Loggers project helps kids program

By James Ronald Skains
Journal Correspondent

"It's hard to believe that we started this bass fishing tournament 13 years ago as part of the Louisiana Logging Council's Log-A-Load-For-Kids program," Dennis Aucoin, the founder of the bass fishing tournament told the Piney Woods Journal.

"I've had lots of help with this tournament throughout the years with Glenn and Nancy Hinson, Mickey Hawkins, Travis Taylor and a lot of other loggers from all over the state," Aucoin emphasized. "On the front cover of our current fishing tournament brochure, it reads: OUR LADY OF THE LAKE FOUNDATION and THE LOUISIANA LOGGING COUNCIL. In fact, my long time log loader operator, ZZ Routon, has been a volunteer worker for tournament all 13 years," Aucoin added proudly. "Actually, ZZ now works for my son in his logging operations."

ZZ Routon, who graduated from LaSalle High School in 1973, worked for many years as a logger in the piney woods of north Louisiana. ZZ told the Journal, "These tournaments have been a lot of hard work, but it has also been a lot of fun doing them and the satisfaction of knowing that you are helping sick kids who can't help themselves means a lot."

The Children's Miracle Network (CMN) Annual Bass Tournament is headquartered at the St. James Boat Club on Airline Highway (US 61) in St. James Parish near Gramercy. The CMN bass tournament proceeds go directly to the Lady of the Lake Medical Center in Baton Rouge.

"The Lady of the Lake Hospital has a 92 bed Children's Unit within the main hospital," Aucoin explained. "No children are ever refused treatment under the Children's Miracle Network Program. When we got this tournament started, I figured that I would work with it for three or four years until it was established, and then back away from active participation," Aucoin said. "But once you see those kids in the hospital getting treatment that they couldn't afford without the Loggers' help, you can't just stop participating."

In 2012, the CMN Fishing Tournament was projecting that the total monies raised for CMN during the 12 years would exceed the $1 million mark. Aucoin told the CMN Committee that if the 2012 tournament failed to reach the $1 million mark, and was only $10,000 short of its goal, that he would donate the balance to CMN.

The 2013 OLOL CMN Bass Classic was held on Saturday, March 16, which turned out to be a fantastically beautiful day with blue skies, plenty of sunshine and 70 degree weather. The 2013 CMN event attracted about 125 teams, and over 1,200 spectators. Teams of two adult fishermen paid a $260 entry fee, while an adult and a youth team paid a $160 entry fee.

$20,000 in cash prizes were awarded with $5,000 reserved for the winning teams. There were separate prizes for the big bass catch of the day.

Ironically, with all the nearby fishing spots, the winning team of the CMA Bass Torunament chose to fish in Pool 2 on the Red River near Alexandria. Rules of the tournament allowed a team to fish wherever they wanted to as long as they checked in at check stations before starting to fish and made it back to the weigh-in at St. James Boat Club by 3 p.m. The team of Brett Sellers and Jason Pourciau had an 18.24 pound stringer and a top bass of 5.12 pounds.

Unlike many current public events, the official Children's Miracle Network fish weigh-in program started with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance.

"In addition to the cash prizes, Ascension Marine donated a brand new fully equipped Carolina Skiff boat to one of the fishing teams," Aucoin said. "However, although we do give out good cash prizes to the fishing teams, all the proceeds go to the Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital. The reason is that in our agreement with the Lake, the cost of putting on the tournament is paid for by direct sponsors of the tournament and by other supporters of the Lady of the Lake Hospital," Aucoin emphasized. "We work hard to keep the actual cost of the tournament as low as possible."

The major sponsors for the 2013 Bass Classic in addition to the Louisiana Loggers Council, St. James Boat Club, and Ascension Marine are: Motiva Chemical, USW Union, Shell-Norco, Carolina Skiff, Mockler Beverage Company, Coca Cola, Noranda Company, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, Walmart, Timmy Roussel, St. James Parish President, Joe Macaluso of Paradise Louisiana, and the St. James Parish Sheriff's Department (Willy Martin, Sheriff).

Children's Miracle Network is a non-profit alliance of 170 children's hospitals nationwide dedicated to saving the lives of children by raising funds across the country. However, all funds remain in the area in which they were raised. The Lady of the Lake is the only CMN hospital in the greater Baton Rouge area treating nearly 82,000 pediatric patients last year.

"As I said earlier, this Bass Tournament grew out of the Log-A-Load for Kids program of the Louisiana Logging Council," Aucoin said. "Ten years ago, a lot of loggers were able to donate a load of logs to CMN each month. However, logging has been so difficult financially the last few years that most loggers have not been able to donate a load of logs each month. After having been so involved with CMN for so long and seeing all the good things were coming out of the program, I decided to just bite the bullet and keep on donating a load of logs each month."

"Unfortunately, even with the best of modern day medicine, kids keep getting severely sick," Aucoin acknowledged. "So, I don't see any end for me in participating in the raising money for the Children's Miracle Network."

Aucoin has been honored previously as the Louisiana Logger of the Year, and last year was inducted into the Louisiana Loggers Hall of Fame. Aucoin also served as President of the Louisiana Logging Council and was previously on the Board of Directors of the American Logging Council.

"I first started in the logging woods as a saw hand," Aucoin recalled. "A saw hand 35 years ago cut logs all day long on the ground with a chain saw, not sitting in an air conditioned cab of a shear like today. Within a couple of years of starting to cut logs with a chain saw, my arms, especially my fore arms got really muscular," Aucoin remembered. "I found out that I was pretty good at arm wrestling and started competing in the Monster Arm Wrestling tournament at the weight classification of 160 pounds. I won a lot of local tournaments, but there was one guy in the Baton Rouge area that I just couldn't beat," Aucoin acknowledged. "This guy was an airplane mechanic and turned wrenches every day. If I could have beaten him, I would have advanced to national competition."

"Before I started cutting logs with a chainsaw for my uncle, I worked in a stockyard in Baton Rouge marking cattle and shoveling manure," said Aucoin, now serving in his 5th year on the East Feliciana Police. "I was 19 years old when I was working in the stockyard. When my Uncle, my mother's brother, who started Slaughter Logging wanted to retire, he talked me into buying him out. Little did I know what I was getting in to. I know that my mother cried when I told her that I was going to be a logging contractor."

"The logging industry was very good to me for nearly 30 years," Aucoin, who is also President of the East Feliciana Parish Police Jury, said. "I was able to start buying my own timber early on, and made a few investments outside the timber industry that has helped me through the last few years of tough times in the logging business."

In addition to holding public office, Aucoin is also a stakeholder in Landmark Bank in Clinton, and on its Board of Directors. He is Chairman of its Loan Committee. Recently, Aucoin joined the Board of Directors of the Southern Loggers Cooperative which has fueling stations for loggers in 7 states.

Aucoin is also a 20 year Charter member of the Dixie Business Incubator Center in Denham Springs. "The Dixie Business Center has exceeded our expectations in helping get new businesses off the ground and creating jobs," Aucoin, the only Board of Directors charter member still active pointed out.

Aucoin is also Chairman of the Feliciana Coastal Conservation chapter. For two years, 1996-98, Aucoin participated in the LSU Ag Center Leadership course.

"Participating in that two year Leadership course was probably what got me out of the logging woods and exposed me to what all was going on in the business world,'' Aucoin acknowledged.

"Because of the AG Leadership course, I have been able to travel to most parts of the world,'' Aucoin explained. "I've been to China, Vietnam, Thailand, Chile, Argentenia, Africa, Mexico, Italy, Canada and Paris. Also, I spent 10 days in Sweden on a Forest Resource Association sponsored trip.''

Aucoin is also an avid fisherman, both freshwater and saltwater, a hunter and is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association.