The East Ascension-St. Amant high school football rivalry goes way back to the days of three high schools in Gonzales: the Gonzales High Bulldogs, Dutchtown Eagles and the St. Amant Wildcats. The Bulldogs-Wildcats (now Spartans-Gators) rivalry is over 70 years old.

The three high schools combined in 1966 to form East Ascension High School. The rivalry took a break until 1978, when the population increased. Another school was needed and that resulted in the birth of St. Amant, and the rivalry came back to life.

A unique dynamic developed because of those circumstances. The older generation graduated from Gonzales or St. Amant High, then for 12 years, everyone graduated from East Ascension. So for 12 years, everyone who finished high school in the parish finished from a school in Gonzales.

Then came St. Amant, and the kids of those folks who attended East Ascension went to St. Amant High. That created a tear in the hearts of the folks who graduated from East Ascension. I know. I’m one of them: I graduated from East Ascension in 1971, then all three of my kids attended St. Amant. My oldest daughter still holds school records in the 114-pound weight class in powerlifting, and my youngest daughter was a trainer for the football team for three years.

This dynamic happened all over the parish, but it didn’t pit family members against each other. You pulled for two teams unless they played one another.

This also birthed at least a couple of unique events that surround the EA-St. Amant football rivalry. One is the annual Shout Out, where students and fans have a cheering competition that raises money for the athletic programs at the two schools.

The other started when two very ardent supporters of the high schools, Jay Patterson and Fritz Englade Sr., were engaged in a heated but friendly conversation about who would whip whom in the upcoming football game.

Patterson issued the challenge: “I tell you what. If St. Amant wins, we’ll cook T-bone steaks for you and 24 fans, and we’ll eat red beans and rice. If we win, you pay.” That conversation began the annual “T-bone Steak & Red Beans and Rice Challenge” between this group of East Ascension and St. Amant football addicts.

As fate would have it, the Spartans won the first three games, and some of the Gators were wondering what Fritz had gotten them into. But St. Amant won the next two years, and has came out on top 15 times so far versus the Spartans’ 10 times. The only year missed was after Hurricane Katrina, when the game was canceled.

Fritz Englade is still the captain of the Gator club and Jay Patterson represented the Spartans until his death in 1996. Bret Hughes is the current captain of the Spartan Club, which he inherited from Sam Speligene.

Feb. 25 marked the 25th celebration of the much awaited event at Carlico’s Cafe. The Gators topped the Spartans by the score of 57-34, so the EA group, led by James “Stump” Marchand, had to cook and serve the Gators group as well as endure some good-hearted ribbing along the way. Of course, the teasing went both ways.

The crowd included community leaders, businessmen, politicians and former football players.

“This is a great event that we look forward to every year,” Englade said. “We love each other and we love to mess with each other, too.”

Steve Broussard echoed the sentiments: “Both sides bring signs to the game that has ‘steaks’ written on them to hold up at the end of the game.”

This unique set of circumstances makes for strange bedfellows. Ronnie Gaudin, a current Gators fan, was served by his son, Greg, who was on the Spartans side. There was one ex-East Ascension teacher who has gone over to the other side and a couple of politicians sat under the “Police line — do not cross” barrier so folks couldn’t tell which side they were on.

The fellowship started about 6 p.m. and the food was served at 7 p.m. After the meal was finished and the Spartans cleaned up, it really got serious. Each person got the opportunity to stand up, introduce himself then proceed to roast an individual on the other side with some spicy comments. Coaches David Oliver, of the Gators, and John Lambert, from East Ascension, poked barbs at one another, as well.

East Ascension has eight original members from the beginning: Randall Aldridge, Johnny Berthelot, Jeff Diez, Frank Fredrick, Guy Holdridge, Tony Malbrough, Loyson Porta and Bobby Shackleford. The Gators have seven originals: Steve Broussard, Roy Deveer, Fritz Englade Sr., Ronnie Gaudin, Harold Jarreau, M.J. “Mert” Smiley and Richard Waguespack.

There’s talk of some openings on the teams but it’s sort of like a hunting club: You have to wait until someone dies or drops out in order to get in. I asked both coaches how much pressure these guys put on them to win so they don’t have to buy and cook steaks for the other team. All I got was a sneaky smile.

Lyle Johnson covers sports for The Ascension Advocate. He can be contacted at reelman@eatel.net or ascension@theadvocate.com.