Contraband Days

Armwrestling Championships


Sanctioned by the AAA

Saction # 601-02

 May 11, 2002

 Civic Center

Lake Charles, Louisiana

Weigh-In  11:00 AM - 1:00 PM, Tournament  2:00 PM

Entry Fee: $20

“Tournament T-Shirt to 1st 100 Entries”

“Back to Basics” Amateur Event      

  No Cash Prizes – Just Great Competition


Sculptures and awards to 3rd place in all classes

Men’s Right Hand 132, 154, 176, 198, 199+(SuperHeavy)

Men’s Left Hand Light . Middle . Heavy

Women’s Right Open

The death of a child of any age, from any cause, is a shattering experience for a family. When a child dies, where does a family turn for the emotional support they will need during the grief journey that lies ahead of them?

For nearly twenty years, the Southwest Louisiana Chapter of The Compassionate Friends has been quietly helping grieving families to heal following the death of a child.


The Compassionate Friends’ mission is to assist families in the positive resolution of grief following the death of a child and to provide information and education to help others be supportive.

    We gather to listen, to care, and to understand the process of grieving, as we heal and start our recovery. Our greatest strength as bereaved families is the unity we find in shared experiences that leads us out of isolation, gives us a place to “belong” and gives us hope that, together, we can make it.


And you ask, “What does the death of a child have to do with armwrestling?”  The first Contraband Days armwrestling tournament was held the second Saturday in May 1988.  The event was organized by Larry and Janet Shuff as a fund raiser for the Compassionate Friends chapter, a self-help support organization for families unfortunate enough to have had to bury their child.  Larry and Janet had recently lost a baby and had sought solace in the company of those who could “understand” their fears and frustrations and utter despair caused by such an unexplainable grief.  Unless you have “been there”, no one can explain to you the horror of early grief following the death of your child, no matter the age or how the child died, there is complete and utter gut wrenching devastation.  The order of life is thrown into chaos.  Your child is supposed to bury you, not the other way around.

The entry fee for that first tournament was five dollars and the prizes were two-liter bottles of coke.  First prize was a 90-day membership to a local fitness center.  The table was on the ground with spectators and competitors gathered around it.  You couldn’t see what was going on unless you were tall or in the front row.  The competitors were few but enthusiastic.  The event made about fifty dollars to help with the chapter expenses of publishing and mailing a monthly newsletter and purchasing books and tapes for the lending library.

The Contraband Days festival is a perfect venue for an armwrestling tournament.  Once a year during the first two weeks of May, the city of Lake Charles, Louisiana, returns to the rollicking, swashbuckling days of the pirates and buccaneers who once sailed the area’s lakes, rivers and bayous.  Legend has it that the French gentleman pirate Jean Lafitte buried his contraband treasure somewhere along Southwest Louisiana’s plentiful waterways.  Contraband Days opens as Lafitte’s buccaneers sail into Lake Charles, storm the Civic Center seawall, toss city officials into the lake and proclaim two weeks of fun and frolic under pirate rule.   There are outdoor concerts, parades, arts and crafts, a carnival midway, sporting events, powerboat races, beach games, sailboat regattas, fireworks displays, beauty pageants, Cajun days and of course armwrestling.  What makes it so perfect is that the armwrestlers can bring their wives and children and family and friends.  There is lots to do for everyone. And Great food!

Back to our story.  The tournament continued the next four years raising a few hundred dollars for The Compassionate Friends.  Then a local business man, Tommy Joyce, volunteered to the Contraband Days director to help out in some way.  She sent him to The Compassionate Friends. Tommy was involved in a printing business and was owner with his family of the local Baskin-Robbins ice cream store.  Tommy is an energetic go-getter and he went into high gear.  He contacted the American Armwrestling Association who guided him to the Louisiana State Director, John Sullivan.

John Patrick Sullivan, Strong-man Juggler!  This guy actually throws bowling balls and canon balls into the air and then catches them, three at a time!  Sullivan knows how to organize and run a tournament.  He got AAA sanction for the event, and lined up Tom Watson, a national champion from Chantilly, VA as referee along with local armwrestler, Mike Manuel.  The entry fee was upped to ten dollars and John arrived the second Saturday in May 1992 with “real trophies” for the 5th Annual Baskin-Robbins Armwrestling Tournament.  We even had tournament t-shirts!  The table was on a stage so everyone could see and hear what was going on.  The sound system was a Fender guitar amp and a microphone that Sullivan had thrown in the back of his pick-up.

Tommy Joyce had gone to local businesses and came back with sponsorships to cover the expenses of the event.  When the day was over, more than $1600 had been raised for The Compassionate Friends!  WOW! That was more than all the years before combined!

Word went out, and the tournament got bigger and better.  The next year, Bobby Lear joined Tom Watson in the refereeing duties.  ’94 brought an entry fee increase to $15 and cash prizes for first and second places and the introduction of super national champion David Randall from Stone Mountain, Georgia as referee.  As great ambassadors for the sport of armwrestling, Tom and Dave have very ably handled the referee job ever since.

I became a member of The Compassionate Friends following the death of my 19-year-old son in the summer of 1990.  Jimmy was a reserve police officer and was accidentally shot by another officer.  My wife and I became chapter leaders in 1992.  I became intimately involved with the tournament during Contraband Days ’93.  The Contraband Days Armwrestling Tournament Team was in place: Tommy Joyce, John Sullivan, Tom Watson, David Randall and me.

The tournament continued to grow and became one of the largest and most competitive in the Gulf South.  The cash prize became $100 for first place.  Top armwrestlers came from all over the South.  From Georgia there was Andy Fuller, Robert Webb and Bob Sutton.  Greg Helm, Jim Bob Battles and Al Gross came from Florida.  Michael Todd from Arkansas.  Gary Ray, Stan Peach and Lindley Keating from Texas. And the great Louisiana armwrestlers: Craig Tullier, Robert Redden, Jesse Peek, Todd Fruge, Jason Vincent, Ray Hennerichs, R.J. Molinere, Blake Higginbotham, Olin Lucas and Lee Browning.  And local favorites Don & Bubba Savoy, Lonnie Portie, Mike Manual, Ray Horn, Mike Ellis and promising young newcomer, D.J. Savoy, and hundreds of others over the years.  I know I have left out many, and I apologize for the oversight.  The largest outing thus far was the 13th annual in 2000 with 114 entries (27 competitors in the 176 right hand).  The tournament has raised nearly $15,000 for the The Compassionate Friends over the past 10 years.

The term “hero” is thrown around a lot lately.  But to us, these are the heroes, the everyday working guy who trains hard and competes hard for his sport.  The Sport of Armwrestling!

The theme for the 15th Annual Contraband Days Armwrestling Championships to be held Saturday, May 11, 2002 in Lake Charles, Louisiana is “Back to Basics – an Amateur event”.  No cash prizes will be given, but we promise you great trophies and awards.  We thank everyone who has played a part in the success of Contraband Days Armwrestling, especially the competitors. 

As long as you keep showing up, we will have a tournament for you.  Hopefully, it will keep on getting better.    All proceeds go to The Compassionate Friends of Southwest Louisiana who host the Contraband Days Armwrestling Championships.



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