The Saints hosted a group from Ville Platte, La. on Friday at their facility in Metairie, La.
The group came to facility to cook a true Louisiana meal including sausage, boudin, jambalaya, and snow-balls for the players, coaches, and staff members as well as pass along information about the Tee Cotton Bowl, and annual high school city championship held in Ville Platte.
Ville Platte is a small area with strong Cajun and Creole roots. The news is even broadcasted in French twice a day. There are two rival schools in Ville Platte that are separated by a train tack: Ville Platte High School and Sacred Heart High School.
Ville Platte High is a public high school where the students are predominantly African-American and Protestant. Sacred Heart is a private school and the students are predominantly Caucasian and Catholic. The two schools were in the same district and had a major rivalry, one that was fully expressed on the football field each year.
Jennifer Vidrin is the Mayor of Ville Platte and a Ville Platte High School graduate and former cheerleader. She talked about what it was like to be in school before the Tee Cotton Bowl.
"20 years ago, you couldn't get the teams together. You couldn't get the fans together," said Vidrin. "We weren't even speaking when I was in school. It was like a fight when we played each other."
Dr. Tim Fontenot, founder of the Tee Cotton Bowl and Ville Platte Physical Therapist, decided that the city championship should be revamped believing that the meetings between the teams should be celebrated as a community and should bring everyone together.
"We didn't even see the racial differences when we did it," said Fontenot.
The game first received NFL support in 2002 and has received support from the Saints since 2004. The game has evolved to a demonstration of sportsmanship at its best. The two teams now eat together the night before the game and join each other in prayer that their opponents will have their best game. The teams have hugged at mid-field, danced together, and cheered for each other at games against outside opponents. In twelve years of the Tee Cotton Bowl, there have been five personal fouls called.
With all of this said, some might think this game is similar to a limited contact walk-through. It isn't. It is considered the most physical game either team plays in all year.
"The losers don't groan and the winners don't brag," said Fontenot. "You knock them down, you pick them up."
More than 3,000 screaming fans attend the contest on average and the city starts preparing plenty of time in advance. They have hosted the Southern University Drum Line, created a Jr. Cotton Bowl, created an all-star team, produced fireworks shows, held banquets and cook-offs , and are even hosting members of the Saintsations for this year's event that will take place on September 14th at Sacred Heart Field. For the players, the contest is not about the pregame festivities.
"The night before the game, we talk to the player about race and religion. It is very powerful. It is a powerful thing to tell kids to leave their soul out on that field," said Fontenot. "There really is a bond between players of both teams. There is a lot of respect."
Even with all of the competition for the Tee Cotton Bowl trophy, the game has united the community more than ever before.
"It goes to show you that sportsmanship can overcome racism and bigotry. We support each other," said Vidrin. "It is the friendliest rivalry around and it is the epitome of sportsmanship. It has brought us together as one. It has unified the total community."
For Fontenot and the group that traveled hours to New Orleans, being able to share this story with their favorite coaches and players was a great experience.
"The Saints have always supported us," said Fontenot. "The Saints are our team. They are our guys. We felt that we needed to recognize the good character with this team too, we wanted to come cook dinner. It is a big deal for us to be here. We want to thank the Saints so much for their support."