For a very special group of Cenla residents, we wanted to make it the trip of a lifetime! As a part of the Cenla ‘Who Dat Tiger Tour 2010’, a group of mentally challenged young men from the John Eskew Training Center in Alexandria got to live out every Louisiana football fans biggest dream—behind-the-scenes, VIP access to both the World Champion New Orleans Saints and LSU Tiger football teams.
On August 8th, the group gathered at the parking lot of the Cenla Focus offices for a breakfast of Shipley Donuts and Kleinpeter milk to board a 33-person luxury bus provided by 4 Seasons Tours for the trip to the Saints’ Metairie practice facility to take in the Saints’ final pre-season camp workout of 2010. Wearing their custom autograph-ready 2010 Tour tee-shirts, the group was greeted upon arrival by Saints staff member Nick Carl, who offered a behind-the-scenes, all-access tour of the state-of-the-art training facility, weight rooms and practice fields. Following the tour, the young men were escorted onto the practice field where the full roster of Saints players, including Reggie Bush, Tracy Porter, Jeremy Shockey, and of course starting Quarterback Drew Brees were completing their workout. Immediately following practice, the young men got to meet and greet their football heroes—getting hugs, handshakes and autographs all around. Throughout the event the Saints stars were as enthusiastic as the group from Cenla, with many citing this kind of community support as a key motivator for hard work and success on the playing field.
After the meet-and-greet session with the team, tour participants were offered the opportunity to run out onto the practice field for a little throw and catch session of their own. Participants and chaperones alike braved the stifling south Louisiana heat to toss around the pigskin. Having worked up an appetite on the gridiron, the group departed the Saints facility and headed to Baton Rouge, where they were treated to a luncheon with Colonel Michael Edmonson, Superintendent of the Louisiana State Police at LSP headquarters. The men wrapped up their action-packed day with a guided tour of the facility, which included special response vehicles and the LSP helicopter fleet before heading back to Alexandria.
The second leg of the 2010 Tour departed the Cenla Focus office on Wednesday, August 18th, this time for the Charles McClendon Practice Facility, home of LSU Tiger Football team on the LSU campus. The morning began with a tour of Tiger Stadium, including the Jeff Boss Game Day locker room inside the stadium. As part of the tour, participants got to see where players dress before each home game, and were then allowed to run through the tunnel onto the Tiger Stadium field, slapping the “Win!” bar for good luck, just like each Tiger player before each game. After that, it was off to the Football Operations Building, where the group checked out the three national football championship trophies commemorating the 1958, 2003 and 2007 championship seasons along with the football meeting rooms and media center.
Following their tour, the group was allowed inside LSU’s indoor practice facility, where the team was wrapping up drills for the day. The highlight came as the LSU players wrapped up the practice. LSU coach Les Miles stopped by first, looking for hands to shake and souvenirs to sign. Before long, the entire LSU team was huddled around the nine smiling men. “There is an old saying that everyone is not able,” starting left tackle Joseph Barksdale explained. “When we have the opportunity to brighten people’s day, we will definitely take the 10 or 15 minutes out of our time to make somebody else feel special.” In addition to Barksdale, the group also got to meet starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson, star receiver Russell Shepard and the incoming 2010 freshmen signing class. Before leaving, the LSU staff had one more surprise for the group. The men were invited to enjoy an LSU home game from one of the club level suites in Tiger Stadium; an unexpected treat that only added to the thrill of the day. “All of these guys are huge LSU fans,” said Dan Diefenderfer, Cenla Focus Account Executive and brother of one of the participants. “I didn’t know how we were going to top the Saints, but we did.”
The Cenla ‘Who Dat Tiger Tour 2010’ was made possible thanks to the generous invitations of the New Orleans Saints organization and LSU Football Operations staff. Helping us through donations and sponsorships were Sayes Office Supply, Hypergraphics Design, Shipley Donuts, Kleinpeter Dairy and 4 Seasons Tours. We couldn’t have done it without them! As both the Saints and Tigers prepare to take the field for the 2010 season, we thank them and wish them all the best. Who Dat!?! and Geaux Tigers!