Lyons: River Parishes fans lose out when rivalry cools

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, October 19, 2016

When the Louisiana High School Athletic Association saw fit to reunite Riverside Academy and West St. John High School together in the same district three years ago, a lot of folks were pretty excited.

Then again, more than a few just shrugged.

Riverside coach Bill Stubbs and then-West St. John coach Robert Valdez, who both spent their early coaching years somewhere else, had no idea that once upon a time, the Rebels and the Rams had a rivalry as big as any in the River Parishes.

Neither did many River Parishes football fans.

Maybe you had to be there.

Back in the 1990s, Riverside and West St. John had it going on.

Riverside was the smallish Class 2A school with the high-potent offense and West St. John was the tiny Class 1A school that elected to play up one number so it didn’t have to travel from the middle of nowhere (Edgard) to the outskirts of nowhere (North Iberville).

St. John the Baptist Parish was happy.

It pitted the East Bank of the Mississippi River against the West Bank of the Mississippi, the public school against the private school, the once all-white school against the all-black school.

And it was great.

Back then, there was no Veterans Bridge and the Hale Boggs Bridge was one too far. The only way — the best way — to get to the game was the old St. John Ferry, which annually would be turned into a rollicking party barge for a night.

Fans would bring food and drink, not only for the ride, but also for the tailgating parties in the school parking lots. And it didn’t matter which side the game was on.

Then, the Rebels and the Rams would put on a show.

Sure, sometimes there were blowouts, but then there were some good ones.

And there never — I mean never — was a problem on or off the field.

In 1998, Riverside beat West St. John in the regular season game, 26-6.

Then the two were set on a collision course in the playoffs, meeting again in the Class 2A championship game.

That’s where West St. John got its revenge, taking a 28-23 win.

They did it again in 1999, with Riverside winning the regular season game 29-22 and West St. John taking the playoff game, 38-0.

They did it once more time in 2001. Riverside won the regular season game 43-28; West St. John won the playoff game 28-13.

But, apparently, that all happened long ago and far away.

The two were football divorced in 2009 thanks to redistricting.

A couple of us old-timers were reminiscing about those days in the Riverside Academy press box Friday night as we looked at all the empty seats on both sides of the field, and as we watched Riverside take its third straight win in the renewal of the series, 49-15.

We remembered the days when there would not only be no available seat in the stands, but little room to stand on the track.

We remembered the crowds that filled the Superdome that day in 1998.

I remembered the 50/50 drawings that used to hit the thousands of dollars for a lucky fan. Friday night’s pot was $300.

Riverside has continued its success on the field while West St. John looks to be building back up to 2A strength after years of exile in 1A.

This week, River Parishes football fans are gearing up for the RA-SCC game, which has no chance of cooling off — ever. Hopefully, RA and WSJ can get back up to full strength one day as well.

Lori Lyons is the Sports Editor at L’OBSERVATEUR. She can be reached at 985-652-9545 or