An uh-oh moment: Abp. Rummel student almost becomes gator bait

By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald

A brush with an alligator earned a ninth grader at Archbishop Rummel High School in Metairie a commendation for heroism Sept. 18 from the Jefferson Parish Council.

Freshmen classmates and friends Stephen Campbell and Hayden Cantillo recounted their experience with a six-foot alligator the Thursday before Labor Day in River Ridge in water near the banks of the Mississippi River.

Stephen said he was fishing alone for bass – catching and releasing, as he usually does – using a fake frog lure worth $11 on his hook.

All of a sudden, something strong tugged on his line.

“At first, I thought it was a big bass or a huge catfish, but then I realized it wasn’t,” Stephen said. “I kept reeling it in and saw my frog lure hanging from the gator’s mouth. I knew the gator was tired, so I tried to get the lure out with pliers, but the pliers were old, and they dropped in the water. That’s when gator turned its head and bit my thumb.”

Stephen said he didn’t want to lose the expensive lure – hint: that’s a mistake – and the gator clenched on to his hand for three to four minutes. The grip of the gator’s teeth were preventing blood from pouring out, Stephen said.

That’s when Hayden, almost miraculously, came around to witness the scene.

“At first we were pulling the gator more on to the bank,” Hayden said. “Stephen grabbed one of the gator’s feet while his hand was under his mouth and grabbed under his jaw so the gator wouldn’t tear his finger off.”

Hayden said he was pulling the gator onto land by its tail and grabbed under his mouth, but the gator was lashing on even harder.

“I tried it twice,” Hayden said. “The gator almost bit me, but it loosened his grip on Stephen’s thumb. I then pulled out the tackle box with water in it and poured the water on the gator’s head like I saw on ‘Gator Boys’ on the Animal Planet Channel on TV, and the gator let go.”

A nod to Drew Brees

Stephen went to the hospital for stitches and to make sure he was bacteria-free.  He now sports a cast on his wrist, “similar to Drew Brees,” he said.

It was Stephen’s aunt, Patricia Besselman, who submitted the event to the Jefferson Parish Council for recognition. Hayden received a proclamation for his heroism from the council.

The teens said even though they both live in River Ridge, they hadn’t met until starting ninth grade at Archbishop Rummel. Stephen attended St. Matthew Elementary, and Hayden went to St. Rita in Harahan. After meeting through mutual friends on the first day of school, they learned they had fishing in common and have fished together the past month.

Amazingly, on the day of Stephen bout with the gator,   Hayden was walking by to return fishing equipment he had borrowed from Stephen.

What did they learn from the incident? Stephen, who loves hunting, fishing, doing triathlons and wrestling for Rummel, said he learned to “cut the line.”

In fact, he said, it is now his mother’s new motto: “Whenever I do anything stupid and irresponsible, my mom says to ‘cut the line.’”

Hayden, who fishes, plays playground sports and bowls for Rummel, said he learned to help people. Before this happened, he felt scared to help people when he was under pressure.

“Now, I know I can do it. I have faith in myself,” Hayden said. “In Catholic schools, I’ve learned to help others because I would want to be helped.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at

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