — a future in coaching. He went from being offensive coordinator at his alma mater (while attending Tech), to Shreveport’s Woodlawn High School. He was on the Knights’ staff 10 years, the last six as head coach.

Now, about to turn 36, the father of two daughters kicks off his fourth season this morning at Texas Southern, in Houston, as receivers coach when the Tigers stage their first preseason practice.

“It’s surreal,” Wilson said of his path to coaching in a NCAA Division 1  (FCS) program. “It’s a blessing.”

Wilson went 39-30 as the Knights’ head coach, leading Woodlawn to a district title once, and a spot in the Class 4A state quarterfinals another season.

“I grew up there,” Wilson said of his time on Wyngate Boulevard. “To spend a decade at one place is something I don’t take for granted. It made me a better coach because I had to deal with a lot of adversity.

“I had to meet kids where they are. I understood that it was bigger — much bigger — than football. I’m always going to go to a place where I feel like I can make an impact. When I talk about impact, it has nothing to do with on the field. To me, it’s all about pouring (yourself) into kids’ lives.”

And that’s why Wilson left the relative comfort of running his own program, to step up a level — and work for someone else.

“God placed me at Woodlawn, and I felt he was doing the same at Texas Southern,” Wilson said. “My purpose to impact the lives of others in a positive way has not (changed).”

But while Wilson’s motives are the same, the work isn’t.

“The biggest difference is the recruiting — 365 days out of the year,” Wilson said. “Recruiting never stops. You’re always looking for guys to make your team better.”

And after going 3-8 (2-6 in the SWAC) last year, Wilson believes this is the year the Tigers get better.

“We feel like we finally have enough recruiting classes to turn this thing around,” said Wilson, who is also TSU’s recruiting coordinator. “We’re excited about where we’re going.”

Even though Wilson is now a college coach, he hasn’t forgotten the precious days gone by.

“I love Friday night lights,” Wilson said. “There have definitely been Friday nights at the (team) hotel getting ready for a Saturday game that I miss those old Friday nights.”

You can take the coach out of high school football, but you can’t take high school football out of the coach.

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com


Winning traits abundant, so is success for Cilla

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

Long before Cilla ran her first race, trainer Brett Brinkman knew he had a special horse.

“She had the talent, she had the mentality, she had the confirmation,” Brinkman remembered. “She had a lot of the things that you need to become a nice horse. They just all worked together. The timing worked, and she turned out to be who she is.”

“She” is the 2021 Louisiana-bred Horse of the Year, named by the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association (LTBA). As a three-year-old, Cilla won 7 of her 17 starts, and earned $504,000. This year, the filly has won twice in five starts, earning $133,000.

“Her consistency,” Brinkman said, when asked what he likes about Cilla’s racing style. “She brings her good game most every time. Something has to be a fluke thrown against her. We’ve spotted her in some pretty ambitious places, and she’s run what I felt was her ‘A’ game. And she’s been beaten in those spots. But when she throws her ‘A’ game, it takes another horse’s ‘A’ or ‘A-plus’ game to outrun her.”

There was hope around Louisiana Downs that Cilla would make her next start Saturday, on Louisiana Cup Day. However, Brinkman said that is doubtful. Instead, he is considering running Cilla in The Incredible Revenge Stakes, a $100,000, five-and-a-half-furlong turf race at Monmouth Park.

Cilla certainly has the pedigree for a successful racing career. Her father is California Chrome, a two-time Horse of the Year, and winner of the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Cilla’s mother, Sittin at the Bar, was sired by Into Mischief, the three-time reigning champion General Sire. Thanks in part to California Chrome’s success on grass — she won the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby — Brinkman wants to see what Cilla can do on the turf. She’s only gone off the dirt once, her second career start, and had her worst finish (ninth) ever.

“We felt like her results were probably due to our timing more than who she was at the time,” Brinkman said. “She just really wasn’t as confident a horse back then as she is today, so we’re going to try her back. It (turf racing) just opens up a new avenue. We go to the Fair Grounds in the winter. There are four grass stakes for older fillies and mares, sprinting. We have a huge option if it rains and (the race) goes on the dirt, because she is excellent in the mud.”

Cilla has raced at 11 tracks, all but three outside of Louisiana. Brinkman agrees Cilla carries the banner for Louisiana breds.

“For sure. For sure,” he said. “More than once I’ve heard her referred to as the Louisiana-bred in the race. That’s the one great thing that’s happened. The LTBA has done a great job of name-branding their product. When these horses establish their levels, and create themselves at the national level, they have that brand. They carry that brand forward as a Louisiana bred, and people notice.”

While Brinkman is partial to Cilla, he gives credit to other Louisiana breds who show their talents outside the state.

“When you look at it across the board, these horses go everywhere and compete against everybody, at some point. You find various horses that will show up in all kinds of sections of the United States — California, New York, everywhere. With the levels of racing there are in different spots, I feel like the  Louisiana breds have made enormous bounds forward in their stature, when you evaluate them on a competition level around the nation.”

And that’s in spite of the fact Louisiana doesn’t produce as many thoroughbreds as some other states.

“The numbers work against us. We just don’t have the numbers (that) a place like Kentucky, New York, and Florida have. But when you talk about percentages, and our ability to compete and earn money and be productive, we sit pretty good. We’re raising a good horse in Louisiana and we’re breeding a much better horse in Louisiana.”

While Brinkman is Cilla’s trainer, he was also her breeder, along with owner P. Dale Ladner. That made Cilla’s honor from the LTBA even more meaningful.

“I was raised in a family that this is what we’ve done all our lives — breed and raise horses,” said Brinkman. “I call myself a trainer basically by default. We broke and trained horses and did that all my life growing up, but most of the time we stayed closer to the farm and didn’t go to the racetrack. But I ventured off and went on to the race track and did all that, but I also ventured back into the breeding aspect. I put a lot of stock into breeding my horses and raising my horses. Without that part of it, they don’t have a good career.”

So far, it looks like Brinkman got the breeding — and the training — right.

Louisiana Downs races Saturday through Tuesday. Post time is 3:05, except for this Saturday, Louisiana Cup Day, when post time is 1:45.

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com

Photo Courtesy of Coady Photography

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.


Downs’ ownership may have been shorted $2.3 million in 2021 sale

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

The Journal has learned that the amount of money unaccounted for at Louisiana Downs Casino and Racetrack is $2.3 million, $400,000 more than originally reported, with the situation arising from the sale of the facility.

Last Friday, the Journal wrote that the Louisiana Attorney General’s office was looking into close to $2 million missing from the Downs’ Horseman’s Purse fund. Sunday, a source indicated that exact figure may be $1.9 million, with an additional $400,000 possibly involving money from video poker machines.

Sunday night, the state AG’s office gave the Journal the office’s first public comment on the situation.

“We are aware of the complaint and are working with the Louisiana Racing Commission and the other parties to resolve the matter,” said press secretary Cory Dennis.

The AG’s office is the legal counsel for the Louisiana State Racing Commission, so the office is limited in what it can say.

The Journal has been told the discrepancy involves the transfer of money which was to have occurred when the sale of Louisiana Downs was being closed last February. Caesars Entertainment sold what was then Harrah’s Louisiana Downs Casino, Racing and Entertainment, to Rubico Acquisition Corporation.

Kevin Preston, President of Rubico Acquisition Corporation, has not responded to requests for comment last week and Sunday evening. 

Preston has been candid and optimistic about his plans to bring Louisiana Downs back to life. The 48-year-old racing facility, which at one time drew large crowds and offered sizeable purses for horsemen, has generated little interest in recent years, but Preston’s leadership has encouraged locals, particularly those involved with the track.

This weekend, the Journal’s original story on the missing funds received national attention. It was picked up by at least two major horse racing publications.

Contact Tony at SBJTony@gmail.com


Almost $2 million of Downs purse money missing

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

Multiple sources have told the Journal that close to $2 million is unaccounted for from the Louisiana Downs horseman’s purse fund.

“The HBPA (Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association) has reported a purse issue to the Louisiana State Racing Commission (LSRC) and the Attorney General’s Office,” said Ed Fenasci, Executive Director of the Louisiana HBPA. Because it is a legal issue, that is the only comment Fenasci could make.

Charlie Gardiner III, Executive Director of the LSRC, did not return a request for comment.

The Journal reached out to the Attorney General’s office and was told the person who could provide details was unavailable.

Kevin Preston, President of Rubico Acquisition Corporation, which owns Louisiana Downs Casino and Racetrack, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Journal spoke with several sources who requested anonymity. The Journal was told the issue in question involves 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.

The Journal was told that each day, purse money is generated from several sources, including
slot machines and pari-mutual wagering. At issue is if all of the appropriate purse money was
transferred from Caesars Entertainment to Rubico.


Local schools sought, but not on Battle of the Border slate

NOT BATTLNG:  Loyola, North Caddo and the rest of the local schools will be absent for this year’s Battle On The Border prep football showcase.

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

The only thing local about this year’s Battle on the Border High School Football Showcase may be where it’s played.

The 11th BOTB will be held Sept. 2-3 at Independence Stadium. However, there are no Shreveport-Bossier teams scheduled to participate.

Joe Mero, Assistant Director of Shreveport Public Assembly & Recreation, which organizes the event, told the Journal Wednesday he is still reaching out to local schools, hoping to entice them to give up their home game the first week of the season.

Last year, the BOTB was held the second weekend in September. However, this year, Northwestern State and Grambling will play at Independence Stadium Sept. 10 in a game that has been on the books for over a year.

“Once we moved (the BOTB) to the first weekend (in September), a lot of teams already had their schedule in place. I’m wishing and hoping.”

Mero said the plan is to have four games — one on Friday and three on Saturday. He said six of the eight teams are confirmed. Glenbrook (Minden) will play Cedar Creek (Ruston), Ryan (Denton, Texas) will play Bryant (Arkansas), and Scotlandville Magnet (Baton Rouge) will play McAlester (Oklahoma).

When asked what the benefits would be of a local school moving its home game to play in the BOTB —making the change five weeks before the season starts — Mero said each school would be given tickets to sell, and that the school can keep the money it makes. He also stressed that college coaches will be in attendance, providing an attractive audience for athletes who want to play at the next level.

Mero would not go into detail on what is provided to out-of-town teams as incentive to play in the BOTB, except to say a school traveling over 200 miles is given money to help offset expenses. The Ada (Oklahoma) News reported the City of Shreveport will “provide up to $5,000” for McAlester’s expenses, including up to 34 hotel rooms for one night. The newspaper also reported that McAlester will be given pre-sale tickets, and that the school will keep the revenue those ticket sales generate.

Last year, four local schools — Captain Shreve, C.E. Byrd, Southwood and Woodlawn — played in the BOTB.

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com


Two top Louisiana Downs administrators depart track’s leadership

SHAKEUP NEAR THE TOP:  The casino manager and general manager of racing have left Louisiana Downs in apparently unrelated moves this week.

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

Mitch Dennison’s stay as General Manager of Racing at Louisiana Downs was, in racing terms, as quick as a five-furlong race.

Dennison resigned Tuesday, three months after being hired.

“It is,” Dennison confirmed to the Journal, when asked if it’s true he is no longer with the Downs.

“Mitch is a fantastic person, but right now I really can’t comment,” said Kevin Preston, Founder and President of Premier Gaming Group, which bought Louisiana Downs Casino and Racetrack in January. “We have a fantastic racing team…I had a great meeting with them (Wednesday) morning. We will not miss a beat on the racing side.”

To join Louisiana Downs, Dennison left a successful career as an assistant to Steve Asmussen, North America’s winningest thoroughbred trainer. Dennison comes from a racing family. His father is a starter at Gulfstream Park in Florida. Dennison’s mother was a horseman’s liaison, and gap attendant, at Churchill Downs.

The 34-year-old from Louisville, Ky., was well-regarded by those on the Downs’ backside. Trainers expressed appreciation of Dennison’s willingness to hear their concerns, as well as their ideas on how to improve racing at the 48-year-old track.

Kato Moy, who was recently hired as General Manager of the casino side of Louisiana Downs, is also no longer with the property.

“Kato has been a dear friend since 1992 when we started together in gaming,” Preston said. “We were together when I met my wife and he and I have been extremely close. Unfortunately, some family matters came up that he needed to address, and we are supporting him 100 percent.” 

Louisiana Downs’ current thoroughbred meet ends Sept. 27. The track announced early this year it would bring back the high-stakes Super Derby that attracted high-profile horses and horsemen during the height of the Downs’ history, but other than a Sept. 10 date, no additional information about the purse or related considerations has been revealed.

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com


Diving into the (small) World Series experience


I’ve never understood.

Possibly — probably — because I don’t have children. But still . . .

I’ve never understood why, all summer long, so many parents choose to spend their weekends — and usually at least one weeknight — at the ballpark. They wilt in the sweat-inducing heat, watching kids play a game that at times moves slower than Albert Pujols “running” down the first base line.

And I’m not talking just teenage baseball. Coach-pitch and T-Ball fields in our area have become summer campgrounds, filled with families wearing holes in lawn chairs.

But as I’ve always said, there is one thing of which you could be certain. You would never see me sweating my Saturday and Sunday away, watching kids chase ground balls all the way to the outfield fence.

I like my air conditioning too much.

So, of course, I spent last weekend — eight games over three days that were hotter than hell’s kitchen — watching some of the best young players in the south.

I’ve learned a lot in almost 59 years. When your fiancé says “We’re going” to watch her grandson play for the 6-and-under T-Ball Championship, you go.

The Dixie Youth Baseball World Series was in Monroe. “The Big Show” for 58 teams: 696 players 11 years old and younger, playing live pitch, coach pitch, and T-Ball.

“These kids earned their trip here,” Johnny Drake told me. He’s the District Five Director for Louisiana. “They had to play through their sub-districts, districts, and now they’re here at the World Series.”

And it was a World Series atmosphere. Outside the East Ouachita Sports Complex — a beautiful facility renovated four years ago for $12 million — you would have thought the SEC Tournament had moved to northeast Louisiana. Parents and families from as far away as Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama wore their state school’s colors.

The orange block “T.”

The black “G.”

The script “A.”

RV’s — not travel trailers, but big-time motor homes — lined the back side of the rock-surfaced parking lot. Trucks and SUV’s — not many cars to be seen here — were forced to be parked on neighborhood streets, where there were threats to call tow trucks.

Why so few cars? They simply don’t have enough room to carry the necessities. We’re talking tents, chairs, battery-operated fans, battery chargers, coolers and food. All loaded onto a wagon that you pull, wearing you out before ever getting to the entrance.

Were these people going to watch a game, or compete on Survivor?

One question before we leave the parking lot. How do drivers see out of their back and side windows? Most every vehicle had something painted on the glass.

“World Series Bound!”

“State Champs!”

“Honk for Henry #1!”

So, for someone who has no experience with any of this, my question to parents was obvious.

“Why?”

“Because my kid loves the game,” Starla Conroy told me. She and her family made the five-hour drive from Bipp County, Ala., southeast of Tuscaloosa. “Every day he’s practicing, hitting the ball . . . You do what you gotta do for your kids.”

But surely high gas prices, rising food costs ($28 for two salads, chips, and a kid’s meal at Subway), and not-so-inexpensive hotel rooms, gave parents a reason to balk.

“Not at all. Not at all,” Katelyn Schroeder told me after driving eight hours from Greenbriar, Tennessee.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for (son) Maddox, and for all of us as a family.”

Arkansas fans called the Hogs. “Roll Tide” echoed across the concourse. Folks from Joaquin, Texas, wore blue T-shirts covered with a BIG state logo because, well, Texas, you know.

As for the team I went to see, it was heartbreak hotel. Undefeated and advancing to the championship round, they needed to win just one of two games to bring home the banner.

They lost both.

Tears flowed, and not just from the kids’ eyes. Adults felt the pain — the pain of watching the little one they love play his heart out on a turf field, in heat that had no mercy.

Maybe even this old, childless man leaked a little water out of the corner of one eye.

So now I understand.

Does anyone know when next year’s schedule comes out?

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com


In a snap, Nieves went from riding high to not riding

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

 Ten days ago, jockey Emanuel Nieves was feeling good.

He had earned more than $1 million this year and was the third-leading rider at Louisiana Downs.

Then came 2:43 p.m. and the third race, on a scorching hot July Saturday. Eight fillies and mares were getting ready to run about seven and one-half furlongs on the turf.

The starting gate opened, and Nieves soon settled his mount, Sneek Peek, into third place. That’s where they ran for much of the race, staying within striking distance of the two pacesetters.

As the field turned for home, Nieves swung his No. 7 horse to the outside, and moved into second. By mid-stretch, the 6-1 betting choice was in full stride, and gaining on the tiring favorite, Empty Net.

“Everything was perfect,” Nieves remembered.

Until it wasn’t.

“She just broke the leg, and you don’t have time for anything at that point.”

Horse and jockey crumbled in the path of six other horses, and immediately in front of veteran jockey Calvin Borel and his mount, The Missing Piece.

“I got lucky,” Nieves said. “She went over the top of me, and I did not get run over by nobody. Thank God.”

Nieves spent the next two nights in the hospital. After a battery of tests, his most severe injury was a broken right arm.

As bad as this accident was, Nieves says it wasn’t as bad as when he went down three years ago. That was early in the 2019 meet, when Nieves was sitting tall in the saddle.

The Puerto Rico-born jockey was coming off his first riding title, to go along with a career-high $1.8 million dollars in earnings.

But just one week into the meet, he suffered a career-worst injury.

“When we broke from the gate, someone came down on me and dropped me,” Nieves said. “I broke my shoulder, and also hurt my hand and knee. I was home for six months. I had been riding for 10 years and thank God, I had never had to have surgery. But that’s what happened that day.”

Just like that, Nieves was outside the rail. All he could do was look. And even that was difficult.

“I didn’t want to watch the races, because I wanted to be there,” he said. “I saw a lot of horses that I had ridden that were winning races. I just had to wait.”

Nieves’ patience was rewarded. Last year, after a sub-par 2020, he had his second-best year financially, earning more than $1.6 million.

“I work hard,” the 29-year-old said. “Everybody knows I work hard every day. It doesn’t matter if I win one race or 20 races, I’m (at the track) every day. My agent always tells me to be good with everybody and be out there every day. “

Nieves’ work-ethic was born when he was young. He’s learned the craft which has provided a comfortable living for him, his wife, their two-year-old son, and a soon-to-be-born daughter.

“My daddy and me, we always had horses. They raced in Puerto Rico. I always loved horses. Him and my mom always told me to go to the jockey school. I knew the leading rider over there for many years, and he’s the one that brought me to the school.”

After two years of learning, Nieves was on his own. He began riding in the United States in 2012, at Finger Lakes in Farmington, New York. But it wasn’t long until he got the call to come south. Nieves has been riding at Louisiana tracks ever since.

“I’ve been to every track in Louisiana, and I always do good. My first time in New Orleans (Fair Grounds) was last winter. I won 30 races, so I enjoyed that.”

One of the trainers Nieves rides for is Joey Foster, who knows a thing or two about success. Six times since 2013, Foster has been ranked among the Top 100 trainers in the country.

“He puts himself in the right places, not the wrong places,” Foster said of Nieves’ riding style. “When the gates open, it’s dangerous out there. He puts his horse and himself in a good position and doesn’t get in a lot of trouble. It’s just a couple of minutes long, and a lot of (things) can go sideways real fast. He’s a smart rider because he takes care of your horse and puts himself in a good position where he can get all the run that’s possible out of the horse.”

Foster believes another reason for Nieves’ success is that Nieves continues to learn from his agent, Ronald Ardoin, who retired with 5,226 wins and is among a group of elite jockeys in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.

“When Emanuel messes up, Ronald will damn sure scold him. And so will I,” Foster said. “But we’re all human. We all make mistakes sometimes. But there aren’t many with Emanuel. There aren’t a lot of excuses when he comes back (from a race). He’s honest. He will not lie to you. He is a hard worker.”

Nieves makes his home in Opelousas, where he is recovering from his most recent spill. Nieves expects to miss the rest of the Downs’ meet, but looks forward to getting back on the track.

“I love competition,” Nieves said. “I always want to be the leading rider. Some people say they don’t want to be this, they don’t want to be that. But when you are the leading rider one time, you always want to be there. That’s the best thing that can happen in your life is to be the leading rider.”

Until that 2019 accident, and his latest spill, Nieves may have taken his sport, and his career, for granted. Not anymore. He now appreciates each bugle call, each mount, and each turn into the stretch.

“Every race I pass the wire (finish line), I say ‘Thank God’ for letting me pass the wire. Thank God we are safe, because racing is pretty dangerous.”

Louisiana Downs races Saturday-Tuesday. Weekend post time is 1:45. Weekday 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.


LSU’s Kelly wants in-state players, but not all want LSU

Not many people cared where I went to college.

Mom. Dad.

That’s about it.

I wasn’t a highly recruited football player. Heck, I wasn’t a football player at all. So, no signing ceremony. No putting on one of five caps, while sitting at a table surrounded by parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins — anyone who wanted to be on TV. No fancy graphic on social media. (Never mind there wasn’t social media in 1981.)

But for kids who play high school football in Louisiana and are talented enough to be offered a scholarship to LSU, a lot of people care where those players take their talents (aren’t you tired of hearing that expression?).

Including new Tigers head coach Brian Kelly.

Speaking Monday at SEC Media Days, Kelly made it clear he wants the state’s best players to wear the purple and gold — including players from our part of the state.

“You gotta get all the way up through Shreveport,” Kelly said. “You gotta get up to Monroe. You gotta get all up into the state of Louisiana. Now, that doesn’t mean you just take a kid from Louisiana just because he’s from Louisiana. If he’s not rated as high, then can you go out of state? Sure. But you better know the players in the state of Louisiana, and that means the entire state.”

But Kelly won’t get every in-state player. And if you read the message boards, you know nothing gets the Bayou Billys, Bengal Barneys, and Touchdown Tommys worked up more than a Louisiana kid not going to the Louisiana school.

Back in the day, there wasn’t much discussion around the family dinner table. If you had a chance to play for good ’ol State U, you played for good ’ol State U. In Louisiana, that’s still LSU, no matter what the folks at The University of Louisiana-Lafayette want you to believe.

But times have changed. Boy, have they. For some, the purple and gold of LSU just doesn’t look as good as, say, the Crimson and White of Alabama (see Shreveport’s Kendrick Law last year), or the Red and White of Nebraska.

Speaking of … a few weeks ago, North Caddo receiver Omarion Miller — who committed to LSU, then decommitted, pledged his allegiance to the Huskers. Memorial Stadium is 919 miles from Tiger Stadium — and a heck of a lot colder. Miller didn’t grow up surrounded by cornstalks. He was never a part of that consecutive sellout streak Husker Nation always tells us about — which, by the way, is now at 382 games.

Instead, Miller and his grandfather (Miller’s father died when the young man was still in grade school) spent many a Saturday night in front of the TV watching the Tigahs. Last year at practice, Miller was easy to see. He was the one wearing LSU gloves.

So why would the four-star recruit choose not to play at LSU? Why would anyone choose not to play at LSU?

As with most players these days, it’s all about relationships. Relationships with the coach who is recruiting you. Those relationships mean more than the name of a school.

“Each kid just wants to know that somebody understands them, and knows what they’ve gone through, and are possibly going through in life, and has their best interest at heart,” North Caddo head coach Johnny Kavanaugh told me.

So, what’s it like to disappoint an entire state?

Shreveport’s Ross Setters knows. Growing up in Memphis, Missouri, he was that state’s second-ranked offensive lineman.

But good ‘ol Mizzou wasn’t so good.

“They were horrible, and had been horrible for 12 years,” Setters told me. “It was assumed I was going to go there.”

But Setters showed the Show-Me state.

“I ticked off a lot of people when I went to LSU.”

Setters found out quickly that those who loved him when they thought he would stay home and play for their Tigers, didn’t want to have anything to do with him when he decided to play for our Tigers.

“Everybody was always pumping you up, pumping you up, pumping you up. But then you don’t go close to home — you go off to a big school — they’re like ‘Aw, he’s going to fail. He’ll be back within a year, working at the Gas & More.’”

By the way, the big fella enjoyed a nice career at LSU, starting his junior and senior seasons “when I wasn’t hurt.”

So, the next time a Louisiana boy decides to play football somewhere other than the Louisiana school, cut him some slack. He is already under enough pressure.

Would you want to go back home and work at the Gas & More?

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com


Downs’ GM of Racing has learned from the very best

RACING GURU: Mitch Dennison arrived at Louisiana Downs this season with a deep knowledge of the sport gained from his association with two of America’s legendary horsemen.

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

Imagine getting an up-close look at horses trained by two of racing’s Hall of Famers — and being only 16.

Mitch Dennison doesn’t have to imagine that life. He’s lived it.

“My mother was the gap attendant at Churchill Downs,” Dennison remembered. “The gap she worked was the D. Wayne Lukas gap. I remember watching (Lukas) on this gorgeous pony, with a whole group of nine or 10 riders. They were standing at the gap. (Lukas) walked up to me on his pony, and let us walk around his barn to look at horses, and to pet horses. I was seven or eight years old. He really inspired me when I saw how he handled himself — on the business side as well as (being) a trainer.”

A few years later, Dennison was ponying at Churchill Downs. “The (Steve) Asmussen horses, when they came over with the braids in their manes — with these beautiful white bridles — these horses were walking over to the frontside. I said, ‘I want to be in that barn.’ I told one of the people I was working with, ‘I want to work with that trainer.’ The girl said, ‘You can’t do that.’ I said, ‘Watch me.’”

A couple of years later, the girl was watching as Dennison worked for Asmussen, thoroughbred racing’s all-time winningest trainer.

Originally from Louisville, Ky., Dennison has brought his love of horses — and horsemen — to Louisiana Downs. As the General Manager of Racing, Dennison serves as a liaison between people on the backside, and track management.

“My goal is to revitalize racing in the state, as well as at Louisiana Downs,” Dennison said. “As GM of Racing, I’m supposed to have a partnership between the company and the horsemen. The majority of places have horsemen that respond directly to a casino person. D. Wayne Lukas says (the racing industry) has a lack of leadership and accountability . . . He says we have corporate people in management positions who do not understand horse racing, horses, and horsemen.”

But the question has to be asked: Why would Dennison leave the Asmussen barn after 12 years as a right-hand man for the sport’s best trainer?

The answer is found in a two-year break Dennison took from racing. When he returned, his desire was not so much to get a horse to the winner’s circle as it was to ensure the horse — and those who took care of it — got treated right.

“I knew I wanted to be in the industry, but I came back with different goals,” Dennison said. “I was more intrigued and involved with the integrity and safety of horse racing and started to include myself in the horsemen’s meetings and association meetings from my position as an assistant.”

Those goals have led Dennison to Bossier City, where he has managed Asmussen’s stable in the past.

Dennison plans on taking what he’s learned from the renowned trainer and using it to help him become the best GM of Racing.

“Steve Asmussen has taught me leadership, as well as sportsmanship. The horsemanship inside his operation — which obviously shows in the results — is the horse first. It has been a pleasure working for him for such a long time. His attention to detail, and the leadership and organizational skills in his operation, made me the person I am today.”

And Dennison has the support and confidence of his former boss.

“I am very excited that they would recruit somebody with Mitch’s perspective into the frontside,” Asmussen said. “He’s got a great work ethic and is very knowledgeable. I think he will be a great service to racing from that position.”

Even though Dennison is in management, don’t look for him to be working inside Louisiana Downs very often. At his core, Dennison is a man of the horses.

“I’m not a corporate guy who comes from a corporate company. I want to be out there with the horsemen. I want to be out there watching training in the morning and managing it when things are going on at the track . . . that’s what really makes a difference. You can’t be in an office and know how the backside functions and what’s going on day-to-day if you’re in the office.”

However, Dennison’s new job will allow for perhaps a bit more rest. When working for Asmussen, Dennison would get up at 3:45 a.m. and be at the track at 4:30.

“I’m never going to be a person who sleeps in. A little more balance is what I’m looking forward to.”

And Dennison usually does what he sets out to do. Just ask that girl at Churchill Downs.

Louisiana Downs races Saturday through Tuesday. Weekend post time is 1:45. Weekday 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.


Back in Bossier, Crawford takes key role at La. Downs

HAPPY HOMECOMING:  Once a trainer at Louisiana Downs, Matt Crawford is coming back as racing secretary.

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

Matt Crawford would respectfully disagree with author Thomas Wolfe.

You can go home again.

Louisiana Downs’ new racing secretary — Crawford began part-time last week and will be full-time next Monday — is back where his horse racing career began.

“It’s ironic,” Crawford said. “I started there, and I will probably end up retiring there.”

The 65-year-old married father of three launched his thoroughbred training career at the Downs in the early 1980s. Crawford’s claim to fame was “Big Sturgeon,” owned by Crawford’s father. In 1987, “Big Sturgeon” was named Louisiana Downs’ Horse of the Year.

“I was fortunate to have him. We won quite a few stakes races. 1987 and 1988 were my big years there. I had 40-45 horses.”

But as happens often with trainers, Crawford’s numbers went up and down.

“I started out with a few horses, then built up to a 40 (horse) stable, then I got back down to 10. Then I built myself back up in the late ’80s. Then I went back down again to seven or eight horses. It just got discouraging. That second time around, when you lose a big stable — your numbers fall off — it wasn’t financially stable for me. I was ready to retire.”

Ready to retire from training, but not from the racing industry.

Eventually, Crawford moved into administration. The Wheeling, W.V. native, who was raised in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, has worked at tracks in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Minnesota. He comes to the Downs from Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas. Since 2020, Crawford has been the racing secretary for Lone Star’s quarter horse meet, and the assistant racing secretary for its thoroughbred meet.

Which begs the question—what does a racing secretary do?

Think of Crawford as a restaurant owner, deciding which dishes to put on the menu. Except Crawford has to do that for each day of the meet.

“You write a condition book, which compiles different conditions for the horses on the backside. You’ve got your races laid out for one day. Agents and trainers are entering horses for that day. The racing secretary is responsible for how many horses go into these races, and trying to compile the best race card he can for that day.”

Remember those years Crawford was a trainer? That experience has paid off — and continues to benefit him.

“I used to be one of the guys that I’m writing races for, and helping to fill races for those guys. I do the conditions, I know the horses, and can relate to the trainers on the backside because I used to be one of them. They respect that more — the guys on the backside.

“‘Hey, you used to be one of us!’ I know where they’re at on horses. I’m not rushing a guy. ‘Hey, you got this horse that fits the race, but I know you just ran seven days ago.’ The guy’s telling me he needs some more time. I respect that. I’m not going to convince him.

“A non-horseman would say ‘C’mon, please run in this race.’ They don’t think like a horseman, where that horse needs time. It’s just really beneficial in a racing official capacity if you have any horse background.”

But there’s another part of Crawford’s job that will be just as important at Louisiana Downs. Crawford will be a salesman, trying to get the best horses — and the best horsemen — to come to Bossier City.

“You tell them the purses are going to get better. Granted, we only run seven races a day, but come, and you’re not going to sit in a barn. You’re going to run your horses.”

The better the purses, the better the horses.

“If you get better horses, you get better handles. People want to bet you. You get more recognized trainers, and a better-quality field of horses. People start betting you across the country, and your purses get raised. I think there’s a good future for Louisiana Downs.”

Crawford has a suggestion when it comes to ensuring that “good future.”

“One thing that’s going on in Louisiana that needs to change is the overlapping dates. The horse population has really decreased in America. That’s why there are smaller fields. For Evangeline (Downs, in Opelousas) and Louisiana Downs to run at the same time … all you’re doing is killing your state. They need to restructure the dates.”

And, if needed, Crawford will be here, back home, to help.                    

Louisiana Downs races Saturday through Tuesday. Weekend post time is 1:45. Weekday 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.


Local club soccer’s finest days, remembered a year later

RARE AIR:  A year ago, local club soccer reached a new high in Colorado as Shreveport United qualified for national competition and showed it belonged.

Opinion/By DAVID ERSOFF, Journal Sports

 A year ago, the Shreveport-Bossier Journal didn’t exist, so our soccer community lacked a platform to celebrate the most impressive achievement so far by any local club team.

I’ve helped report on soccer since the SBJ arrived early this year. As the first anniversary approaches this week, like any proud dad would, I’m tipping my cap to the only Northwest Louisiana club soccer team to qualify for national competition.

In their second year competing in the National Premier League, Shreveport United 03 girls Blue won the Red River South NPL U18/19 division. This title qualified them for the US Club Nationals in Commerce City, Col., last July 16-20. Their division record was 8-2 with wins over four teams that were ranked in the top 30 in the country.

Starting on July 13, 18 families and a total of 57 Shreveport-Bossier City residents made their way to Denver, including coach Gil Roraback, assistant Rusty Foster and director of coaching Mark Matlock.

The first game for United was three days later. They met Pacesetters SC ECNL 02 out of Cleveland. After an early feeling-out timeframe for both teams, United went on top when the ball was bouncing all over the Pacesetters box, where ULM recruit Peyton Pipes put United up 1-0.

The excitement did not last long, as the Pacesetters were able to get two quick goals for the 2-1 halftime score. The second half played evenly until the closing minutes, when United pushed numbers up to try to tie, but got burned by two late goals on counters. United lost 4-1, but the game was very evenly played, with the score not an accurate account.

The next day brought a matchup against the Eastern Washington Surf 02 Girl’s Academy, the highest level of club play for girls.

The first half was played adjusting to playing a nationally ranked recruit in Oregon State commit McKenna Martinez, the most skilled player ever faced by the United team. Throughout the half, the sound of United keeper and Centenary recruit (and my daughter) Madison Ersoff’s voice could be heard screaming to cover Martinez. Their battle saw success on both sides, as Martinez scored the half’s only goal, while Ersoff had six saves, all worthy of a keeper highlight reel, all shot by Martinez.

Halftime brought a new strategy to combat Martinez — assigning senior midfielder Aila Yurochko to mark her. It worked for the most part, as the locals only yielded three shots to the star forward, all saved by Ersoff.

Shortly after the halftime, United had a free kick from 40 yards out. Pipes hit a rocket that went in just under the crossbar in the far corner. After a lot of back and forth, United was on a counter when Cassie Campbell had the ball, saw her older sister Erin streaking down the right side and slotted the ball to her. The elder Campbell chipped the ball over the keeper for what would stand as a 2-1 United victory. The NWLA crowd went a bit crazy when the referee blew the final whistle.

The prize for the win was a short walk across the parking lot to go see the Colorado Rapids MLS team play a home game. A happy bunch of 53 NWLA fans took over a section behind the goal, with fun and laughter for all.

Next came United’s toughest test, with a win-or-go-home game July 18 against No. 3 nationally ranked Sting SC Royal ECNL Composite 02g.

The first half saw Sting peppering United’s goal with double digit shots, with Ersoff making save after save. With five minutes left in the half, Sting finally broke through with a shot that was a no-doubter and led 1-0.

The second half saw more of the same, although United did muster a few shots on goal that could have tied the score. At 30 minutes into the half, after a barrage of double-digit shots, Sting put their second goal in net.

Sting played keep away for the remainder of the game, and in the 90th minute, added a final goal to end the contest 3-0. United players, and their fans, didn’t feel badly about the effort against a team ranked that highly. Sting eventually lost in the national finals on penalty kicks to a team from Massachusetts.

There were four seniors whose last club game was played on a Rocky Mountain high — Laney Fouts, Yurochko, Pipes and Ersoff. What a way to finish their careers!

Hopefully more local teams will reach nationals as our soccer community continues to develop, but the 2021 United crew will always be the trailblazers. And I’ll always be a very proud dad.

Contact David at DErsoff@BellSouth.net

Photo by CHRISTI ROEMER


Marketing mishap: La. Downs is running the race backwards

An open letter to Mr. Kevin Preston, President and Owner of Louisiana Downs:

Mr. Preston,

Since you don’t live here — although I am told you visit often — I want to make you aware of something.

Your strategy for drawing people to the racetrack side of Louisiana Downs isn’t working.

How do I know?

I’ve seen for myself. My fiancé’ and I had a great time July 4th, spending the sweltering afternoon sitting in the air-conditioned grandstand, watching an exciting, seven-race card.

Even with free admission to the first and second floors, we did not have a lot of company. That, despite six posts made to the Downs’ Facebook page that day, no doubt hoping to draw a big holiday crowd. Those posts promoted things like food trucks, a video game truck, and something about trying to bust open a box by swinging what looks like a sledgehammer.

Not a single post about horse racing.

The attendance? I asked the Downs’ spokesperson if track management keeps daily numbers. By the time last evening I was told “Yes” — almost 24 hours after my question — it was too close to my deadline for those numbers to be provided. My best guess? No more than 200 people in the second-floor grandstand, and maybe that many in third-floor box seats. The first floor? There was plenty of elbow room.

Belmont Stakes day, you were surely hopeful of drawing a nice-sized crowd, not only to watch live racing, but to watch and bet on the third leg of the Triple Crown. Again, the Downs made several Facebook posts. I saw them while sitting in the cool comfort of my home on a 100-degree day. What I didn’t see was a post suggesting a great way to beat the heat would be to come to the races and sit inside.

Instead, the posts promoted getting food OUTSIDE, and encouraged me to do the “Belmont Boogie” while listening to a musician perform OUTSIDE. I checked The Weather Channel app.

The heat index was 105!

Not a single post about horse racing.

Mr. Preston, this is the ridiculously hot and humid Deep South, where 100-degree, god-awful humidity days are the rule, not the exception. Why would people drive “all the way out” to Louisiana Downs, to stand outside and eat an ice cream cone or take their child to a bounce house?

It appears horse racing has become a sideshow instead of the main attraction.

This is hard to understand, because I am told you genuinely care about horse racing, and have made many improvements for the horses and horsemen. They now live and work in much better conditions. Trainers feel like their concerns and ideas are being heard.

The Downs is full of great stories. Each Tuesday, the Journal runs one of those stories, thanks to a local businessman and horse owner who sponsors them. So, the track gets its name, image and likeness in front of thousands of potential customers, at the (literal) expense of someone else.

I was a local television sportscaster back when the track pulled in 15,000-20,000 people each weekend. I don’t think — I know — robust media coverage was a big reason. Get this: The track had someone hand-deliver to each station, video tapes (that tells you how long ago we’re talking about) of the day’s races.  That meant the track was almost certain to get coverage on the evening sportscasts.

This meet — to my knowledge — it’s been static and color bars.  I asked a local TV sportscaster why his station — or any other the stations — don’t air stories on Louisiana Downs.

“Out of sight, out of mind,” he said.

This market’s traditional newspaper? Not a single story has run.

One more suggestion. Make it easy for people to find out what time the races start. I went to the track’s website. I clicked the “Live Racing Calendar” tab, which seemed the logical place to find post times. No such luck. I have since discovered that post times appear randomly on the website’s home page.

Two months ago today, the thoroughbred meet began with great momentum. You were a cheerleader, and said all the right things. You had people excited about a Louisiana Downs revival.

I hope you will consider promoting the sport, and not the sideshow.

Before it’s too late.

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com

Photo by TONY TAGLAVORE


Want to buy some LSU football season tickets?

It was an e-mail wrapped in purple and gold, sent to my Dad and I, personally, from new LSU head football coach Brian Kelly.

Well, the e-mail said it was from him. It had his signature.

So, it had to be from him, right?

Anyway, Coach Kelly was writing to let us know (I could hear the southern drawl in his words) he hopes we will renew our season tickets — the ones we have had close to 20 years.

Well, of course we will!

New ($95 million) coach. New (eligible to be paid) players.

It sure sounds like LSU is about to get back to the business of winning.

Which is exactly why Pops has slammed on the renewal brakes.

College football has become too much a business, and too little a game.

“I am embarrassed at what the school I have loved and supported has become,” Pops said. “I quit. I will not be renewing my season tickets.”

Huh?

Pops uses our LSU tickets much more than me — and I am happy for him to do so. He’s 88 going on 58, and a life-long Tiger fan. Before the days of every game being on a big-screen TV, Pops would tune in John Ferguson, then Jim Hawthorne — their descriptions of Tiger Stadium crackling through the radio speaker sitting on the nightstand.

Now, Pops lives nine months for three months — the three months he steers his sporty-looking car, with a wind-whipped Tiger tail attached to the trunk — down I-49 toward Baton Rouge, for a weekend full of food, fun and football.

“There is something about when I step on campus off of Nicholson Drive that seems to give me a new high,” Pops said. “Rain, a blistering sun, it doesn’t matter, because it’s LSU, the flagship of our state.”

But the way Pops sees it, that “flag” is tattered and weather-beaten. From paying millions of dollars for coaches not to coach (see Ed Orgeron and his staff), to paying millions of dollars for coaches to coach (see Kelly and his staff), to sexual assault allegations and how they were handled (see a Google search), to businesses paying players for the player’s endorsement (see Name, Image, and Likeness).

It’s all become too much.

“The recent events have soured me on LSU football,” Pops said. “We are no longer a school of

student-athletes that compete for honors that elevate our state. We have become a school that values winning above anything else. If a guy is 6’5” and 300 pounds and can run a 4.5 40, recruit him no matter his morals. If he can play football, all else is overlooked…or not seen.”

Well, you certainly won’t find this breakdown in Phil Steele’s annual college football magazine.

“We can take a fellow from high school, give him an opportunity to get a $50,000 per year education, and watch him squander the opportunity to learn, while the plain students and their families work, sacrifice, pour over books to learn and raise their social and economic standards, and be proud alumni of LSU,” Pops concluded.

Yes, college football is a business. At times, an uncomfortable, ugly business. But when it’s 4th and 1, LSU needs a first down to seal the win, and Tiger Stadium is rocking, there is no place you would rather be.

Interested in some south end zone season tickets?