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Riders in the Storm

An ancient tradition: Tournoi revives joust competitions of Europe

Published Oct. 16, 2006, in the Opelousas Daily World

VILLE PLATTE — Strong winds and a steady drizzle of rain might have annoyed visitors of the Tournoi de la Ville Platte, but it didn't stop them from coming out to watch their "knights" in shining costumes compete for the championship.

On Sunday afternoon, people gathered at the Industrial Park in Ville Platte to watch the Tournoi, an annual ring jousting tournament. The "knights" of the Tournoi compete each year to become the champion and receive an award from the Tournoi Queen.

The weather was less than perfect on Sunday, but the turnout was good, said Shelly Boulet, president of the Ladies Auxiliary. The event was originally scheduled to start at 3 p.m., but organizers of the event decided to start an hour early to beat the rain.

"The turnout is very good this year considering the weather," Boulet said. "I'm pretty amazed."

The Tournoi is a Ville Platte tradition that many get excited about each year. Boulet said that most of the 20 competitors in this year's event are returning participates, although a few of them are new.

One of the competitors, Jarred Matte, who was competing for his third year, said the Tournoi is a lot of fun for him.

"It's always fun to come out and spend time with people you don't see all of the time," he said.

Some people at the Tournoi sat under tents to shield them from the wind and sprinkling rain. Tonya LeDoux of Eunice, and her three young girls, huddled in the back of their SUV to watch the riders on the field. They had attended the Louisiana Cotton Festival Parade earlier that day.

The girls, Cassidy, 8, Adrian, 6, and Jenna, 2, were make believing that they were each one of the three Tournoi queens -- Jordan, Reed, the Teen Tournoi Queen, Britney Reed, the Louisiana Tournoi Queen, and Brooke Anderson, the Junior Tournoi Queen.

"Look it's you," one of the girls told her sister, pointing to one of the queens walking on the field.

LeDoux said she had heard of the Tournoi in the past, but this is the first year she's made it to the event. She decided to take the girls along, because she thought it would be educational.

"I think it's a good cultural experience for the kids," she said. "This is the kind of stuff they'll eventually be learning in school."

According to the tournament's Web site, louisianatournoi.com, the competition began in Ville Platte in the early 1800s by Frenchman Marcellin Garand, an officer in Napoleon's army and founder of the city. Garand turned the Tournoi into a major sporting event, and people would travel miles to attend the tournaments.

After about 90 years of tournaments, the Tournoi died out until it was revived in 1943 by Ville Platte residents J.D. Buller and Jules Tate. At this point, it was celebrated in conjunction with Fourth of July events, but later it was moved to coincide with the Louisiana Cotton Festival.

In the Tournoi, the competitors wear silver costumes to represent armor worn by the knights of old. They ride horseback around a semicircular track, carrying long spears.

The object of the competition is to spear the rings that are suspended from poles around the track. There are seven rings, which symbolize the seven enemies of cotton — flood, drought, boll weevil, bollworm, silk, rayon and nylon.

The "knights" compete in three heats and are scored based on how many rings they spear and how quickly they ride around the track. The competitor who spears the largest number of rings in the shortest amount of time becomes the champion.

This year's Tournoi competitors were Chuck Manual, Travis Lafleur, Dexter Morien, Tim Thibodeaux, Dustin Douget, Gary Brignac, Jean Dous, Jarred Matte, Warren Fontenot, Nick Ortego, Cody Lafleur, Paul Fontenot, Kent Saucier, Riley Blanchet, Bryan Fontenot, Riley Blanchet, Bryan Fontenot, Shane Trahan, Glen Marcantel, Ryan Vidrine, Boyd Landreneau, and last year's winner, Jody Fontenot.