2016 Dave Dixon Award Winner
Making sports safer Is driving factor for Dr. Julian Bailes
By Luke Thompson
Written for the LSWA
Legendary retired powerlifting coach Billy Jack Talton remembers Julian Bailes never shied away from smashing his head against opponents when asked as a high school sophomore guard and linebacker for Natchitoches Academy.
Some 30 years later, Bailes found himself at the forefront of a push to make football safer and raise awareness of its dangerous concussion risks. The former Natchitoches Academy All-State linebacker turned neurosurgeon ended his playing career after a neck injury at Northwestern State, but his passion for the game never waned.
“I think football has a responsibility to answer these questions and find a successful conclusion or answer to the problem we’re dealing with,” said Talton, who left Natchitoches after one season as a head coach and coached Louisiana Tech to 22 national powerlifting titles. “We’ve gone through an evolution.”
He remembers conversations with Bailes about how the powerful forces of even relatively benign football
collisions could damage the human brain, long before it became a national health concern. The LSU
medical school graduate began his contributions early when the Pittsburgh Steelers made him one of the
first neurosurgeons to work as an NFL team doctor at every game from 1988-1998.
That position helped convince Bailes to take a job as a neurosurgeon at Allegheny General Hospital after
completing a fellowship at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix under world renowned
neurosurgeon Robert Spetzler. He calls Bailes one of his favorite graduates and said Bailes put in most of
the work on a number of critical articles they co-authored for medical journals.
“He’s talented,” said Spetzler, who also co-edited a book titled Microsurgical Carotid Endarterectomy
with Bailes. “He’s got a terrific personality and I think he’s really good for sports because he’s focused on
minimizing repetitive head trauma.”
He took over as Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at West Virginia University,
where he also worked with the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute and served as head doctor for the
school’s athletic department, focusing primarily on football. It was during that time he performed the
research eventually chronicled in the 2015 feature film, Concussion.
Those efforts began when Bailes – portrayed by Alec Baldwin in the movie – called Bennett Omalu, the
Nigerian-American forensic pathologist (played by Will Smith) who first discovered Chronic-Traumatic
Encephalopathy (CTE) in the brain of deceased Steelers center Mike Webster. The two doctors raised
serious and important questions about the dangers of football, challenging the NFL to acknowledge its
players faced severe long-term mental health risks and drawing the ire of fans averse to changing the
Bailes spoke to NFL officials at the league’s first concussion summit in June 2007 and played a key role
in the implementation of return-to- play protocol in all 50 states and internationally. The NCAA and NFL
have both prioritized constantly evolving new rules and concussion policies based on the research of
Bailes and others.
He serves as a football consultant at all levels, from longtime positions as Chairman of the Medical
Advisory Committee for Pop Warner football to neurosurgical consultant for the NCAA and the NFL
Players Association. Talton said he’s unsure of what the sport’s future should look like, but his opinion
would be significantly influenced by Bailes’ judgment.
“I love football,” said Bailes, who won a state championship his senior year at Natchitoches Academy. “It
was never about trying to end football or diminish football. It was about bringing what we knew was the
truth and making reforms to keep players safe.”
That research continues today, along with the debate over the NFL’s responsibilities to protect its players
and help those already affected by long, grueling careers. He regularly speaks with major news
organizations about effects of concussions in all sports.
Lifelong friend Billy West, a Natchitoches attorney, is part-owner of a business called Taumark dedicated
to achieve FDA approval for diagnosis of CTE on a living brain, since it can currently only be identified
after death. As the company’s medical advisor, Bailes expects to reach that goal within five years.
Bailes’ relentless passion for studying the effects of the game and speaking out for its participants earned
him the prestigious 2016 Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership Award, presented annually to an
individual from the state who has played a decisive role as a sports leader or administrator. The honor,
named for Hall of Fame sports entrepreneur Dave Dixon, also gives Bailes a spot in the Louisiana Sports
Hall of Fame.
Bailes will be among the 11-member Class of 2016 enshrined in the Hall on Saturday, June 25 in his
Talton said an impressive work ethic and maturity well beyond his age made Bailes stand out even as a
sophomore, when an innate leadership ability earned him respect from his teammates. He built a strong
relationship with Talton through dedication to weight training, still a relatively radical concept for
football at the time.
Bailes said many of the traits that led to his success came from his father, Julian Sr., a judge in Louisiana
for 50 years, making him the longest serving judge in Louisiana at all levels from City and District court
to the Supreme Court. The two shared a strong passion for their chosen profession, and Talton always saw
an impressive desire to learn and improve.
“He has a certain serious look of concentration when you’re talking to him about something he needs to
understand,” said Talton. “Attentive and pensive. That’s a real special trait that’s not really that
In high school, Bailes decided he wanted to be a doctor, and his focus turned to the brain a few years later
at the LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans. He graduated in 1982 and went on to an internship and a
residency at the acclaimed Northwestern University Medical Center in Chicago along with a surgical
internship at Northwestern University Medical Center.
David Kline, a retired neurosurgeon and Chairman Emeritus of the Department of Neurosurgery at LSU
School of Medicine in New Orleans, became one of Bailes’ most important mentors at LSU while he
rotated as a student into their service at Charity Hospital and did work in the organization’s neurosurgery
labs. After Bailes left New Orleans, he initiated work on a peripheral nerve publication that Kline helped
“He is a splendid surgeon and talented administrator,” Kline said. “A very talented individual who has an
especially soft spot for the Chicago Cubs and their iconic field.“
That time spent in Chicago and love for the city helped persuade Bailes to move back in 2011, when he
took over as Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery and co-director of the NorthShore Neurological
Institute. He also teaches as a clinical professor of neurosurgery at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker
School of Medicine.
Spetzler said Bailes provides an ideal role model for aspiring doctors, as someone whose actions
exemplify the ideal characteristics for the profession. He regularly speaks at symposiums or other events,
including those at Barrow Neurological Institute.
Brain surgery frequently requires quick actions in high-pressure situations, leaving little room for error or
hesitation. Bailes’ passion for his work often shined through in conversations with Talton, who recalled
Bailes saying he takes comfort in knowing what he does often saves and extends the lives of others.
U.S. News & World Report ranked Bailes in the top one percent of neurosurgeons thanks to his
achievements and expertise in cerebrovascular, epilepsy surgery and brain tumor surgery. The Chicago
Magazine has listed him as a Chicago Top Neurosurgeon since 2014.
He has had more than 300 manuscripts published in peer-reviewed journals and authored six books
concerning neurological surgery. During his career, he has received more than $27 million in research
West said Bailes also frequently travels to Washington D.C. and testifies to Congress regarding head
injuries. Those responsibilities extend beyond sports and into the realm of head trauma suffered by
LSU inducted Bailes into its Hall of Distinction in 2011, and he’s a founding member and director of the
Brain Injury Research Institute. The organization focuses on the study of CTE, traumatic brain injuries
and their prevention.
Louisiana remains special to the Natchitoches native, who said he returns to his home state at every
opportunity. Talton said when that happens, he’ll almost always receive an invitation to catch up with his
That same loyalty holds true for Bailes’ family, which includes his wife Colleen and their five children.
Spetzler expressed admiration in Bailes’ ability to find time for his family, and West said the same holds
true for close friends.
“Julian has an incredible ability to manage his professional and personal life and maintain his contacts
with his high school and college friends,” West said.
Thanks to his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, no matter where Bailes, he’s always going to be a fixture
in his hometown.
2016 Distinguished Service Award Winner
Hawthorne’s calls made him iconic among LSU faithful
By C. Kent Lowe
Written for the LSWA
The Voice. That Recognizable Voice.
A voice that tells you whether fourth and goal results in a touchdown and a win, whether a late three-pointer is good or not, and, calls the walk-off chance for victory or defeat.
That’s what “The Voice” does for multitudes of fan at colleges and universities all over this country. He is the one who paints the pictures for those listening on radio or these days a favorite mobile device.
For more than one generation of fans at LSU, Jim Hawthorne is the only “Voice of the Tigers” they’ve known. He’s been (to use that cliché) the soundtrack of our lives to know the good and bad of LSU sports. What LSU fans have adored is that soundtrack has told you a lot about how Hawthorne has felt about what has happened to the Tigers and they usually respond in kind.
For his longstanding work in painting word pictures for well over 50 years at places like Northwestern State, Centenary, the Texas League, the World Football League and since 1980 (many years calling the three major men’s sports on the campus) at LSU, Jim Hawthorne will be one of two recipients of the 2016 Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism as presented by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association Saturday, June 25, at the annual induction ceremonies for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
Under LSWA rules, Hawthorne and co-award winner Bob Tompkins will be officially considered members of the Hall of Fame.
What would you expect to be Jim’s reaction when told he was one of the recipient of this year’s
It is a phrase heard often over the last 36 years first at LSU basketball, then football and baseball, as Hawthorne became the voice of LSU Tiger fans. When he said it, nine-times- out-of- 10 it meant something good was happening for the Tigers.
Some of those good things at LSU included:
22 bowl games in football.
2 of LSU’s national championships (2003, 2007)
6 SEC Basketball titles
3 NCAA Final Four appearances
17 College World Series appearances
6 national championship victories in the CWS
All part of thousands of play-by- play broadcasts, coach’s radio shows and more that Hawthorne
was at the microphone for.
“It’s just really be overwhelming, humbling, people that want to take a picture or ask me to sign
something or just come up and say hi,” Hawthorne said. “Some of the college kids that come up and talk
to me, they’ve never heard anyone else do an LSU game. I’m the only one that they know as the voice of
LSU. That’s neat to know that – that you’ve been around that long.”
Hawthorne took over calling the basketball Tigers at the start of the 1979-80 season as LSU was
entering one of its greatest eras under Coach Dale Brown. He picked up the Tiger baseball broadcasts at
the time when Skip Bertman was taking the program to national heights.
In football he has seen the best of times and some not-so- good times in his years, but his dream of
calling a championship year for LSU happened twice. He has been at the microphone to document the
amazing plays of one Les Miles.
In his final year, the National Football Foundation awarded Hawthorne the Chris Schenkel
“Jim Hawthorne has had an exceptional broadcasting career with the Tigers, spanning more than
30 years …” said NFF President/CEO Steve Hatchell. “We are pleased to honor Jim Hawthorne with the
2015 NFF Chris Schenkel Award as he finishes his remarkable career.”
The Chris Schenkel Award which recognizes individuals who have had long, distinguished
careers broadcasting college football with direct ties to a specific university.
Hawthorne, at the press conference in New York City on the day of the event, related his love
of LSU football was a part of his life.
“As a youngster growing up in the state of Louisiana back in the 1950s, listening to LSU football
on the radio every Saturday night was one of the highlights of the week for me,” Hawthorne said. “I never
had any idea that I would be fortunate to be the Voice of the Tigers.
“I can say the first football game I broadcast for LSU was in 1984 and prior to a little bump in
the road this year I was able to do 387 consecutive games without missing a game. There have been so
many great highlights in that period of time, including the opportunity to cover three national
championship (games). I have been exceptionally fortunate to represent LSU, the state of Louisiana and
of course, the Southeastern Conference in doing that. I’m very honored and humbled to be here.”
Moderator Chris Cotter of ESPN knew exactly the coach Jim had to broadcast and asked Jim
about staying on his toes in case Miles pulled one of his fake field goals or “trick plays.”
“That’s what makes it fun,” said Hawthorne. “You have to be able to cover those spontaneous
moments. I think that is what makes radio broadcasting a challenge and part of the reason I have enjoyed
it so much.”
That little bump in the road in November 2015 was a planned doctor’s visit that turned into heart
bypass surgery. Now Jim had missed games in basketball and baseball because of conflicts in other
sports, but football, no way. When it was announced Jim would miss the first game of November against
Alabama, it wasn’t just statewide news, it was front page news that spread across the Southeastern
Conference and beyond.
So while all football fans were concerned with LSU losing three straight games, most were also
worried about their play-by- play announcer. Hawthorne returned for the final game of the season against
Texas A&M in one of the most-pressure packed nights in a long time in the stadium when no one knew if
Miles was coaching his final game at LSU. Hawthorne was at his best in one of the most dramatic LSU
wins in recent times.
With a bowl win, Hawthorne had an undefeated final season calling LSU football.
The native of Anacoco in Vernon Parish, a few miles from the Texas state line, has made
listening to the Tigers a habit and applause came from everywhere for Hawthorne. There have not been
many in the last 60 years to have called all three major sports at LSU as the primary announcer – football,
men’s basketball and baseball – and the number in Division I doing that today is a shrinking lot.
Besides the Schenkel Award, earlier recognition came in the form of the Lindsey Nelson Award.
His basketball accomplishments were recognized by the Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches
with their Mr. Basketball Award. On June 25, he receives the pinnacle of Louisiana recognition.
His broadcasting career began with the Leesville High School Wampus Cats, where according to
a story in the Baton Rouge Advocate Hawthorne on his first broadcast said he “sounded like a cross
between Gomer Pyle and Donald Duck.” He then in college came under the mentorship of the late Norm
Fletcher (the former voice of the Hall of Fame and a DSA winner) at KNOC in Natchitoches, and called
his first college games after hanging up his glove as an aspiring baseball player for the Demons.
Hawthorne moved to KWKH in Shreveport. He called World Football League games with a guy
rebounding from bad luck in Miami, Larry King (yes that Larry King). Hawthorne would broadcast
Centenary College basketball for a decade and called one of the school’s all-time greats, 7-foot center
Robert Parish, who would go to an illustrious career with the Boston Celtics.
He left his broadcast chair with his legacy forever entrenched and with his own bobblehead that
would play the call Jim said is his lasting memory – the Warren Morris home run in the 1996 CWS finale,
the walk-off homer that won LSU’s third baseball national title.
“It is easy for me when they ask ‘what’s your favorite call you’ve ever made?’ and that’s Warren
Morris’ home run, because there’s never been anything close to it,” he said.
Now retirement isn’t going to be all sitting at the house for Hawthorne and his wife, Carol. The
two have been countless places around the world on vacation and shortly after Jim’s final game, the pair
spent much of April touring Australia and New Zealand.
Just last month, he signed on his latest project, a Sunday night radio show of “classic” country
music “This is Country With Jim Hawthorne” from 6-9 p.m. each week on 100.7 FM The Tiger in Baton
When Tom Shatel of the Omaha World Herald wrote about Hawthorne prior to his final call at
the College World Series last June, he penned: “They don’t make ‘em like this anymore: a broadcaster
who does three major sports and has for more than 30 years. Amazing career. Interesting life.”
“I have no regrets,” Hawthorne said recently. “It’s been an incredible experience. I’ve had more
thrills than I deserve.”
And one more honor awaits, in Natchitoches.
The little kid from Anacoco enters the doors of the sports Hall of Fame and as he does, one hears his classic closing line, “Thank you and Good Night!”
2016 Distinguished Service Award Winner
Keen eye, smooth prose trademarks of Bob Tompkins
By John Marcase
Written for the LSWA
For nearly four decades, as technology changed the face of newspapers and media in general, readers of The Town Talk in Alexandria could always count on one thing remaining the same – Bob Tompkins’ byline appearing in print or on their computer screen.
While he isn’t a native of Central Louisiana – he was born and bred in New Orleans and
educated at LSU – Tompkins was the definitive voice in Cenla when it came to sports.
Also acclaimed for years as one of the state’s top sports journalists, he officially joins those ranks on Saturday, June 25, when he is inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame as a 2016 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism.
His career in sports journalism began while he was a student at LSU when he assumed the role of sports editor of the Daily Reveille, the student newspaper. His first job following his graduation from LSU in 1972 led him to Lafourche Parish and the Thibodaux Daily Comet. For the next several years he bounced from paper to paper with short stints at the Monroe Morning World -- where he met his wife Janet – then the Shreveport Journal, and the Lafayette Daily Advertiser.
However, Tompkins would finally put down his roots in Central Louisiana when legendary Town Talk sports editor Bill Carter, himself a Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism winner, hired Tompkins away from the Advertiser in August 1976.
“I’ve often been asked why I stayed so long at this paper,” Tompkins wrote in his farewell column after retiring in October 2015. “The short answer is, for the most part, I liked my job here and I grew to love a cadre of special friends around town. It was a great place to raise my
Upon Carter’s retirement, Tompkins was promoted to sports editor at The Town Talk in 1987. Under his watch, The Town Talk began the All-Cenla team, which honors area high school athletes in a variety of sports. In addition, The Town Talk continued to provide daily wall-to-wall coverage of LSU athletics as well as Louisiana College and Northwestern State. Each spring, as March Madness tipped off, The Town Talk sports staff would travel to cover each state school participating in the NCAA Tournament, including the Louisiana Tech women’s
Tompkins also had a knack for hiring non-traditional candidates to fill key roles on his staff.
"He hired me for a job I really was not very qualified to do – full-time desk man,” said Glenn Guilbeau, “and after about nine months, I still was not very qualified. Then there was a sports writer opening in the fall of 1988 covering preps.The following spring there was an opening to cover LSU and Bob selected me. And it has been a blast ever since.”
Guilbeau currently covers LSU sports for Gannett Louisiana.
David West was another non-traditional hire to cover the Northwestern State Demons.
"In 1989, Bob took a chance on hiring a sportswriter whose background was far from conventional in several senses," said West, who now works in the News Bureau at Northwestern State. "I didn't have a lot of newspaper experience, but Bob saw something in me. And as someone with a physical disability, he could have easily not hired me. But he did which allowed me the opportunity to grow personally and professionally."
Robin Fambrough has chronicled high school sports in the Baton Rouge area for more than two decades as The Advocate’s prep writer. But she was working as a sports clerk at The Town Talk when Tompkins sent her to cover a couple of games at the Sweet 16 high school basketball
tournament when it returned to the Rapides Parish Coliseum in 1989, re-launching her career after becoming a mother.
At various points, Tompkins served as the beat writer for the New Orleans Saints, LSU football and basketball, Northwestern State football, Louisiana College football, basketball and baseball,and the Alexandria Aces minor league baseball team. He also has covered many PGA Tour
events in New Orleans, as well as The Masters, Super Bowls, Final Fours and 33 Sugar Bowls.
Along the way, he collected numerous accolades, such as being voted the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Sportswriter of the Year for Louisiana four times, as well as the Louisiana Sports Writers Association Sportswriter of the Year in 2006 and sharing the same
award in 2007.
He also is a past president of the LSWA and has served on the selection committee for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame since 1977.
“He has been a key in the LSWA for decades, and his service on the Hall of Fame committee has been exceptional, going far beyond simply voting for each year’s inductees,” said Hall of Fame chairman Doug Ireland, who once worked for Tompkins at The Town Talk.
Perhaps the highlights of Tompkins’ career were chronicling not one, but two LSU championships in football in 2003 and 2007.
Or, for a kid who grew up in New Orleans, it may have been the miracle of seeing the Saints at long last win the Super Bowl.
“I was a teenager and ardent fan in splendid old Tulane Stadium when John Gilliam returned the opening kickoff of the Saints’ first regular season game 94 yards for a touchdown,” said Tompkins, “planting false hopes in many of us that winning a championship was going to be
It was actually during those days in Tulane Stadium watching the Saints when Tompkins decided to go into journalism.
“I was sitting in the same stadium with an older brother in one of the early games when the fans reacted to a huge defensive play with roars and stadium-rattling stomping,” he said. “It raised goosebumps on my arms and prompted me to turn to my brother and say, ‘If only I could cover
games like this for a living’.”
Well, he got his wish. Sort of.
Tompkins would go on to cover the Saints for The Town Talk. He was on the beat for the disastrous 1980 season in which New Orleans got off to an 0-12 start en route to a 1-15 finish. But he was also there when the Saints turned back Minnesota in overtime to earn their first Super
“To be able to write about the team during and after that season, I think I could identify with POWs who finally would come home or hungry Israelites of yore getting manna from heaven,” Tompkins said.
Yet, Tompkins was perhaps just as comfortable in the press box of Alexandria’s historic Bringhurst Field as he was in the old, cramped press box of Tiger Stadium or the Superdome’s new press facility that literally touches the roof.
“Bob is a wordsmith who approaches everything he writes or edits with great passion, and that is apparent to the reader,” said Ireland.
Despite all he saw, reported and wrote about, Tompkins also remained a mentor to those he hired and to those he worked alongside at The Town Talk, many of whom were 20 to 30 years his junior.
"As a longtime Californian who landed in Alexandria for several wonderful years, Bob brought the term ‘Southern gentlemen’ to life," said Eric Branch, who now covers the 49ers for the San Francisco Chronicle. "With his vast knowledge of all things Louisiana, he helped me navigate
the local scene, from high school sports to cuisine.”
“Whether it’s writing, editing or serving the LSWA and the Hall of Fame, Bob truly, deeply cares about everything and everybody he touches,” said Ireland.
"What stands out about Bob is how he balanced his personal and professional life," said former Town Talk reporter Jeff Nixon. "Bob is a devoted husband, father and grandfather and there was never a question about his priorities."
"To paraphrase what John Ed Bradley said about Archie Manning, Bob Tompkins is an All-Star writer, but a Hall of Fame person."
Playing to win, with max effort paid off for P.J.
By O.K. Davis
Written for the LSWA
Even Wikipedia isn't sure about the origin or what "P.J." means.
Not that it really matters.
Collier Brown is simply happy with the way things have turned out in his life, both personally
Oh, he is best known -- make that almost exclusively known -- as P.J.
"People have always asked what does "P.J." stand for?" he said. "Believe it or not, I really don't have an answer. It's been an unsolved mystery for all of my life."
Collier, P.J., by whatever name, will be recognized with Louisiana's ultimate honor in sports when he is inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches. The enshrinement takes place in Saturday night ceremonies on June 25 at the Natchitoches Events Center, just up a
hill from the $23 million Hall of Fame museum, and only 33 miles from his hometown.
His high school (Winnfield) and college career (Louisiana Tech University) was in North Louisiana.
His professional and overall playing career ended nearly 1,600 miles away (Boston).
In between, there were exciting victories, memorable individual performances and a world
Had P.J. scripted his life as an athlete and family man, things couldn't have turned out much better.
Maybe a large part of his success has been due to following a life-long axiom.
"There have been two important principles that I live by even today,"; he said. "Always finish
what you start and quitting is never an option. I played to win and always gave maximum effort
in practice and games."
He began applying those principles at Winnfield High, where he attracted college scholarship
offers and wound up signing with Tech (over Auburn and UL Lafayette) as a still unpolished 6-9
inside player (his physical stature would elevate to 6-11 and 232 in the pros).
And Brown began pursuing a hoped for career in basketball as a youngster despite listing another
sport as his favorite.
"I always liked playing basketball at school and on playgrounds throughout our community," he
said. "My first year of organized basketball was in the 11th grade, but I also tried out for the 7th
grade football team. Football has always been my first love."
Once at Tech, he piggy-backed his success as a prepster both individually and as a team.
He was the ideal teammate both in and outside of the court’s lines.
"He was tall and athletic, but what really helped P.J. become a success had more to do with his work ethic and attitude" recalled former Tech teammate Dickie Crawford. "He did not have an ego and was willing to do anything the coach asked him to do in order to help the team.
"He was always willing to do the little things. His teammates always loved having him on the team because of what he did on the court, in the locker room, and off the court."
And personality-wise, he had an infectious smile and demeanor that won him legions of loyal supporters from the piney hills of North Louisiana to the Cape Cod region of Massachusetts.
"He was one of the most respectful young men that Tommy Joe ever recruited," said Connie Eagles, wife of the late Bulldogs' head coach during Brown's college career. "He was kind, but when on the floor, he was tenacious and hard working."
Brown played four seasons and averaged 10.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game in 121 contests
while at Tech.
He left the Bulldogs as the program's No. 2 all-time leader in blocked shots with 241, and No. 5
in rebounds with 1,017.
"In the American South Conference Tournament my junior year, we earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament," he said. "I can't remember the exact stats on that game, but it was one of my best games in college."
Brown';s size and projected upside following his collegiate playing days put his name on the NBA's mock drafts and projection charts in 1992.
"In the summer of 1990, I played in the St. Cecilia summer basketball league in Detroit (his birthplace)," Brown said."I got a chance to play against some pro players and said to myself that there's not much difference between us. I'm going for it. It was the first time I ever believed I
could play at the next level)."
In that 1992 draft, Brown was chosen No. 29 overall, going to the New Jersey Nets.
"The biggest thrill I've had as an athlete was on June 24, 1992, the night I was drafted," he said. "I was nervous and it was heart wrenching, and special all at one time."
Brown, however, opted to tip off his professional career in Europe, signing on with the Panionios team in Greece and staying there for a season before returning to the mainland and joining the Nets for the 1993-94 campaign.
"Starting my professional basketball career in Athens, Greece was the best decision for me at that time," he said. "The physical and aggressive nature of European basketball prepared me for the transition to the NBA. Also, the experience of living in a foreign country on your own for the first time teaches perseverance and big-time accountability. I'm forever grateful to my Greek coach, teammates,and other American players who gave me leadership and guidance in that first year."
Brown played three seasons with the Nets before signing as a free-agent with the Miami Heat during the 1996 off-season.
It turned out to be a huge move in Brown's career,
Heat coach Pat Riley decided to start Brown for 71 games in the 1996-1997 season and P.J. boosted his shooting percentage and rebounding, received the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award and was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team.
He would add on two more All-Defensive Team berths to his resume: 1999 with the Heat and in 2001 with the Charlotte Hornets.
In 2001-02, he was chosen as the Central Division recipient of the NBA Sportsmanship Award.
The Hornets relocated to New Orleans prior to the 2002-03 season, close to home where Brown
had his best scoring seasons, averaging 10.6 points per game in 240 regular-season games from
2002 to 2005.
During the 2002-03 season, he received the NBA Community Assist Award for the month of September and was again chosen as the Central Division recipient of the NBA Sportsmanship Award, for the second consecutive time. In 2003-04, he was yet again selected as the Central
Division NBA Sportsmanship Award recipient, for the third consecutive season and, this time,capturing the 2004 NBA Sportsmanship Award.
"The biggest responsibility I had growing up was probably trying to be the best role model for my younger siblings," Brown said."I believed that with great faith, tremendous work ethic, and humility, success could be achieved no matter how difficult the circumstances. I tried with all my
heart to lead and pass these qualities to my brothers and sisters each and everyday during our childhood."
He made a stop in Chicago with the Bulls in 2006-07 after being involved in a trade and then
went into semi-retirement before signing as a free agent with the Celtics in early February of 2008.
It was a move that added the perfect exclamation mark to Brown's career.
With a key role in the front court, the Celtics gained a postseason berth and Brown made a huge
contribution in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers,
He scored 10 points and pulled down six rebounds, hitting all of his four shots and making
crucial contributions in the fourth quarter. He hit a key shot with less than two minutes left in the
game as the Celtics went on to win the game 97-92. After the game, he told reporters: "That shot,
hey, was probably I would say the biggest shot of my career."
He also had a strong performance in Game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles
Lakers, playing increased minutes in the first Finals game of his career en route to a Celtics
And his 15-year and 1,089-game NBA life came to an ideal conclusion when the Celtics won a
He averaged 9.1 points and 7.7 rebounds during his career, including nine different seasons in
which he produced for at least 7.5 rebounds and 9.0 points.
But statistics, awards and championship trophies aside, Brown realizes that the success wouldn't
have been possible without a strong and loving support from wife Dee, a former Lady Techster,
and their four daughters.
"I'm thankful for all of the love and support Dee has given me throughout my career," he said.
"She is the captain of my all-time first team: Whitney, Briana, Kalani, and Javani. Without her
and my children, none of this would have been possible."
And on the final Saturday in June, another honor awaits.
Collier "P.J." Brown, by any name, will be a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
Consistency, vision, key components for humble Hightower
By Kevin Foote
Written for the LSWA
After this past football season, no one can ever say that Jim Hightower never took the St.
Thomas More Cougars’ football program to the Superdome.
Of course, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame voting committee recognized before the
2015 season ever began that the lack of a Superdome appearance wasn’t enough to keep
Hightower out of the museum in Natchitoches that honors the top sports figures in
Four decades of incredible consistency was enough.
So was the fact that as the committee discussed candidates for the Class of 2016, Hightower entered the fall No. 18 on the national list of winningest active high school football coaches – and No. 2 all-time in Louisiana.
“I never dreamed of this ever happening,” the 68-year- old Hightower said. “It never
entered my thought process. I thought that maybe I’d get into the LHSAA Hall of Fame
eventually because some of my contemporaries were voted into that.
“But to be in this Hall with Kevin (Faulk), Jake (Delhomme) and Bert Jones, guys like
that, is really beyond my wildest dreams.”
It becomes reality Saturday, June 25 as Hightower is part of the 11-member Class of
2016 being inducted in ceremonies at the Natchitoches Events Center, just a football field
away from the Hall of Fame museum.
In leading the Cougars to the Division II state championship game, Hightower just added
to his impressive career resume as the second winningest coach in the state’s history –
trailing only legendary John Curtis coach J.T. Curtis.
His career record is now 386-119- 1.
“He’s almost embarrassed by the attention this is going to bring him,” said STM
offensive coordinator Shane Savoie, who also played quarterback under Hightower as a
player. “He’s never wanted it to be about him. As a player, he would always take the
blame on himself when things went badly and he always gave you the glory when things
went well. It’s the same today. He stays the course.”
Perhaps the most revealing fact of Hightower’s career is that he’s never had a losing
Although the Cougars lost 42-21 to Parkview Baptist in the finals in December, it still
extended STM’s streak of 29 straight seasons in the playoffs under Hightower. Time will
tell if a state title is in the Cougars’ future, but Hightower isn’t going to lose sleep over it.
“Sure, I’d like to win one for the school, but that’s never been my driving force,”
Hightower said. “To me, it’s always been doing everything we can to give the kids the
opportunity to be the best they can be.
“I want our players leaving here with an appreciation for the game and an appreciation
for their teammates.”
Hightower came to St. Thomas More in 1986 from Catholic High of Pointe Coupee. He
began coaching at Catholic High in New Roads in 1975 and won the 1978 Class 1A state
title with a 45-16 win over St. Edmund of Eunice at LSU’s Bernie Moore Stadium.
“Jim’s always been humble. It’s never been about him, but he deserves it,” said Teurlings
Catholic principal Mike Boyer, who coached under Hightower at Catholic High and St.
“Jim has always done a great job of bringing out the best in his staff. He doesn’t micro-
manage what’s going on. I can still remember being a young coach trying to learn the
game. I’d come up with an idea and he’d let me run with it. I don’t know if I’d be where I
am in my career without his mentorship.”
During his 30 years at STM, Hightower is 259-92 including 15 trips to the state
quarterfinals, seven to the state semifinals and now one to the state finals.
“He’s still so passionate about the game,” Savoie said. “That hasn’t changed at all. Trust
me, he still has the same fire and passion for the game that he did when I was a
Hightower is believed to be the only coach in the state’s history to win district
championships in all five classifications.
“Jim hasn’t changed at all,” longtime STM defensive coordinator Terry Tidwell said.
“He’s the same guy. He has a very analytical mind. If you give him a problem, he’ll think
about it and give you a plan. He’s a math teacher. This is a guy who does square roots in
“He’ll walk around and say, ‘Have you thought about doing it this way?’ His ideas are
always pertinent. I don’t think I can ever remember him giving us an idea that wasn’t
And yet Hightower has never allowed his ego to get in the way.
“The great thing about coach Hightower is his ability to lead as a servant,” Savoie said.
“After the Teurlings game last year, he and I were picking up trash in the end zone. He
doesn’t see tasks as picking up cups for the program as beneath him.”
Going back 40 years, very little has changed in Hightower’s recipe for success.
“Football is the ultimate team game,” Hightower said. “It’s always been in my makeup to
try to work with people and get them to perform at their best.
“I think I’ve always had the ability to spot good people and then allow them to do their
In other words, his greatest strengths are his relationships with people more than a master
of Xs and Os.
“I’ve always thought I had a pretty good feel for the flow of the game,” Hightower said.
“I think I can assess people’s strengths and weaknesses, and I can see the big picture
Those relationships between Hightower and his staff are what he holds dear.
“I feel thankful for the wonderful people I get to work with every day,” Hightower said.
“The administration, faculty, parents and students of St. Thomas More make me feel like
a blessed person every day. Most especially, for the coaches on my staff. We are as close
as brothers, but we get along better. That, and the good health to enjoy every day for the
wonderful gift that it is.”
While all of his coaching accolades came in Louisiana, Hightower’s actually from
California. He was born on Dec. 29, 1948 in Alhambra.
He played football and baseball at Cal-Davis, before reconnecting with his parents’ home
state as a graduate assistant at LSU beginning in 1971.
His father was from Summerfield and his mother from Baton Rouge. His father was sent
to the Santa Monica, Calif., area during World War II and stayed there after returning
from the war.
While Hightower admits it’s possible he was actually a better catcher than linebacker or
his college position of strong safety, his first love was always football.
Three decades of STM football players have reaped the benefits of that preference.
For turning Tulane into national power, Jones joins elite
By Lenny Vangilder
Written for the LSWA
June 3, 2001, was a day Rick Jones had waited for his entire life.
On a warm and humid Sunday afternoon at Zephyr Field in Metairie, a quarter-century since
accepting his first baseball coaching job, Jones' eighth Tulane team was about to wrap up a
memorable super regional series victory over the Green Wave's archrival, LSU, in front of an
When Matt Groff caught a fly ball for the game's final out, the Green Wave players formed the obligatory dogpile. Jones hugged his staff, then walked to home plate to greet his opponent, whose coaching career had ended just moments before.
Skip Bertman hugged Jones, offered his congratulations and said, "Let 'em take a victory lap, and then I've got to talk to them. They need to hear me."
Minutes later, behind second base, only Jones and Bertman knew what was coming next. The retiring Bertman, who won five national championships at the helm of the Tigers, gave the soon to be Omaha-bound Green Wave players a primer on what to expect.
"I'd thought so many times about what I would say to the team if we were going to Omaha," Jones said. "After he spoke, there was nothing I could say. I just said, 'I can't top that.' "
If you can top 'em, join 'em.
Jones will join Bertman, Ron Maestri and the late "Rags" Scheuermann in a select group as the only college baseball coaches in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches.
The enshrinement of Jones and 10 other members of the Class of 2016 is Saturday evening, June 25, at the Natchitoches Events Center.
"It's hard to believe," Jones said last month. "I'm going to be the fourth (college) baseball coach in Louisiana to go in. It's pretty special company, (along with) all of the other athletes, coaches and administrators who are in the Hall of Fame.It was a shock, and at the same time, I'm very honored."
Jones won 818 games in 21 seasons as Tulane';s head coach - more than any coach in any sport in school history - and led the Green Wave to 12 NCAA Tournament appearances, including the only College World Series trips in program history in 2001 and 2005.
The North Carolina native spent his entire career in ACC country - including four seasons as the top assistant at Georgia Tech - until the summer of 1993, when he was hired to replace Joe Brockhoff.
"I wanted to be a Division I head college baseball coach," said Jones. "I wanted to be that from the time I got into coaching. I'd done it for 18 years. I'd been a junior high coach, a high school coach, a junior college coach, a small college coach and an assistant at Georgia Tech. Obviously,Coach Brockhoff had done such a great job and the Tulane job was attractive.
"I learned a lot from (then-Georgia Tech coach) Jim Morris on not just how to run a program in an academic setting, but a metropolitan setting. For me, I felt like it was a really good fit."
Jones inherited a Tulane team that had won only 19 games the previous season, but returned 10seniors. His first Tulane team would go 41-24 and earn the school's first NCAA Tournament at-large berth in six years.
"There's so many clubs I'm really proud of - three World Series teams at Elon, two World Series at Tulane - but I don';t know if I've ever had more fun than that first year at Tulane," said Jones.
Tulane would return to the NCAA Tournament in 1996, winning the Conference USA
Tournament in the league's first year of existence, and again in 1998, which would be the start of
a streak of nine consecutive postseason appearances.
In 1999, Tulane was a No. 1 regional seed in the NCAA&'s new 64-team, 16-regional bracket, but
was sent on the road to Auburn, where it lost to the host Tigers in the regional final.
"I just sort of felt like things were starting to move from a regional to a national level," Jones
Tulane made a third straight regional appearance in 2000, setting the stage for what was to come
Behind All-American Jake Gautreau and National Freshman of the Year Michael Aubrey, the
Green Wave set a school record for victories and was the No. 5 national seed in the NCAA
Tournament, earning the right to host a regional for the first time.
Tulane and LSU won regionals to earn the right to face off in the super regional, which the
NCAA baseball committee placed at Zephyr Field. The series would draw 35,268 fans, a super
regional record that stood for 14 years.
LSU won the first game 4-3 in 13 innings before Tulane bounced back the next day with a 9-4
victory to force a winner-take- all Game 3.
"After we won on Saturday, I did not sleep," Jones said. "I walked around my suite and kept
thinking,'Tomorrow, we go back to being the same, or we change forever."
A change was about to come.
Tulane scored six runs in the bottom of the fourth to break the game open, while left-hander
Beau Richardson turned in a complete-game performance in a 7-1 victory.
"If I could relive any time in my life, it would be those three days," he said. "It was such a surreal
experience, being a part of something like that."
The Green Wave lost to Stanford in the opening game of the CWS with President George W.
Bush in attendance. It defeated Nebraska before being eliminated by Cal State Fullerton.
Tulane returned to the postseason the next two years but did not advance out of the regionals,
then won a regional in 2004 as a No. 3 seed before losing in the supers to Fullerton.
Jones had most of his team returning - including All-Americans Brian Bogusevic and Matt
Barket - for what had already figured to be a promising 2005 season when an improbable phone
call came just before the start of the school year.
"I'm recruiting and on a plane in Los Angeles and getting ready to turn off my phone," Jones said." get a call from the head coach of the East Cobb Yankees, and he said, 'You have any (scholarship) money left? Micah Owings just got his release from Georgia Tech.'"
Owings, who hit 30 home runs and won 18 games in two seasons with the Yellow Jackets,
picked Tulane a week later over Texas and Arizona State.
Suddenly, a Tulane team that figured to be a preseason top 15 team was tabbed as the No. 1 team
in the nation by Baseball America. Even more remarkably, it held on to that ranking for nearly
the entire season and entered the postseason as the No. 1 national seed.
"They performed all year, had preseason accolades and it';s not easy to go out every day when you know you';re going to get the 'A' game of every other team you play,"Jones said.
Again, Tulane's regional was matched with LSU';s regional for a potential super regional
matchup, and just like four years earlier, school officials offered bids for both Turchin Stadium
and Zephyr Field. The Green Wave did its part, but Rice went into Baton Rouge and knocked off
Said Jones: "When Rice won (the Baton Rouge regional), I told Rick Dickson, 'I really want to
play it (on campus).' It was exciting being able to do that."
Just like in 2001, Tulane lost the opening game of the super regional, but came back to win
Games 2 and 3 to punch its ticket to Omaha.
"Micah (Owings) was lights out and (J.R.) Crowel pitched well in Game 3," Jones said. "Seeing
the response of our fans and our Grounds Krewe, how excited they were. Being in Turchin and
doing it, that was a special time."
Tulane finished 56-12 and Jones was named Baseball America's National Coach of the Year.
Little did anyone know at the time, but the super regional would be Tulane's last games on
campus for three years. With renovations to the stadium underway, Hurricane Katrina struck.
Jones and his team spent the fall of 2005 at Texas Tech and then played its home games in 2006-
07 at Zephyr before a new facility was completed in 2008.
"Katrina was unprecedented," said Jones."You go from putting kids in a dorm room for
orientation to two weeks later, being in Lubbock, Texas.
"As proud as I was of the '05 club, we were in a regional final in '06. That club could have easily
folded. We were in the final 32 in the country."
Jones'; Tulane teams produced 54 first-team all-conference selections, 22 All-Americans and 76
Major League Baseball draftees, including five chosen in the first round, but his biggest legacy
may be the former players and assistant coaches who have gone on to coaching and
administrative posts, including current head coaches Jim Schlossnagle (TCU), Mark Kingston
(USF) and Matt Riser (Southeastern Louisiana), LSU hitting coach Andy Cannizaro and San
Francisco athletic director Scott Sidwell.
Though Jones and his wife Gina moved back to North Carolina two years ago, it feels like a
"We';re here," Jones said,"But I consider (New Orleans) home, to be honest with you."
Ability to motivate enhanced Richard’s talent as player, cancer-fighting coach
By Bob Tompkins
Written for the LSWA
Janice Joseph Richard fashioned the crowning achievement of her basketball career after
being dealt a potential career-ending blow.
Arguably the lowest point in her life was when she had to step down as the head
women’s basketball coach at NCAA Division I San Jose State in 2006 because of breast
cancer. From that abyss, she found new life back in Louisiana and her hometown of
Her alma mater across the Red River, Louisiana College, which boasted a rich tradition in
women’s college basketball, was looking for a coach. The Lady Wildcats had suffered
through single-digit victory seasons the previous two years under two different head
coaches. That included a walkout of 13 players at one practice in protest of the coach the
Richard (pronounced REE-shard) was sick, and so was LC women’s basketball, but the
two were a perfect match.
This same woman who led San Jose State to three winning seasons, after it had just one
winning campaign in the previous 17 years, took the job at NCAA Division III Louisiana
College. With a résumé packed with sterling coaching credentials from both NAIA
Xavier of New Orleans and San Jose State, she quickly revived the winning tradition she
had helped build two decades earlier as a two-time All-American when LC competed in
In three seasons, her Lady Wildcats compiled a 55-23 record, including a 24-3 mark a
No. 14 national ranking and the American Southwest Conference championship in 2009-
10, her final season.
The cancer came back while she was LC’s coach, but she fought through it until she
could not any longer, and her assistant, Jason Tinsley, took over at the start of the 2010-
11 season. Richard died Dec. 1, 2010, at age 46.
Her remarkable career will be celebrated Saturday, June 25 in Natchitoches as she is
among the 11-member Class of 2016 being inducted in the Louisiana Sports Hall of
“She was a fighter,” said Lori Thames, a close friend who was a former LC teammate and
her assistant coach when Janice was in her extraordinary senior season at LC.
“She didn’t want to let cancer win, and that was every moment I was with her, even up
until a few days before she passed away.”
That determination to win dated back to when she was a player, from her high school
days at Peabody Magnet and then at Louisiana College, where she led the Lady Wildcats
to a 31-3 record, a No. 1 ranking in the polls and a third-place finish in the NAIA
National Tournament as a senior in the 1985-86 season.
A four-time All-Gulf Coast Athletic Conference honoree (a unanimous pick her last three
years), she scored more than 2,300 points and dished out 700 assists in her career. She set
a league season record of 283 assists as a senior point-guard and led the GCAC in scoring
and assists each of her final two seasons.
“I was somewhat criticized by some for playing her at point guard,” said Frank
Schneider, the former LC women’s coach who recruited her as a 5-foot- 9 center at
Peabody Magnet School and coached her during her first three seasons as a Lady
Wildcat. “They called her selfish. She was not experienced at passing the ball or seeing
the open person from the point-guard position. I think she made tremendous progress
after January or so her freshman year.”
She grew more comfortable and more skilled at the position through the next three
seasons, but it wasn’t without a price.
“Some days, she would work out when I wasn’t there,” said Schneider. “Or she’d leave
practice and catch a bus to England Air Force Base and play some more with the guys at
the base. That’s pretty rare, to practice two hours and then go play some more.”
Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer Sheila Thompson Johnson, a two-time AIAW All-
American at LC (1980 and ’81), coached Richard during her senior season with the Lady
Wildcats. She said Janice was “vital” to the success LC had that year.
“She was our go-to player when we needed someone to score,” said Johnson. “We’d drop
everyone on the baseline in a 1-4 set, and she played point-guard, and at 5-9 – which was
a good size then for a point-guard – no one could match up with her.
“She could play like a man,” Johnson, a native of Pitkin, continued. “I remember so well
the way she could pull up and hit the short jump shot from the (corner of the foul line).
“Opposing teams would concentrate on her so much, it’d open up other players. She
would get some shots and create opportunities for others like third-team All-American
“She made everyone around her better,” said Deborah Marzula, her prep coach at
That influence extended to her coaching career, which included a 159-34 record from
1992-98 at Xavier University of New Orleans, where she holds the best winning coaching
percentage (.824) in school history. She guided Xavier to five straight regular season and
tournament championships in the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference and to first-round
victories in the NAIA Division I National Tournament four straight years (1995-98). Her
final Xavier team went 18-0 in the GCAC.
“She was definitely my idol,” said Rontashala Williams, an Alexandria native and
Peabody graduate who played for Richard at Xavier and is a high school coach in
Atlanta. “As a little girl, I always watched her – she always played in the hood at Frank
O. Hunter Park. She was my AAU coach and saw something in me that I didn’t see.
“After she took the job at Xavier, my mind was made up about where I was going to
play,” said Williams, who turned down a softball scholarship at NCAA Division I Tulane
to play basketball for coach Richard at Xavier. “About a week before she passed, I
stayed with her for about an hour. She tried to tell me everything: ‘never give up, always
be a student of the game, keep in contact with your teammates.’ She always stressed
Roslyn Wilmer, who last February finished her first season as the girls head coach at
Marksville High, played for Richard at LC and witnessed first-hand her intermittent
struggles with cancer as he coached the Lady Wildcats.
“The first thing I’m inspired by,” Wilmer said of Richard, “is her courage and her energy
to do all that she did as a coach and as a mentor, even battling cancer while coaching. She
didn’t show any signs of weakness. That was energizing for us, and she didn’t allow us to
show any signs of weakness while we were on the court. I think that propelled us to the
“The moment of winning the championship,” Wilmer continued, “was probably the most
emotional moment of my career, and then the next year, in her weakness, struggling in
the last stages of the disease, she showed up and presented us with the rings. That was a
testament to her strength.”
Bo Browder, Xavier’s longtime women’s basketball coach, was an assistant there for one
season under Richard, but she made an impact on him in that short time.
“She was always honest with the players and assistant coaches,” Browder said. “She was
very demanding. She always brought the best out in the coaching staff and players. She
held everybody to a higher standard.
“If you were not doing your job, she’d flat out tell you,” he continued. “She didn’t
sugarcoat it. There was never a question about how she felt about you and what she
expected from you. I think that’s what made her a successful coach.
“She did a great job relating to her players,” Browder said. “She was able to inspire them
to do things they didn’t think they could do.”
Thames, now the principal at Avoyelles Charter, said Richard’s biggest legacy was “her
ability to motivate players” both as a player and a coach.
That gift helped LC reach the NAIA Final Four in Kansas City in her senior season.
“I vividly remember how proud she was to be there,” said Thames. “Then, as a coach, to
go back to her alma mater and be able to win the conference …”
No more words were necessary. She saved the best for last.
By Ryan Whirty
Written for the LSWA
Soon after the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced that the famous Satchel Paige would in 1971 become the first Negro League player to enter the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, Convent, La., native David Malarcher reacted with jubilation.
Malarcher, who himself had toiled as a much admired player and manager when the national
pastime was mercilessly divided by segregation, viewed Paige’s admission to the National Hall of Fame as a landmark development and milestone in the decades-long effort to, at long last, earn the Negro Leagues, its players, managers, owners, journalists and fans the respect that had eluded them for so long.
In a June 17, 1972, letter from his post-retirement Chicago real estate business to other former Negro Leaguers in the Windy City, Malarcher wrote: “No. 1, the history of Negro baseball players reveals the fact that members and peoples of the Negro race in America were engaged in and starring in baseball as long as the game has been been played here,” he wrote.
“And now,” he added, “the efforts of the National Baseball Hall of Fame to include all professional baseball players in its records and history is a valiant demonstration of its will to ‘right the wrong’ done the Negro player in this phase of American sport.”
Paradoxically, though, while dozens of Negro Leaguers have since been inducted into Cooperstown and popular knowledge and awareness of blackball’s existence and legacy has skyrocketed, Malarcher himself remains, in the minds of many observers and historians, one of
the most underappreciated and overlooked figures in Negro Leagues history.
Malarcher’s greatness as a player and manager has somehow flown under the radar and has only recently started coming to light in his native Pelican State. In 2015, the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs inducted him into their New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Fame, an honor
that’s now being duplicated by the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
On Saturday, June 25 in Natchitoches, Malarcher will be enshrined as part of the 11-member
Class of 2016 in ceremonies at the Natchitoches Events Center, just a long fly ball away from the
$23 million Hall of Fame museum.
“Oh my goodness, I’m very proud of him, and not only me, but the entire family,” said
Malarcher’s grand nephew, Alvin Malarcher. “I never even though about [his uncle being honored]. And now he’s being elected for another hall of fame. This is really just another great, great honor for the family.”
Still, perhaps the lack of recognition stems from Malarcher’s personality and disposition. Unlike
higher-profile Negro Leagues stars — such as Paige, the relentless self-promoter and hardball
mercenary, or Josh Gibson, the home run-clubbing “Black Babe Ruth” — Malarcher possessed a
quiet, unassuming nature, someone who didn’t seek the limelight and who remained content to
simply help his teams win championships.
But even more so, Malarcher — who passed away in Chicago in 1982 at the age of 81 — was a
sort of Renaissance man in the annals of Negro League baseball — a college graduate, a World
War I veteran, a scholar, a poet, an activist, a slick-fielding third baseman, a championship-
Once he arrived in the Windy City in the early 1920s, Malarcher began accruing a reputation as a
polite, gracious, heady, gallant player who, at the same time, possessed the fiery spirit and
competitive gusto that marked Negro Leagues play.
That combination of intelligence, exuberance and hardball instinct earned Malarcher the role of
star pupil to the legendary Andrew “Rube” Foster, who had evolved from a star pitcher in the
early 20th century into a team owner, manager and founder of the first Negro National League in
1920. Rube Foster was a towering figure in the world of blackball, and Gentleman Dave
Malarcher earned his stars at the foot of the master.
“If you mentioned Aristophanes, Pericles, Sophocles, Thucydides, Euripides of Socrates, this
scholar knew of their talents,” said Larry Lester, an author, historian and 2016 recipient of the
prestigious Harry Chadwick Award for excellence in baseball research. “Off the playing field,
Julius was known for his prose and philosophy.
“Rube’s star student had the gentle demeanor of a lap dog, but had a Rottweiler appetite to win,”
Lester added. “Malarcher had the purity of Black Moses, the tenacity of Black America and
sanctity of Black Madonna.”
A clutch hitter and speedster, Malarcher tormented opposing pitchers during his playing days,
while also flashing the leather at the hot corner. But perhaps more importantly, he quickly
absorbed Foster’s lessons in baseball strategy and acumen, picking up the legend’s love of what
would be called “small ball” today.
After inheriting the managerial reins of the American Giants from Foster in 1926, Malarcher
proceeded to lead the squad to multiple NNL titles as well as two straight Negro World Series
crowns. His accomplishments made him one of the most widely respected figures in black
Malarcher’s climb to the pinnacles of African-American baseball began in 1894, when he was
born in rural St. James Parish to a farming family. It was David’s mother who encouraged the
youth to value education and learning.
That nurturing nature led Malarcher to the Crescent City, where he attended New Orleans
University (a precursor to modern-day Dillard University), from which he graduated in 1916 and
where he led the NOU baseball squad to an undefeated record over an eye-popping four seasons.
Those academic experiences stuck with young Dave throughout his life.
“Education should discipline the mind and the mind should discipline the body,” Malarcher told
the Chicago Tribune in 1976. “And knowledge is power — power to reason and to observe and
profit from the things observed. ...
“The education and the mind and spirit discipline that I learned at New Orleans University
enabled me to observe and absorb the baseball training techniques and strategy” of his mentors
in the Negro Leagues.
While cracking the books at NOU, Malarcher cultivated his on-field skills with local semipro
teams in the Big Easy, such as the Black Eagles. His big break in baseball came around the time
he graduated the university when the top-tier Indianapolis ABCs and their owner, C.I. Taylor,
swept through New Orleans on an exhibition tour. Once Taylor caught a glimpse of Malarcher
on the Crescent City sandlots, the Hoosier kingpin snapped Dave up and brought him to Indy.
After earning his stripes with the ABCs, Malarcher entered the Army, serving overseas in Europe
toward the end of the First World War; while there he also laced up his spikes for his military
camp team in LeMans, France.
Toward the end of his military service, Malarcher was summoned by Rube Foster, who lured the
young Louisianian to the Windy City, where Malarcher began his tutelage under his illustrious
From there, Malarcher blossomed into a Negro Leagues stalwart in his own right, playing and
managing within the game until the mid-1930s, when he and wife Mabel settled into their modest
home in Chicago. Malarcher proved to be a savvy businessman, opening a thriving real-estate
business; he used his entrepreneurial success to join other African-American real-estate agents in
Chicago to fight for more black employees in the home-loan business, spur local leaders to
increase home-ownership opportunities for African-American residents, and combat corruption
in the housing market.
Now, more than three decades after Malarcher’s death, many writers, historians and fans are
wondering why Malarcher — a man who exemplified his sport’s best nature and garnered the
eternal respect of his peers as a player, manager and gentleman — hasn’t gotten more love on a
national scale. Particularly, some wonder why he remains overlooked by Cooperstown.
“In doing research on Dave Malarcher, I came across a men who truly deserved the name
‘Gentleman,’” esteemed Louisiana sports writer and historian Ted Lewis said. “Besides having a
first-rate baseball mind, thanks to the tutelage of Rube Foster, Dave Malarcher brought a poet's
sensibility to the game. Who else in baseball — black or white — has ever done that?
“How,” he added, “he was overlooked by the Hall of Fame's Negro Leagues committee, I'll
Added fellow veteran journalist Ro Brown: “He was also an interesting guy to me. Just his
background, his lineage and his education. That was highly unusual for black and white baseball
players of the time to have.
“Here’s a guy who had the nickname ‘Gentleman.’ That should tell you something right there, so
he was somebody who deserves this kind of recognition.”
One day, Malarcher just might make it into Cooperstown. He himself viewed such validation
with the same measured patience and congeniality that marked his entire baseball career — and
his entire life.
“Propaganda is a terrible thing,” Malarcher told seminal Negro Leagues author John Holway.
“The propaganda of segregation and bigotry is evil. It deceives people. I used to have Negroes
occasionally tell me, ‘Do you think Negroes can play in the Major Leagues?’ And do you know
what I would say to them? ‘Do you think so and so here, who is a barber, can cut hair like a
white man?’ I would say, ‘Do you think Doctor so-and- so, who is teaching in a medical school,
can teach a white professor?’ Well, certainly. And I would say, ‘What's baseball that I can't play
it like a white?’ And I used to say occasionally that if they say that the Negro is the nearest thing
to the savage, I think he would play better than a white, because baseball is only running and
jumping and throwing a stick. He would be better.
“But the whole point is that the propaganda of keeping the Negro out of the Major Leagues made
even some of the Negroes think that we didn't have the ability. It started them to thinking it too.
But I said, ‘Just wait until we get in there, and see what happens.’ And they used to ask me,
‘When do you think we will get in?’ And I said, ‘When we can prove to the white man that we
can bring him something, that's when we will get in there.’”
And it’s that combination of humility, pride, perspective and optimism that earned Gentleman
Dave Malarcher a whole bunch of appreciative fans, yesterday and today.
Powerful right arm opened many doors for ULM’s Sheets
By Paul Letlow
Written for the LSWA
Ben Sheets needed that light bulb moment to show him his full potential.
As early as his freshman season at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, coach Smoke Laval told the young pitcher that he possessed first-round talent.
“His freshman year he was acting like a freshman,” Laval said. “He didn’t know if he belonged or maybe didn’t think he was that good.”
Sheets didn’t realize how talented he was and how special he could be until the summer before his junior season when he was invited to Team USA tryouts in Tucson, Ariz. There he saw that his skills matched
up with anyone there.
“I watched everybody pitch and I watched all their stuff,” Sheets said. “There was one guy that really had
better stuff than I did. That’s when I realized that I had a pretty special arm. These are the guys in
Baseball America, which was a big deal at the time. These are the All-Americans. That’s when I realized
that this is a big opportunity. ”
Said Laval: “He plays with and against guys you read about and they say, ‘Man, he’s really good.’ The
light went off and he realized that he was as good if not better.”
The light bulb turned into a spotlight quickly for the St. Amant High School product.
Sheets returned to Monroe to earn All-American honors as a junior at ULM (then known as Northeast
Louisiana University) and became a first-round draft pick by the Milwaukee Brewers. Pitching for Team
USA in the Olympics a year later, Sheets won the Gold Medal game by beating Cuba and was eventually
a four-time Major League Baseball All-Star.
“All it took was that one tool,” said Sheets, a 10-year Major Leaguer with the Brewers, Oakland A’s and
Atlanta Braves. “A good arm. And I did it with two pitches. You don’t see that much. You don’t see two-
pitch pitchers starting and going 200 innings.”
That powerful arm opened a lot of doors for Sheets, including the one leading into the Louisiana Sports
Hall of Fame. Sheets is part of the Class of 2016 being inducted Saturday, June 25 in Natchitoches.
“He was a tremendous athlete with a will to win,” Laval said. “He wanted to win the games. You can’t
Sheets once said he almost quit baseball after his sophomore season at St. Amant because the game
wasn’t fun to him at that time. He liked basketball and could hold his own on the court.
“I truly believe he liked basketball more,” his former prep basketball coach Kenny Gautreaux once said.
“If he could have chosen to be great in either, he would have picked basketball.”
But then-NLU assistant coach Gregg Patterson, a former LSU pitcher, scouted Sheets during American
Legion summer action and identified his potential. He strongly recommended signing the right-hander to
“When he comes back, he says we’ve got to get this guy,” Laval said. “He didn’t like a whole lot of
people, but when he liked ‘em, you knew the guy could play.”
Mike Toups coached Sheets in American Legion baseball and became a lifelong friend.
“Ben threw a heavy ball and he threw 90 miles per hour when not a lot of guys threw 90 miles per hour,”
Toups said. “He had a great breaking ball back in those days. The biggest thing is that he was a
competitor. He was just as much into his high school basketball team as any baseball team he ever played
ULM signed Sheets early, speculating on him before his senior season. At that time, he wasn’t a widely
known commodity and had few other options.
“The offer from ULM made me realize that, ‘Dang you’re not too bad,’” Sheet said. “But I still didn’t
think I was great. A half scholarship to a smaller school? It’s not LSU or Mississippi State.”
Basketball involvement usually gave Sheets a late start to baseball in high school. Sheets never took the
mound before his junior season and had a bout of shoulder tendinitis as a senior. His career high school
stats were a 4-1 record, an 0.91 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 46 innings.
“I can’t say we ever went to work when I was younger,” he said. “Most of my stuff came from the yard.
But as I matured and developed into my high school career, things started speeding up.”
Once in college, Sheets earned freshman All-America honorable mention honors from Baseball America
in 1997 at 6-4 with 51 strikeouts and two saves. Appearing in 20 games, he pitched 53.1 innings, had 29
earned runs, walked 17, fanned 41, and had an ERA of 3.43. As a sophomore, Sheets finished 6-7 with 74
strikeouts and a 4.50 ERA.
After his eye-opening experience at the Team USA tryouts, Sheets made a key decision that increased his
exposure. Unsure how much he’d pitch if he made Team USA, Sheets elected instead to leave camp in
Arizona to pitch in the Cape Cod League.
The summer proved to be a huge upturn in his development as he went 4-1 with a 2.51 ERA and fanned
66 batters in the prestigious summer league. In his final game in the playoffs, Sheets fanned 16 in 11
innings, allowed three hits and didn’t walk a batter. He was named a Cape Cod All-Star and earned a spot
in Baseball America’s Summer All-American team.
A former LSU assistant under Skip Bertman, Laval said he saw Ben McDonald make a similar jump
during their time together in Baton Rouge.
“Ben was good but never thought he was that good,” Laval said.
Now bolstered with confidence in 1999 Sheets was spectacular in his final collegiate season when he set
the program’s single-season win record of 14-1 and the single-season strikeout record of 153 strikeouts in
115 2/3 innings.
“It was a great year,” Sheets said. “The guys wouldn’t let me lose.”
In a memorable 6-2 win over Louisiana Tech, Sheets claimed another school record with 20 strikeouts,
retiring the last 20 hitters he faced while allowing two hits with one walk.
“You will not find better stuff than that in college baseball,” Tech coach Whitey Richardson said after the
game. “That was a lot more than I was expecting. He had everything. He didn’t lack one thing.”
Sheets was considered a great teammate and clubhouse cutup too. He enjoyed joking with the media and
keeping things loose.
“I don’t think I ever got too big for my britches,” Sheets said. “I know when to get serious and when to
joke around. You don’t see me clowning around between the lines.”
When his turn in the rotation came around, Sheets’ personality changed.
“When it was his day to pitch, don’t even look at him,” Laval said. “Don’t even smile at him because he
was so focused and in tune. The next day when you were pitching, he’d joke around. He didn’t really
worry about things too much. What made him good was his competitiveness, but he could let go of a bad
pitch or a bad game. He wouldn’t dwell on it.”
Sheets was selected as first team all-Southland Conference, SLC Pitcher of the week twice, and first team
All-America. His team won the 1999 SLC regular-season championship and he was also was named SLC
and Louisiana Pitcher of the Year.
“He had a power curveball and he kept getting better and better,” Laval said. “It separated him. I keep
telling people to this day. On Friday night in the Southland Conference when Ben Sheets was pitching. I
was the best coach in the country. Jokingly I say that. I was pretty smart. Here Ben, go win me a game. ”
After helping his college team reach an NCAA regional at LSU, Sheets was a first-round pick by the
Milwaukee Brewers in 1999. The Brewers took him 10th overall.
An Olympic roster spot gave Sheets the national spotlight when he tossed a shutout win over Cuba to earn
the United States its last baseball gold medal in 2000. Team USA coach Tommy Lasorda became so
enamored with the Louisiana native during their time together, he even flew into Monroe later on to
attend Sheets’ wedding.
“I think when you’re in the moment, it doesn’t seem as big,” Sheets said. “At the time, it’s what I did. It
was like going to work and logging in. But the further I get away from it, the more I appreciate what we
did as a team and how special it was.”
Playing in Australia, Sheets beat Cuba 4-0 with a three-hit, complete-game shutout. He fanned five
without issuing a walk.
"It was beautiful to watch him pitch," Cuban manager Servio Borges remarked when it was over.
It didn’t take Sheets long to reach in the big leagues in 2001 and he earned his first All-Star roster spot as
a rookie. The franchise desperately needed him to succeed.
“Milwaukee’s draft picks weren’t working out if you look back at their history,” Sheets said. “They
needed some of their top picks to pan out, so when I got up there it was a big deal.”
Sheets was a solid starter in his first three seasons, winning 33 games, earning another All-Star bid in
2003 and topping 200 innings twice.
But he really broke out in 2004 when he posted a 2.70 ERA in 34 starts, with 264 strikeouts in 237
“I was healthy, I was strong and I felt good,” said Sheet, who made the All-Star team for the third time
that year. “It’s hard to fathom that I could put up a better year than I did in college but it was all the way
His 12-14 record that season was more a reflection of the team’s woes, despite his excellence. In one
outing reminiscent of that Louisiana Tech game back in college, Sheets struck out 18 against the Atlanta
Braves. Sheets reached double digits in strikeouts nine times in 2004.
“You put up those numbers in the big leagues, you don’t think you’ll be sub-.500 pitcher but that’s kind
of where we were in Milwaukee at the time,” Sheets said. “I think about that record and we were just a
bad team. I was part of it, but we were just a bad team. That kind of tarnished the year I had. I had a
couple of good ones but nothing close to that.”
Injuries and ailments started to take their toll over the next couple of years. A spell with an inner ear
problem limited him to 22 starts in 2005, then he hurt his shoulder and made just 17 starts in 2006.
“Injuries can derail you” he said. “Quickly.”
Still, Sheets was a poster boy for a woeful Brewers franchise through most of the 2000s and eventually
helped Milwaukee reach the postseason in 2008. He enjoyed an amazing first half that saw him go 10-3
with a 2.85 ERA, with the nod as the National League starting pitcher in the final All-Star game at
“That was a great opportunity,” Sheets said. “Clint Hurdle announced me as the starter and that was quite
an experience -- getting announced, getting to meet some of the modern day greats.”
Unfortunately, he was injured during the second half of 2008 and unable to pitch in the playoffs. Sheets
did help provide the final push though on Sept. 6 of that season. With his team up four games in the Wild
Card race, he beat the Padres 1-0 with a five-hit shutout for his final win with the Brewers.
“You’re only building for eight years,” he said. “I had a great year. But it did stink. I tried to pitch while I
was hurt and couldn’t.”
With Sheets unable to go in the playoffs, the Phillies beat the Brewers in the NL Division Series and went
on to win the World Series.
Now a free agent, Sheets eventually had surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his elbow and sat out the
2009 season before signing with Oakland in January of 2010. He went 4-9 with a 4.53 ERA in 20 starts
for the Athletics, as his year was cut short by another elbow injury. Sheets needed Tommy John surgery
and missed all of 2011 and the first part of 2012.
The Braves signed Sheets in July of 2012, and he gave Atlanta nine starts with a 3.49 ERA. Sheets closed
out his career that season with a perfect first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He departed after
striking out two of the last three batters he faced, including Andrew McCutchen to end the first.
Sheets wrapped his big league career 94-96 with a 3.78 ERA and 1,325 strikeouts in 1,596 2/3 innings.
Leading up to induction into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, the Brewers have recognized him on the
team’s Wall of Honor and he’s a member of the ULM L Club Hall of Fame.
“When he toed the rubber, he was a warrior,” Toups said. “He gave you everything he had.”
Retiring back to the Monroe area, Sheets has enjoyed the chance to spend quality time his wife Julie and
sons Seaver and Miller. He’s active in the community as a youth coach for basketball and baseball.
“I could still be playing,” he said. “I’ve got buddies that are still playing. But you think about the last four
years and how much you’d have missed out on.”
By Marty Mule’
Written for the LSWA
Red Swanson had a Midas Touch. He could find gold where other athletic prospectors were
Some of the most glittering names in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame would be unknown now if Swanson hadn't been on the Pelican State sports scene in various capacities through the decades. As a relentless recruiter in the 1930s and '40s, and even later when he was no longer in the game, Swanson could find 'em, even those whose potential hadn't yet surfaced; and as a coach he could develop them.
“He was personable, knowledgeable and capable" said Clyde Lindsey, a four-sport letterman at LSU who played under Swanson in three, football, basketball and baseball.
Saturday night, June 25, in Natchitoches, Swanson’s impact on state sports history will be forever immortalized with enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.
It's hard to calculate the impact Arthur Leonard Swanson had on the fortunes of LSU athletics after he arrived as a versatile lineman/back from Quitman in rural Jackson Parish in 1922. He played with distinction in that period, including in the first game in Tiger Stadium. From 1931-
37, he coached Southeastern Louisiana to a 41-17- 4 record, a .694 percentage that is still best in Lions' history. Later Swanson coached some of LSU's best players before, during and after World War II, served on the school's Board of Supervisors; and, what he should always be remembered for, his uncanny gift for spotting the potential in some seemingly average players who would seemingly be transformed into mega-stars.
It was Swanson, who died in 1987, who discovered:
* “Baby Jack"; Torrance, who played for him at Oak Grove High School. Swanson delivered him
to LSU where Torrance would became a world-record holder and Olympic champion shot-putter
as well as a lineman on the Tiger' early '30s powerhouses.
* Joe Adcock the baseball player. It was Swanson, then LSU's basketball and SEC-winning
baseball coach, who talked the rangy basketball forward into trying out for a sport he had never
played before. Adcock would become a power-hitting All-Star first baseman in the major
leagues. There was only one problem. Adcock would later say: “I had never even played high
school baseball. Heck, I didn';t even have a glove."
* Jerry Stovall, a skinny halfback/safety who attracted little interest as a prep player in West
Monroe. It was Swanson who first saw the possibilities of the skinny prospect, and, as a member
of the LSU board, recruited him, then pressured the reluctant head coach to sign Stovall, now a
member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
“I think Mr. Swanson put a gun to Coach (Paul) Dietzel's head," Stovall theorizes today.
As the line coach for Bernie Moore from 1938-1949, a memorable period in which LSU featured
superstar difference-makers as Steve Van Buren, Alvin Dark and Y.A. Tittle, Swanson
developed a formidable phalanx of blockers for them that included All-American Ed Champagne, Fred Hall, and Walter “Piggy" Barnes, each among the SEC's best tackles for their times.
“He was a good coach," says Lindsay, the retired principal of Baton Rouge's Istrouma High and an end on those mid-1940s LSU teams. “But the main thing about Coach Swanson was his eye for talent, whether others could see it or not. When he zeroed in on a kid, he probably knew as
much about you as you did yourself. He did his homework."
Lindsey would know. Growing up in the middle of Swanson';s recruiting territory of North Louisiana-East Texas, he came to Swanson's attention at Kilgore Junior College in the Lone Star State, a venture that would pay huge dividends for LSU. Lindsey originally was headed to the
University of Texas but had a change of heart when he felt the Longhorns reneged on some promises. Swanson had also been recruiting another nearby prospect, Y.A. Tittle of Marshall,Texas.
Tittle was predisposed to go to LSU, the result of attending games in Baton Rouge when his brother Jack played at Tulane. Y.A loved the atmosphere, excitement, the tiger in the cage, just about everything about LSU football. Then he suddenly changed his mind and declared for his home-state University of Texas.
In a story that has become mythic in Louisiana, though not all the details, Tittle's Longhorn lean changed when Swanson checked on the possibilities of landing Lindsey.
“I was a couple of years older than Y.A., but I had played against him in high school and knew him a little bit," Lindsey said. “I knew Tittle wanted to go to LSU, but Texas had put some intense in-state pressure on his daddy, so he went to Austin until school started. When I went
over to Baton Rouge, I told Coach Swanson that I didn't think Tittle was very happy and that he might want to give him another call."
As the story goes, Swanson got in his car, motored to Texas and talked to the 17-year- old Tittle, who was not yet enrolled in school. When Tittle told the coach he really wanted to go to LSU as he originally planned, Swanson made him call Coach Dana Bible and tell him. Tittle faked the
call on a public phone with Swanson looking on, went back to the car and said everything was all right.
On the return trip, Swanson stopped in Houston, picked up another prospect, Jim Cason, and off they went to LSU.
For the record, the haul Swanson made off with on that little adventure was: a four-sport All-SEC athlete in Lindsey; a future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback in Tittle; and an eventualAll-Pro halfback in Cason. The latter two are in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
Talk about a bonanza.
Years later, after coaching Southwestern Louisiana Institute to a 5-4- 0 record in 1950, Swanson accepted a state job as director of the Louisiana Training Institute in Monroe, along with a seat on the LSU Board of Supervisors. At LTI, a place for wayward youth who needed a chance to straighten out before their lives took a road to perdition, a nearby kid with athletic promise caught Swanso's eye. It was Stovall, whose grandparents worked at the facility. Watching Stovall grow up and play at West Monroe High, in Swanson's mind he saw a can't-miss prospect.
It became a regular custom for Swanson to load up his sporty old Roadmaster, make room for Stovall and hit the road from North Louisiana to Baton Rouge on Saturdays to take in LSU games. Stovall fell in love with LSU, but LSU was not especially enamored with him – until Swanson had a couple of heart-to- heart talks with Dietzel.
Recruited by just three schools (Northeast Louisiana, Louisiana Tech, and LSU), Stovall was the 52 nd and last player signed by Dietzel in 1959. He would became a two-time All-American and the Heisman Trophy runner-up of 1962, then an All-Pro safety in the NFL, and a 1981 Louisiana
Sports of Fame inductee.
Stovall turned out to be yet another gold nugget in Swanson's glittering career, which made Louisiana, and particularly LSU, sparkle brightly.
Street toughness in country community launched ‘A-Train’
By Raymond A. Partsch III
Written for the LSWA
Anthony “A-Train” Thomas learned his powerful running style by playing in the street.
In the historic timber town of Winnfield, Thomas was a skinny but athletic little kid living with
his mother at the H.Y. Bell Memorial Apartments, known to locals as “The Bells.” It was during mornings before the school bus arrived that Thomas and other neighborhood kids would get bruised and bloodied playing football on the unforgiving pavement.
There was no room for those who wanted to dance around with the football. For the younger and undersized kids like Thomas, the only way to carry the football was to take the handoff and power forward.
“I had to work harder because of my size,” Thomas said. “I always played with the bigger kids.They would always rough me up but that helped me later on.”
The experience would help Thomas become an All-American at Winnfield High School, a three-year starter and record holder at the University of Michigan, and eventually the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. Now, it has helped Thomas take his place in the Louisiana Sports Hall of
Fame. He will be enshrined Saturday, June 25 as part of the 11-member Class of 2016 in Natchitoches.
“It was weird to me,” said Thomas of getting the news he would be inducted. “When I think of
the Hall of Fame, I think of all these great players that played in Louisiana. I feel very fortunate
to be considered one of those players.”
Thomas may have never become a Hall of Famer if he hadn’t changed positions at the end of the
freshman season at Winnfield. That year, Thomas lined up at wide receiver and safety for the
Tigers, but he also ran the scout team offense in practice.
Former Winnfield assistant Clay Harper, who coached quarterbacks and running backs,
described watching Thomas as a freshman as being “a child in a man’s body.”
“We had a really good running back by the name of Anthony Nash that year, so Anthony
(Thomas) played other positions for us,” Harper said. “But you could throw to him and he could
score anytime because of his strength and speed. So, sometime during that season we had
Anthony running the scout team offense. One day at practice, we ran a toss sweep and it was
something I saw on that play that just stood out. I told coach (Jim) McKeivier, there is your
running back right there.”
Despite the potential Thomas showed on the scout team, Winnfield still had Nash, who was a
two-time all-district honoree. But it wouldn’t be long before Thomas got his chance.
In Winnfield’s 1993 Class 3A state playoff game against Bossier, Nash suffered a high ankle
sprain. The coaching staff turned to Thomas to step in and fill the void.
“The coaches asked me if I remembered the plays we practiced,” Thomas said. “I said yes and
just went out there and ran.”
The Tigers would lose 41-12, but Thomas had found his place on the football field.
Thomas would go on to become of one Winnfield’s greatest players. In his career, which
spanned 1993-96, Thomas would set a then-state record of 106 touchdowns, rush for 7,594
yards, record 31 100-yard rushing games, 16 200-yard games, earn all-state honors and district
MVP honors three times, be named an All-American and be named to USA Today’s Top 25
Blue Chip Prospects list. His touchdowns and rushing yards were 11th-best all-time nationally.
Two decades later, Thomas still holds numerous school records, including most rushing yards in
a season, most rushing yards in a game, career rushing touchdowns and most touchdowns of 50
yards or more.
“It came naturally to me,” Thomas said. “But have to give my fullback and my offensive line a
ton of the credit. Without them making those holes, I don’t get those yards.”
“I didn’t teach him nothing,” Harper said. “He was the type of player you just told to take the
ball, son, and run. It was honor to have just coached him.”
Thomas’ crowning moment came in the first round of the playoffs his junior season. In
Winnfield’s 53-27 win over North Caddo, he rushed for 486 yards and eight touchdowns despite
sitting most of the fourth quarter.
“We were playing Rayville in the regular-season finale and we picked up something they were
doing on offense,” Harper said. “So, for the playoff game we moved Anthony to fullback in the
offense. We ran a trap with him and he just out ran their secondary. The radio announcer said ‘I
can’t believe what I just saw’ and that was after he scored the first one. It was amazing to see
him that night.”
The numbers Thomas put up didn’t go unnoticed. Every major college program in the country
recruited the 6-foot- 1, 236-pound power back. Colorado, Tennessee and even LSU, which came
in late his senior year, vied for Thomas.
Thomas eventually chose Michigan over two-time defending national champion Nebraska and
headed 18 hours north to Ann Arbor, Mich.
“The thing I remember the most about our recruiting of Anthony is that our coach, Fred Jackson,
came back in the spring and said we had a great back in Winnfield, La. I asked where in the
world was Winnfield, La.?” remembered former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who coached
Thomas from 1997-2001.
“When he visited our campus, his mother came with him,” Carr recalled. “He was such a
gentlemen and such a classy guy. It was hard not to be impressed.”
Even though it was difficult leaving his mother, Helen Gilbert, behind, Thomas admitted being
far from home was beneficial.
“It was the best thing for me,” he said. “Those times I wouldn’t see Mom between bowl games
were tough, but it forced me to grow up real fast.”
It didn’t take Thomas long to make himself at home on the field for the Wolverines.
As a freshman, he was second on the team in rushing and was named Big Ten Freshman of the
Year. Thomas helped Michigan clinch a berth in the Rose Bowl by rushing for 29 yards and
catching eight passes for 77 yards in the team’s 20-14 over rival Ohio State in front of 106,982
fans at Michigan Stadium, better known as “The Big House.”
“It was a big thing that I got to play a lot my freshman year,” Thomas said. “We had a great
chance, if we won that game against Ohio State, that we would play for the national title. I had to
come in and step up for my team.”
“I will never forget against Ohio State, we were 11-0 and ranked first in nation,” Carr said. “Our
starting tailback got knocked out of the game in the first quarter. It was a cold, winter day and
the one thing you are worried about is turnovers. I am looking out there and here is this kid
playing a much bigger role than we anticipated he would play in that game.”
A few weeks later in California, Michigan capped its undefeated season with a 21-16 victory
over Washington State. Thomas rushed seven times for 13 yards and caught one pass for 14
yards. A few days later, Michigan was crowned co-national champions with Nebraska.
Thomas, who was bestowed the nickname A-Train while at Michigan for his straight-forward
running style, would go on to produce one of the best careers in the Wolverines’ storied history.
Thomas left campus with 15 school records, including career rushing yards (4,472), rushing
touchdowns (55) and touchdowns (56). In addition, he ranks fifth on most plays in a career,
where he is the only non-quarterback among the top 8.
He was the 2000 recipient of the Bo Schembechler Award for team MVP, a 2000 finalist for the
Doak Walker Award and was named the 2001 University of Michigan Male Athlete of the Year.
Thomas also helped lead Michigan to four consecutive bowl wins for the first time in school
history. He was a two-time Citrus Bowl MVP and in 2000 led Michigan to the school’s first
FedEx Orange Bowl, a 35-34 overtime victory over Alabama.
“What Anthony proved as a freshman was that he was accountable, trustworthy and he was
tough,” Carr said. “He was always a very smart player and a guy who was loved by his
teammates. Despite all of his success and the records he set he never changed. He is one of the
very special guys you will ever meet, much less coach.”
During his time at Michigan, Thomas also accomplished much more off the field. His oldest
daughter, Alexia, was born; he married his wife, Hayley; had his mother move in with him and
graduated with a degree in sports management and communication.
“I always told my Mom that I would stay four years and get my degree. I had my Mom with me
up there and I got married,” Thomas said. “I had already grown up so much. I just wanted the
opportunity to play in the NFL.”
“Anthony always played football for his mama,” Harper said. “I remember saying that he
couldn’t wait to get his mama out of that apartment. He was up in Ann Arbor and called me and
said, ‘Coach, guess what? Mama moved to Ann Arbor.’ He was so proud of that. That was his
whole reason for playing football.”
After his senior season, Thomas would be drafted in the second round (38th overall) by the
Chicago Bears. Just like he did in high school and college, it wouldn’t take Thomas long before
making an impact.
Thomas rushed for 1,183 yards and scored seven touchdowns as he helped the Bears go 13-3 and
win the NFC North title. Thomas was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, beating out
Thomas would lead the team in rushing next two years before losing his starting job to Thomas
Jones in 2004. Thomas would go to see limited action with the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans
Saints and the Buffalo Bills before ending his playing career. In his seven-year career, he rushed
for 3,891 yards with 23 touchdowns to go with 756 receiving yards.
Despite the accolades, Thomas always shied away from the spotlight, whether that was talking
about his career at Michigan to Sports Illustrated or after he pulled a motorist from a burning car
during the Bears’ bye week in 2002.
Thomas, though, never shied away from helping children, as was the case when the father of
three coached for two seasons at West Virginia Wesleyan, or when he makes a visit back home
to those Winnfield kids, who spend their mornings playing football in the street just like he did
all those years ago.
“He was always a good kid, and now a good man,” Harper said. “He would go speak to kids at
the elementary or sign autographs with the little kids. He was always a positive influence with
the little kids.”