2017 Hall of Fame Inductees capsules
CALVIN BOREL -- A St. Martin Parish native, Borel is a three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey who has over 5,100 career wins and more than $128 million in purse money from nearly 35,000 mounts. A fan favorite known for his colorful personality, Borel, who started what would be a 25-year riding career at Delta Downs, earned the nickname “Bo-rail” because of his penchant for settling in along the rail in a race in order to cover the shortest distance possible. Borel recorded an unprecedented feat in piloting three Kentucky Derby winners in a four-year span -- starting with Street Sense in 2007 and winning in back-to-back tries aboard 50-to-1 shot Mine That Bird (the second-biggest upset in Derby history) in 2009 and Super Saver in ’10. He has spent much of his riding career in Kentucky, where he has won numerous racing titles, after winning six in his home state, three each at Delta Downs and Louisiana Downs. When he announced his retirement in March 2016, he had 5,146 career wins (27th all-time in North American racing history) and more than $127 million in purse money from 34,915 mounts. Last August, he resumed riding. All told, Borel has brought home 1,189 winners in 20 years at Churchill Downs -- including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Street Sense in 2006, and he ranks second all-time at the venerable oval behind Pat Day (2,482 wins). Borel put together the ultimate racing “double” in 2009, when, the day before riding Mine That Bird to a 6¾-length win (the largest margin of victory in the Kentucky Derby in 63 years), he won the Kentucky Oaks (the female version of the Kentucky Derby) aboard Rachel Alexandra -- becoming only the seventh jockey to do that. Borel guided her to a win over the boys two weeks later in the Preakness Stakes and was also in the saddle when Rachel Alexandra became the first distaff winner of the Grade I Woodward at Saratoga. Borel, who won 2010 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in a vote of his peers, earned his 5000th career win on March 7, 2013 -- the 26th North American jockey to reach that plateau. That same year, he was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Born 11-7-1966 in St. Martin Parish.
D-D BREAUX -- The “Dean of Coaches” at LSU, Breaux has carved out a solid career in 40 seasons as the Tiger gymnastics coach. Breaux has posted a 740-418-8 overall record (.638) during a period of sustained success that has seen LSU make 33 consecutive NCAA regional appearances. LSU has been to the NCAA national semifinals -- which includes 12 teams -- 12 of the past 13 years with six Super Six appearances (the equivalent of the national championship game) in the past 10 seasons. LSU athletes have also won 12 individual titles since 2002, including a school record three in 2017. Breaux has led her team to a program-best runner-up finish the last two seasons at the NCAA Championships, including posting the second-highest score ever at the meet in 2017. A USA Gymnastics Region 8 Hall of Famer, Breaux was voted the National coach of the Year, Central Region Coach of the Year and Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year in 2017. Over her illustrious career, Breaux has been voted national coach of the year two times, region coach of the year nine times and the conference coach of the year eight times. A former gymnast long before Title IX, she has for four decades tirelessly worked to bring attention to the sport and at least twice resisted desires of the LSU athletic administration to shut down the program -- earning her respect and admiration from rival coaches around the country. The 2017 season was won for the record books as the squad swept the league’s conference and tournament championships. Once again, fans packed the PMAC in record numbers as LSU broke the 10,000 average attendance mark for the first time in school history. LSU averaged 10,050 fans per meet to set a new attendance record for a fifth-straight season and check in at No. 3 in the national attendance rankings. More than 10,000 fans attended meets against Texas Woman’s, Missouri and Florida. The three meets with 10,000 fans or more matched the school record set in 2016. Five of the six meets in 2017 ranked in the top-10 of the best gymnastics attendance figures in school history. The third-largest crowd in school history (12,609) witnessed No. 2 LSU defeat No. 3 Florida to clinch the SEC regular season championship. Born 1-19-1953 in Donaldsonville, La.
C.A. CORE -- Core is the icon of Southeastern Louisiana basketball, the most decorated player in Lions history. Nearly 50 years after his final college season in 1967-68, he’s still the school’s all-time leader in scoring and rebounding. He also still holds several single season records. He led Southeastern in scoring and rebounding all four years, averaging a double-double each season (22.3 points per game/12.3 rebouds per game as a freshman, 20.0/15.9 as a sophomore, 21.1/15.0 as a junior and 21.7/18.5 as a senior). For his career, he averaged 21.3 points and 15.4 rebounds per game, finishing with 2,046 points and 1,475 rebounds. He earned NAIA and AP All-American honors in 1966-67 and was an NAIA All-American in 1967-68. He was drafted by the NBA and ABA, but went into the service for two years, and decided shortly after returning home that pro ball wasn’t for him. He is the only basketball player in the school’s history to have his jersey (No. 34) retired. A native of Noblesville, Ind., he died in 1986 suddenly at the age of 41. He was a teacher and coach in the St. Tammany Parish school system at the time of his death. Core becomes the first SLU male athlete elected to the Hall of Fame.
RAYMOND DIDIER - He touched three different sports programs in the state prominently and coached Nicholls State to the Division II College World Series 1970 finals -- the first Louisiana school to seriously challenge for a national baseball championship. Didier started coaching at Southwestern Louisiana Institute (now Louisiana-Lafayette) in 1948. In nine seasons there, his SLI teams won five Gulf States Conference baseball championships and were 137-78. He also coached football at Southwestern for six years, going 29-27-2 and winning the 1952 GSC title. In 1957, Didier moved to LSU where the Tigers went 104-79 in baseball under him and won the 1961 SEC title. He also served as an assistant on Paul Dietzel's football staff, helping the Tigers win the 1958 national championship. In 1963, he went to Nicholls State to serve as athletic director and head baseball coach. He coached the Colonels to 217 baseball victories (217-154-3) between 1964 and 1971, including that run that brought the Colonels to the precipice of a national Division II title. Didier retired from coaching after the 1973 season with an overall 458-311-3 (.647) baseball record and remained as athletic director until his sudden passing in 1978. Between 1974-77, Nicholls won four Gulf South Conference championships in football, men’s basketball and baseball, under his leadership. The Colonels’ baseball stadium is named for him. Born 1-7-20 in Marksville, La., died 3-9-78 in Jefferson, La.
EDDIE KENNISON – A Lake Charles native, Kennison was a two-sport star for LSU and played 13 years in the NFL as a wide receiver and kick returner. A Parade All-American in football who was ranked the country’s No. 1 wide receiver recruit, he lived up to billing in Baton Rouge. For the Tigers, he was a six-time All-American and NCAA champion in the 4x100-meter relay, and starred in football before going on to a 13-year NFL career as a wide receiver/kick returner. A first-round 1996 draft pick of the St. Louis Rams (18th overall) following his junior season at LSU, Kennison played with five other teams -- including the Saints in 1999. For his career, he caught 548 passes for 8,345 yards, averaging 15.2 yards per catch, and had 42 TDs with a long of 90 yards. He also returned three punts for scores while averaging 10.0 yards per return in his career. Kennison played in 179 games with 154 starts and averaged better than 16.0 yards per catch in six of his 13 seasons. His best years were with the Kansas City Chiefs with whom he caught 321 passes for 5,230 yards with 25 TDs, playing seven seasons there (2001-07). In 2004, at the age of 31, he had 62 receptions for 1,086 yards and eight TDs and followed that in ’05 with 68 grabs for 1,102 yards and five TDs. As a 33-year-old in 2006, Kennison had 53 catches for 860 yards and five more scores. He had 800 or more receiving yards in seven seasons. Born 1-20-1973 in Lake Charles, La.
JUAN PIERRE -- A two-sport standout in basketball and baseball at Alexandria Senior High, Pierre was a leadoff hitting outfielder who played 14 seasons in the majors with the Rockies, Marlins, Dodgers, Cubs, White Sox and Phillies. He compiled a career .295 batting average with three 200-hit seasons and led the National League in hits in 2004 (221) and ’06 (204). Pierre had 2,217 career hits (225 doubles, 94 triples, 18 homers) -- and 517 RBI. Pierre recorded In 614 stolen bases, good for 18th on MLB’s all-time list, and led the league three times. He is one of only four players in MLB history to have at least 100 career steals with three different teams (Marlins, Rockies, Dodgers) and was the active leader in career stolen bases when he retired. Pierre played in 821 consecutive games, but thanks to an arcane MLB rule, his consecutive game streaks were broken into 386 and 434 games due to a pinch-running role in one game. Pierre was the only player in baseball to play every inning of all his team’s games in 2004, and was only the third player to do it since 1971. He was named the 2003 team MVP of the World Series as a member of the Florida Marlins after hitting .305 and stealing a league-high 65 bases that season. In the World Series, he was the catalyst in leading the Marlins past the Yankees, hitting .333. He had a 16-game hitting streak to start his career, the second-longest streak to begin a career in MLB history. Born 8-14-1977 in Mobile, Ala.
ED REED -- During a distinguished 12-year NFL career, 11 of which were spent with the Baltimore Ravens, Reed was voted first-team All-Pro five times and nine times was elected to the Pro Bowl.In 2004, he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Reed was arguably the league’s top free safety for more than a decade after leaving the University of Miami following his junior season. The 24th pick in the first round of the 2002 NFL Draft, he had 64 career interceptions (seventh on the NFL’s all-time list), returning seven for touchdowns, and broke up 141 passes in 174 games played. He had nine more interceptions in 15 postseason games, helping the Ravens win Super Bowl XLVII in 2013 near his hometown at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. His 1,590 career yards on interception returns is the most in NFL history -- more than 100 yards better than the old mark set by Pro Football Hall of Famer Rod Woodson. Reed returned an interception 106 yards against Cleveland in 2004 and went 107 yards with another one four years later against Philadelphia. Reed had at least five picks in seven of his 13 seasons, getting nine each in 2004 and ’08 and eight in 2010. He also had 13 fumble recoveries and 11 forced fumbles as one of the game’s top ball-hawks. A Destrehan High star in football, basketball, baseball and track, Reed was a two-time All-American at Miami, helping the Hurricanes win the 2001 national championship and making a school-record 21 interceptions. He was the Football News college Defensive Player of the Year in 2001. Reed was born 9-11-1978 in St. Rose, La.
DAVID TOMS -- A two-time first-team All-American at LSU in 1988 and ’89, Toms, a Monroe native and Shreveport resident, is one of the best golfers to ever come out of Louisiana. Toms is in his 25th season on the PGA Tour this year, and his first on the Senior Tour. He has 13 career PGA Tour victories plus two more on the Web.com Tour. Ending last season he ranked 10th on the PGA Tour’s all-time money list with a little more than $41.8 million -- winning more than $2 million in a season 10 times -- including six years with at least $3 million. His top earning season was in 2005 when he piled up $3,962,013 on 11 top-10 finishes. Toms was in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Ranking for 175 weeks between 2001 and 2006, rising as high as fifth in 2002 and ’03. His PGA Tour wins include the 2001 PGA Championship and 2001 Compaq Classic of New Orleans when he became the first Louisiana native to win the Tour’s annual stop in the Crescent City. He took the PGA Championship by one stroke over Phil Mickelson after outlasting “Lefty” by two swings three months earlier in New Orleans. Toms also has 16 runner-up finishes on Tour while making 411 cuts in 611 career starts. While not an extraordinarily long hitter off the tee, he makes up for it from the fairway in with pinpoint shot-making. As a result, he’s excelled on golf’s biggest stages, making a World Cup (2002), three U.S. Ryder Cup teams (2002, ’04, ’06) with a 4-6-2 record and four Presidents Cup squads (2003, ’05, ’07, ’11). He was 4-0-1 in helping the USA win the ’07 Presidents Cup. Toms has a sparkling record in golf’s four majors, making the cut in 37 of 61 career starts with six top-five efforts and 11 top-10s -- including three Masters and three U.S. Opens. In addition to his win at the 2001 PGA, his top major finishes were a tie for fourth at the U.S. and British opens and a tie for sixth at the Masters. Built the David Toms Academy 265 in Shreveport, a world class instruction and training facility to help local youths, and is active in golf course design. He shared the 2006 Golf Writers Association of America’s Charlie Bennett Award with fellow Louisianans Kelly Gibson and Hal Sutton for helping raise $2 million toward the Hurricane Katrina relief effort. Born 1-4-67 in Monroe, La.
2017 Induction Class – Contributors
Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership Award
SUE DONOHOE -- Pineville native and former Louisiana Tech graduate assistant coach who was director of both the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball championships before stepping down in December 2011. Donohoe became executive director of the Kay Yow Cancer Fund in January 2012 and served in that capacity through 2015. At the 2015 Women’s Final Four, she was the inaugural recipient of the U.S. Basketball Writers’ Mary Joe Haverbeck Award for commitment and service to women’s college basketball. She joined the NCAA in 1999 after serving as associate commissioner of the Southland Conference. Donohoe became vice president of women’s basketball for the NCAA and oversaw the sport for 12 years. In 2008, she spearheaded an effort to help people better understand the NCAA selection process through a mock selection weekend involving media, administrators and former coaches. In 2009, she was chosen to chair USA Basketball’s junior national committee. Donohoe was named by The Chronicle of Higher Education as one of the ”Top 10 Most Powerful People in College Sports.” She has served as 1st Vice President and President of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Board of Directors and continues to serve as Past President. She was part of the Lady Techsters’ staff on the 1982 NCAA championship team, then coached under Gary Blair at Stephen F. Austin and Arkansas before going into administration.
Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism
JIM HENDERSON -- Henderson spent 34 years (1978-2012) as sports director of WWL-TV in New Orleans and has been the radio play-by-play voice of the New Orleans Saints since 1986 (except for the 1990 season, when he called NFL games for CBS-TV). A 13-time winner of Louisiana's sportscaster of the year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, he replaced New Orleans legend and 1990 DSA winner Lloyd "Hap" Glaudi as WWL's sports director, and helped the station produce one of the highest-rated local news broadcasts in America. As a reporter for CBS Newspath, Henderson regularly covered major events like the Super Bowl, the Masters and the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. His play-by-play career has allowed Henderson to be the soundtrack for memorable moments in Saints history, including their first playoff victory in 2000 ("Hakim dropped the ball!"), the NFC Championship Game win in January 2010 ("Pigs have flown! Hell has frozen over! The Saints are on their way to the Super Bowl!") and, two weeks later, the Saints' victory in Super Bowl XLIV ("Get ready to party with the Lombardi, New Orleans!"). After retiring from WWL in January 2012, he has remained in his play-by-play role with the Saints. However, his TV "retirement" did not last long, as six months later, he returned to the airwaves to provide commentary and analysis on the Saints for WVUE-TV.
DAN MCDONALD -- With a multi-faced sports journalism career dating back to 1974, Dan McDonald continues to pile up LSWA writing awards and remains involved in sports media relations in the private sector. He stands alongside state sports information legends Louis Bonnette, Paul Manasseh and Ace Higgins as inductees in the College Sports Information Directors Association Hall of Fame (June 2011). In 26 years as an SID at Northwestern State (1975-80) and Louisiana-Lafayette (1980-99), McDonald became an industry leader in many aspects. The long list of who benefited first hand from McDonald's guidance includes Herb Vincent, the associate commissioner of the Southeastern Conference; Greg Sharko, the Media Relations Director for the Association of Tennis Professionals; and Pat Murphy, the head softball coach at the University of Alabama, who came to work as a graduate assistant SID for McDonald in Lafayette. After graduating in three years from Northwestern, he spent one year as a sportswriter at the Alexandria Town Talk before Northwestern hired him - at 22 years old - to be the SID of what was about to become a Division I athletics department. In 1980, he moved to UL-Lafayette. He won numerous CoSIDA awards for writing and media guides at both institutions and served two years on the CoSIDA Board of Directors. He was a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee media relations staff for two Olympic Games (Seoul, 1988 and Atlanta, 1996) and six U.S. Olympic Festivals. He also served two years as president, after a two-year term as vice president, of the LSWA and remains a member of the LSWA Executive Committee and Hall of Fame Committee. He retired from then-USL to become senior sports writer at the Lafayette Daily Advertiser and, even after retiring following nine years in that role, has won dozens of writing awards from the LSWA, including three 'Writer of the Year' awards in a five-year span, and is a recipient of the LSWA’s coveted Mac Russo Award recognizing members who represent the ideals of the organization. He captured a “Best of Gannett” national award for his coverage of the Little League World Series. McDonald has also done extensive broadcast and television work, including currently anchoring annual webcasts of Sun Belt Conference baseball, softball and golf tournaments. He and his wife of 28 years, Mary Beth McDonald, operate the Lafayette-based McD Media marketing/public relations firm with an emphasis on sports PR.
2017 Hall of Fame Inductees Profiles
‘Boo’ to 3x-Kentucky Derby winning ‘Bo-Rail’: what a ride it’s been for Calvin Borel
‘Boo’ to 3x-Kentucky Derby winning ‘Bo-Rail’: what a ride it’s been for Calvin Borel
By Ted Lewis
Written for the LSWA
Among other things, Calvin Borel has two singular accomplishments on horse racing’s biggest stage, has been presented to Queen Elizabeth at the White House, chatted with Letterman and Leno, rung the opening bell on Wall Street and played himself in a movie.
That truly is, in the words of the trainer of the first of his unprecedented three Kentucky Derby winners in four years, “going is from the sugarcane fields to the pinnacle of your sport.”
Not bad for someone originally nicknamed “Boo” because he was born 12 years after older brother Cecil, in the St. Martin Parish community of Catahoula when his mother was in her 40s. In other words, he was a “boo-boo.”
At age 4, “Boo,” was on a horse. By age 8 he was riding in match races in the bush tracks of Acadiana. By the eighth grade, Borel dropped out of school to pursue his profession full time.
“I was born to be a jockey,” he’s said. “And my brother taught me everything.”
More than 5,000 official victories and $128 million in winnings later, Borel is still at it, having ended a short retirement last year to come back a few months later shortly before his 50th birthday because, he said, “This is what makes me happy.
“I love to ride. Whether it’s a $5,000 race or a million-dollar race, there’s nothing like getting to the wire first.”
It’s hardly surprising then that Calvin Borel was elected to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He and 10 others will be enshrined in Natchitoches June 24 to culminate three days of festivities.
Borel adds the honor to being inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame in 2013.
“Calvin’s a one-of-a-kind guy,” said Carl Nafzger, the trainer of Street Sense whom Borel rode to victory in the 2007 Kentucky Derby. “He really, really loves to ride because he’s a horseman who loves horses and his horses respond.
“If Street Sense had had to have gone through a brick wall, Calvin could have gotten him to do it.”
Street Sense may have given Borel his first dose of national attention, but it was a race years before that and closer to home that may have been his most memorable.
In 1991, the 24-year-old Borel rode Free Spirit’s Joy to victory in the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs. It was Borel’s first victory in a stakes race and it came aboard a 28-1 Louisiana-bred longshot trained by the late Clarence Picou of New Orleans.
That made it the first Louisiana sweep in what was then a $1 million Grade I race.
“When Calvin took the lead at the top of the stretch people who had bet on the other horses tore up their tickets and stared rooting for him.” said Buff Bradley, Picou’s assistant trainer. “And the winner’s circle was just a mess.
“You couldn’t hear anything because the fans just kept on cheering. It just meant so much to everybody.”
In 2009 Borel scored an even-bigger upset victory, guiding 50-1 longshot Mine That Bird to his second Kentucky Derby triumph.
Aboard the obscure qualifier from New Mexico, Borel hung back early, almost losing contact with the field, until making his trademark move to the rail before bursting through to win by an impressive 6 ¾ lengths.
“It was the perfect marriage of horse and rider,” Mine That Bird trainer Chip Wooley recalled. “We thought at holding him back was what we needed to do, but not every jockey will listen to you.
“They want to get up there from the start. Calvin listened and executed and you saw what happened.”
The improbable victory was recounted a few years later in the movie “50-1,” which got little attention and even less favorable reviews, save for a mention about Borel’s self-portrayal.
“At first it seems like a chancy move to cast an amateur in the role, bur Borel more than makes up for his lack smooth acting skills in those moments when he relives that day in May 2009,” a reviewer wrote. “The man’s genuine happiness and humble joy in the winner’s circle will bring tears to your eyes.”
Mine That Bird’s victory earned reinforced Borel’s other nickname “Bo-Rail,” given to him for his ability to so often find the inside path to victory.
It was a style helped Borel win four riding titles at Churchill Downs, and, before that, three at Louisiana Downs whose circumference is much like Churchill.
Nobody, Borel’s longtime manager Jerry HIssim said, could cut to the corner like Calvin because nobody else had the knowhow or the nerve.
But Borel’s real education came from his brother, who was a jockey himself for a time before becoming a trainer.
“When I started riding, my brother put cones in the middle of the shed row and I’d say, ‘What the hell you doing that for?’ Calvin once related. “He said, ‘That’s how far you’ve gone. You lose so much ground.’
“I realized after that, I’m going to start staying a little bit closer to the fence. The rail is the quickest way from start to finish.”
Borel’s early riding days were at Delta Downs, much of the time for his brother.
He would win three riding titles there, the first in 1985 at age 19.
Borel’s career really took off in 1990 when he teamed with Hissim. With Hissim doing his booking, Borel would win three titles at Louisiana Downs, two at Oaklawn Park, his preferred winter headquarters, and two four at Kentucky tracks other than Churchill.
It was a relationship that lasted 24 years until Hissim was forced to retire due to illness.
“The secret to our success was that I didn’t tell him how to ride and he didn’t tell me how to agent,” Hissim said. “And we didn’t get involved with each other socially although Calvin’s like a son to me.
“That allowed us to keep the emotion out of doing business.”
That included making the decision in 2009 to come off Mine That Bird in the Preakness in favor of filly Rachel Alexandra on whom Borel had won a resounding victory in the Kentucky Oaks the day before the Kentucky Derby.
“We felt that Rachel Alexandra was the better horse and we’d told Chip before the Derby that if her connections wanted to go for the Preakness, that was our choice,” Hissim said. “There was no real argument about it.”
For Borel, who calls Rachel Alexandra, “the best horse of my life,” it meant giving up his shot at the Triple Crown. But it turned out to be the right move.
Rachel Alexandra won the Preakness, becoming the first filly to do since 1924 and Borel became not just the first Derby winning-jockey to ride against the Derby winner in the Preakness, but also the first to win both races in the same year aboard different horses.
But when Rachel Alexandra’s owners held her out of the Belmont, Borel went back to Mine That Bird, who was third in the Belmont.
“Calvin and Jerry were a great team and very professional,” Wooley said. “We appreciated the fact that they came us before the Derby and laid everything out. Then, when Calvin was available again, we were glad to land him.
“It was the only time we worked together, but I’ll tell you this – I would name Calvin Borel on any given day on any given horse.”
Returning to Rachel Alexandra, Borel won the Mother Goose Stakes by a record 19 lengths and later to a six-length victory against Belmont winner Summer Bird in the Haskell Invitational plus the Woodard Stakes, making her the first filly to win the storied race at Saratoga.
Rachel Alexandra was named Horse of the Year and Borel was named winner of the George Woolf Memorial Jokey Award.
In 2010 Borel rode Super Saver to victory in the Kentucky Derby. No other jockey has won the Derby three times in four years.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a jockey come to the paddock more focused,” Super Saver trainer Todd Pletcher said. “He was in the zone.”
That brought Borel to the peak of his fame. His only regret, he would recount emotionally, that his parents weren’t alive to witness it happen.
And before, during and afterwards, Borel remained a fan favorite.
“I never heard him say, ‘No’ to anybody,” Hissim said. “He always signed autographs, was courteous and loved children.”
Still, Borel rejected opportunities to expand his presence on the national stage, preferring to concentrate on Oaklawn and the Kentucky tracks.
“He’s never worried about how big he can be,” Nafzger said. “He’ll say, ‘I’m Calvin Borel and I can ride.’
“That’s enough for him.”
Borel’s success rate did slow after the Super Saver year – his last stakes victory was in 2014 - but he still surpassed the 5,000-victory mark in 2013, making him just the 26th American jockey to do so while also becoming the second-winningest rider in Churchill Downs history.
“Calvin Borel is a very special individual history of the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs,” track spokesman John Asher said at the time. “People loved Calvin before he won that first Kentucky Derby.
“They respected his work ethic and his concern for the animals. He was out there every day and they knew he was among the first people on the backside every morning.”
After a slow recovery following a spill in late 2015 that pushed his broken bone total to the mid-40s, Borel made a surprising announcement in March of 2016 that he was retiring to the hunter/jumper farm in Florida he owned with his longtime companion, Lisa Funk.
But in August of last year, following a breakup with Funk, Borel came back to racing, declaring that he never wanted to quit and that, “This is a business you can’t have one foot in and one foot out.
“I wasn’t giving it 110 percent like I know I can. I’ve worked had to get where I am and I’m going to enjoy the rest of my life.”
To Nafzger that is the essence of Calvin Borel.
He’s a great horseman doing what he loves,” he said. “He’s never been anyone else and he didn’t try to be anyone else.
“He’s just Calvin Borel.”
Fierce competitive streak carried LSU’s Breaux to national prominence
By Scott Rabalais
Written for the LSWA
If she'd been born in another era, Sara "D-D" Breaux might have been on some western frontier somewhere, carving out a homestead for herself and her family where others might have said it couldn't be done – or given up.
There have been plenty of chances for Breaux to call it quits during her long and distinguished tenure as LSU’s gymnastics coach. Instead, she just completed her 40th and most successful season and finds herself heading for enshrinement in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
Breaux and 10 other state sports greats will be inducted Saturday, June 24, highlighting three days of activities.
Her LSU team wound up the 2017 season where it was last year, as NCAA runner-up behind Oklahoma. But unlike 2016, the Tigers brought home some first-place trophies as well.
They captured the first SEC regular-season championship in conference history – a championship that came to be in part because of some persistent lobbying by Breaux – as well as the title at the SEC Championship meet. They are the program’s first conference crowns since LSU won the inaugural SEC Championship meet in 1981 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
To a large degree, the success of LSU’s program is the physical manifestation of the determination of a young girl from Donaldsonville who fought her way to the top of a sport she now transcends.
"I'd put D-D in a club with the likes of (late Tennessee women's basketball coach) Pat Summitt or (swimming coach) Jack Bauerle at Georgia," said Jay Clark, who just completed his fifth season as LSU's associate head coach. "He (Bauerle) started with divers jumping out of the rafters.
"She's a pioneer, one of a group without which we wouldn't be where we are as a sport or in women's athletics in general."
As for many, the competitive fire that Breaux still possesses started at an early age, in a family of eight children growing up along a bend of the Mississippi River.
"You've got to compete for the carrots in the stew or you get the potatoes," Breaux said. "But my family has always been extremely supportive."
Sometimes her competitive streak ran to excess. Once when she was a teenager, camping with a friend on a sandbar in the Mississippi River near Houmas House in Darrow, they decided to swim across. The river's treacherous current carried them almost two miles downstream before they reached the other side.
"We get out there and see the ships coming," Breaux recalled.
"I look at that river and I still think, ‘You're still nuts, girl,' " said Janey Nasca, one of Breaux's seven siblings and closest friends. "But it's a true testimony that there's no obstacle if she sets her mind to it. She's been very tenacious since she was a youngster."
Even getting the training to becoming a competitive gymnast was an obstacle for Breaux to overcome.
"There were no sports for girls at Donaldsonville High School," Breaux said. "Nothing. But my parents recognized I was passionate about gymnastics."
Despite having so many other children, Breaux's mother would drive her three or four days a week to train in Baton Rouge, often in the days before the I-10 bridge was built in the late 1960s.
"A lot of people made huge contributions for me to be where I am," Breaux said.
A talented gymnast, Breaux competed for Southeastern Louisiana in 1972-73, helping the Lions to a runner-up finish in the 1972 AIAW championships, a forerunner of NCAA women's athletics. She was set to take part in the 1972 Olympic trials but a knee injury spelled the end of her competitive career – and started her on the path to coaching. Joan Moore, mother of now former LSU gymnast Ashleigh Gnat and a frequent competitor of Breaux’s, did make the U.S. team.
"That was devastating but it wasn't a detriment," Nasca said. "She allowed it to propel her forward. She got more tenacious."
Breaux was an assistant coach at SLU for three years before transferring to LSU where she earned bachelor's and master's degrees. In 1978, she became the gymnastics coach at LSU – not that there was much of a program to run.
"When I first got here they wanted me to continue to practice in the Gym-Armory," said Breaux. "Or they wanted us in the Huey Long gym."
Soon the women's program was carving out a toehold in the Carl Maddox Field House.
"We were in a corner," she said. "There was intramural basketball in there and football would practice there during inclement weather. We had this cordoned off area for our equipment, and when there was an event in there they'd break it down and move it away."
Legendary LSU football coach Paul Dietzel, who led the Tigers to the 1958 national championship, returned as athletic director 20 years later. Dietzel once called for Breaux to come to his office in Tiger Stadium for a meeting, but fearing he would tell her he was dropping the program, she didn't go.
Eventually, Breaux said Dietzel had all of women's gymnastics' equipment dismantled and piled in a room with that of the men's program. He then called a meeting with Breaux and men's gymnastics coach Armando Vega.
"He called us over and said, ‘You won that battle. You can fight it out,' " Breaux recalled. "Then Paul looked at Armando and said, ‘My money's on her.' "
Men's gymnastics was eliminated at LSU in 1984 under Dietzel's successor, Bob Brodhead, who was succeeded by former LSU basketball great Joe Dean.
Breaux can still count the length of time Dean was athletic director: 14 years, six months and three days. She the mindset toward her program didn't change until Skip Bertman became athletic director in 2001.
"It became a much more uplifting environment," she said. "It was like, ‘Here are the tools, now go.' You've got to have the tools: a recruiting budget, facilities, a staff."
When current athletic director Joe Alleva arrived in 2008, Breaux told him of her vision to build a world-class gymnastics training facility.
"When I first met D-D I was so impressed with her passion and love of LSU," Alleva said. "She's created a program of excellence, and is a great representative of our university."
Breaux spent years raising millions in private donations, visiting practice facilities across the country to figure out what she wanted to include at LSU and what she didn’t. The facility finally opened in early 2016, with Gov. John Bel Edwards attending the ribbon cutting.
Soon after, legendary U.S. Olympic gymnast Bart Conner visited while covering a meet at LSU. After having a look around at Breaux’s vision made real in brick and glass and steel, Conner declared the facility the best in the world.
The building likely wouldn't exist as it does without Breaux's energy behind it.
"You can't say what would have happened if someone else was the coach," said Sara Dickson, Breaux's namesake and one of her two daughters (Jewel is the other). "But it wouldn't be as awesome if it wasn't for her. You're looking at 40 years of patiently waiting – well, sometimes patiently. Her wisdom tamed her need to fight over time and saw it through and is testament to that amazing training facility."
There have been nearly 170 gymnastics letterwinners at LSU, women who have gone on to careers and become mothers and even grandmothers by now. Breaux tries to keep in touch with as many as she can. Her Christmas card list runs to eight pages.
Daughter Jewel has given Breaux two grandsons, Porter and Chase. They call her not D-D but "Doo-dah." Breaux's gymnasts have taken to calling her that, too.
Breaux now coaches in an era when the struggles of Title IX and the embryonic AIAW days of women's college athletics have been relegated far into the dusty past. Having outlasted all the challengers, she plans on coaching a 41st season in 2018.
Assuming she does, Breaux will tie legendary Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp as the longest-tenured coaches in SEC history regardless of sport.
Instead of Breaux and her gymnasts having to stand in front of grocery stores giving away tickets, LSU now has nearly 5,000 season ticket holders. Instead of driving through the night to meets in cramped vans, LSU and other gymnastics teams often fly chartered planes or take motor coaches. Their training table, practice facilities and travel accommodations are top notch.
"We don't eat at Shoney's anymore," Clark said.
People like Dickson, who played soccer for LSU and once served as her mother's director of operations, want to make sure modern women's athletes remember they stand on the shoulders of giants.
"That's a passion of mine," Dickson said, "This group of girls, they know. They don't know everything, but they have an understanding."
People in Breaux's life say her drive and fire hasn't diminished after four decades.
"Actually I think her fire has been more ignited," Nasca said.
There's one thing in particular that puts a charge in Breaux. Despite six trips to the NCAA Super Six, 28 NCAA appearances, 13 NCAA individual champions, nearly 200 All-American honors and two national and eight SEC coach of the year awards, LSU still seeks her sport’s biggest prize.
"I'm driven," Breaux said. "I want to win a national championship. But you can't get caught up in that. That will eat you alive. You have to stay in the process. Let's stay excellent in the process."
In that pursuit, Breaux has already succeeded. And she has long since imprinted her name indelibly on the annals of Louisiana athletics.
"She's a rock star," Nasca said.
A star who doesn't show any signs of fading out just yet.
A half-century later, no SLU Lions hoopster has roared more loudly than C.A. Core
A half-century later, no SLU Lions hoopster has roared more loudly than C.A. Core
By Ted Lewis
Written for the LSWA
C.A. Core’s basketball playing days at Southeastern Louisiana University ended almost 50 years ago.
And yet, to this day, no other SLU player has managed to surpass Core’s season or career scoring and rebounding averages. That also goes for anybody who played for the Lions before Core.
His numbers - 22.3 points-per-game as a freshman in 1964-65 and 21.3 for his career, plus a mind-boggling 18.5 rebounds-per-game as a senior in 1967-68 and 15.4 for his career, as well as his career totals (2,046 points, 1,475 rebounds – figure to stand for a long, long time.
Core, (the C.A. stood for “Charles Alvin” but his teammates called him “Moon”), a 6-foot-6 forward from Noblesville, Ind., who was pretty much unrecruited in his home state, led SLU in both categories for four seasons, in which he started every game. He has four of the top six season averages in both as well.
Core is also the school’s sole basketball All-American (NAIA as a junior and senior).
Small wonder that Core’s No. 34 is the only retired jersey in the program’s history.
“He’s the measuring stick,” said Don Wilson, a teammate of Core’s and a former Lions assistant
and head coach. “I don’t think there’s been anybody since (at SLU) who could have handled that guy.”
It’s taken a while, but Core’s accomplishments are now be recognized beyond the rafters of the SLU University Center.
Core, who died unexpectedly in 1986 of a heart attack at age 41, is a member the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame’s 2017 induction class, making him the first Southeastern male athlete to be so honored. His achievements will be celebrated at the June 24 induction ceremony in Natchitoches.
“C.A. is a true icon at Southeastern,” said Larry Hymel, who went from student to the school’s
sports information during Core’s time there. “He put Southeastern basketball on the map and left a great legacy.”
To Lee Core, who married C.A. in the summer of 1966 after his sophomore season, it’s better late than never that her husband is finally making it to Natchitoches.
“C.A. was a very humble person to never sought accolades and all of that stuff,” she said. “Now if he had lived and remained in coaching, it might have been different, but because he died so young, I don’t believe he ever thought about it.
“I can say it was a long time coming, but whether or not it took a while, it’s still a great honor. I just wish he were here to enjoy it.
Core’s belated election is somewhat understandable.
First, he effectively never played after college. Core came out of a two-year hitch in the Army with little desire for the professional lifestyle, although he had been drafted by both NBA and ABA teams.
And secondly, although Core enjoyed great personal success, Southeastern had only one winning season during his time there.
Considering that the Lions had had seven straight non-winning seasons before Core’s arrival and was 3-18 the one before, that’s an improvement, but not a program-changer. SLU had four
more losing seasons after Core graduated, making the 17-8 mark in 1965-66 the school’s only one better than .500 between 1957 and 1973.
“C.A. hated losing as much as anyone I’ve ever been around,” Wilson said. “He had some opportunities to transfer, but he loved the guys on the team so much.
“He couldn’t do that to them.”
Core and the Lions’ most memorable success came not in that one winning campaign, but in the next season opener against LSU.
It was Southeastern’s first-ever game against the Tigers, and Wilson said Core spent the days leading up to it pumping up his teammates,
“He’d have breakfast at home and then come the cafeteria where the rest of us where and go around to everybody saying, ‘We’re going to beat LSU. We’re going to beat LSU,’” Wilson recalled. “He’d say ‘If we beat LSU, everybody else in Louisiana is going to have to stop and take a look at us.
“Now here’s somebody from Indiana, but that’s where his mind was. That’s the kind of outlook C.A. had.”
The game at the Parker Agricultural Center was the first for new LSU coach Press Maravich, who had promised a “new era” for Tiger basketball. That was still a year away because
Maravich’s son, Pete, was a freshman and although he would score 52 points in a 119-70 victory in the freshman game that night, it was the less-talented LSU varsity that faced SLU.
And, as Core promised, Southeastern did prevail, 89-88 before a disbelieving capacity crowd of 8,000.
Core had 28 points and 22 rebounds, including the final go-ahead basket on a put back with 35 seconds and a crucial rebound of a missed free throw with 11 seconds to go.
“Everybody at the game from Southeastern went absolutely berserk,” Lee Core said. “C.A. was so thrilled.
“We were this little school named Southeastern Louisiana College and we’d gone to Baton Rouge and beaten LSU.”
Core’s decision to not pursue a pro career after the Army is a great example of “what if.”
He’d actually signed with the ABA’s Dallas Chaparrals in large part because Chaps coach Cliff Hagan saw in Core a player of similar skills to his own, those that made Hagan the first Kentucky player voted to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
However, it was also the peak of the Vietnam War, and despite efforts to get Core into a reserve unit, he wound up serving for two years, mainly in West Germany where he stayed in shape by playing for the base’s team.
Core got out in time in go to the 1970 training camp with Dallas but came home after a few days, telling his wife he had lost his desire to play.
“His feet were all blistered because they’d worked them out so hard,” Lee Core said. “He didn’t want to go through a whole schedule and be away from home so much.
“I told him it was his decision and we never talked much about it after that. I don’t think he regretted it though.”
To Wilson, Core could have been a successful pro player.
“There’s a lot of isolation in the NBA, and Moon’s first step could beat anybody,” he said. “He couldn’t have been a post player, but he could have gone out to 17-18 feet just as good because he could drive past people.
“And he could get up after a rebound like a golf ball bouncing off concrete. But he just wanted to stay home and be a family man.”
Core never lost his love of basketball, though.
He became a coach, first at St. Bernard High near Lee’s home town of Violet, and then at Slidell High and finally then-newly-opened Northshore High in Slidell.
He also played on several independent teams and could demonstrate technique to players half his age.
“I got to play for him for just one season, but I learned so much,” said St. Tammany Parish school superintendent Trey Folse, who was a senior at Slidell when Core arrived in 1975. “Just think of all the young people whose lives he would have touched.”
Even when he didn’t know it.
Don Landry, the coach at Nicholls State during Core’s final two years at SLU, said that for years he taught Core’s rebounding technique – blocking out but also reading the ball so well that he could even beat opponents on the other side of the lane on missed free throws. Core also, Landry added, could play virtually behind the basket, leaving him open against zone defenses because of that quick first step.
“C.A Core was a fascinating player,” Landry said. “I thought he was the best rebounder I ever coached against.”
By 1986, C.A. and Lee were settled into a comfortable lifestyle in Slidell with their 4-year-old daughter Chelsea, whom he doted on and talked of coaching one day (Chelsea Core would go on to play at UNO, and will be accepting in her father’s memory at the induction ceremony).
On Monday of Thanksgiving week he went for a physical to become a certified bus driver. When an irregular heartbeat was discovered, he was admitted to the hospital.
During the early hours of Thanksgiving morning, he died.
“C.A. had never been sick,” said Lee, who met her future husband at a school dance when he was a freshman (“with two left feet,”) and she was a sophomore. “Running the tests didn’t seem like a big deal, but the last time we were together he said he was still feeling a little funny.
“We were going to bring some Thanksgiving dinner because the hospital food was so bad. And just like that, he was gone.”
Lee said she’s dated a few times since, but never found anyone who could compare to her C.A.
And three decades later, that holds true for those close to SLU basketball.
“He was the kind of player you build a program around,” Wilson said. “And as good as he was, Moon was just and humble and down to earth as any person you could meet.
“I miss that boy. I really still miss that boy.”
Versatile Raymond Didier finally joins brother Mel in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame
Versatile Raymond Didier finally joins brother Mel in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame
By Brent St. Germain
Written for the LSWA
The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame is filled with many well-known athletes, coaches and athletic officials.
But of the more than 400 members in the Hall of Fame, there are only two sets of siblings – track hurdlers Dave and Don Styron and golfers Lionel and Jay Hebert.
That number will increase to three when the Class of 2017 is inducted June 24 in Natchitoches. Former Southwestern Louisiana Institute, LSU and Nicholls State University baseball coach Raymond Didier will join his brother Mel Didier (Class of 2003) in the Hall of Fame.
“It’s one of the greatest things to happen to our family,” Mel Didier said. “Raymond was more than just my brother, as he was my tutor and coach when I was in school. He set some standards for me very, very high, and I am really proud that he will be joining me in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.”
Raymond Didier’s son, Chip, said his family is proud to be joining the Hall’s elite set of siblings.
“It’s a real honor for the Didier name considering his brother Mel went in several years ago,” he said. “We are real proud of the Didier name and glad to see that my dad was finally able to get in.”
Didier’s journey to the Hall of Fame began at the age of 28 in 1948 when he started coaching baseball and football at Southwestern Louisiana Institute (now UL Lafayette) and his path never left south Louisiana with stops in Baton Rouge at LSU and Thibodaux at Nicholls.
Until his death in 1978 at age 56, Didier touched the lives of countless student-athletes and sports fans during his 29-year tenure in college athletics.
Chip Didier said his father left a lasting impact and helped shape the lives of hundreds of student-athletes.
“I’ll run into people and they’ll ask if I am the son of Ray Didier,” said Chip Didier, a longtime high school and former Nicholls volleyball coach. “They would tell me that he coached them and then go into stories about him. I get this all of the time and all over the place.”
From 1948-56, Didier served as the head baseball coach at SLI, compiling a 137-78 record and winning five Gulf States Conference titles. He also coached the school’s football team for six seasons, compiling a 29-27-2 overall record and winning a share of the 1952 conference title.
Gerald Didier, Raymond Didier’s youngest brother, had a chance to play baseball for his brother for the 1951-52 seasons and learned first-hand what made him a successful college coach at SLI.
“He was a great disciplinarian and coached with a lot of energy,” Gerald Didier said. “He worked really hard to have us prepared to play every game. He really knew a lot about the game for as young as he was.”
Raymond Didier’s desire to succeed led SLI to the 1952 Gulf State Conference baseball title. After losing the conference title to Loyola-New Orleans in 1951, he had the SLI baseball team focused in 1952.
“He really knew the game and was a hard worker to get us prepared for every game,” Gerald Didier said. “After coming close in 1951, Raymond was determined to get it done next season and he accomplished that goal.”
Although he left following the 1952 season after signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Gerald Didier said he always treasured the years playing baseball for his older brother.
“It was really a memorable time, and I really enjoyed it,” he said. “Even though we were separated by 13 years, I really enjoyed the time we spent together because not too many people can say they played college baseball for their brother.”
Coach Didier’s next stop was at LSU, where he coached the baseball team from 1957-63. He led the Tigers to a 104-79 record and won the SEC title in 1961. Doing double duty in football, Didier was also an assistant for LSU’s 1958 national championship football team.
Roy “Moonie” Winston, a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 1991, learned firsthand what type of coach Raymond Didier was in both sports, as he was an All-American in football and a team captain in baseball at LSU.
“When you look at a coach for football and a coach for baseball, there is a difference,” said Winston, who played in four Super Bowls with the Minnesota Vikings. “But for coach Didier, he was great in both sports. He knew when to take out players on the football field and knew when to make the right calls on the baseball diamond.”
Winston said LSU’s 1961 SEC championship season was a memorable time. Didier had the winning formula to lead the Tigers to their first conference title in 15 years.
“He let us do our thing, and it seemed like everyone clicked because of that,” Winston said. “Everyone played well for him from the shortstop to the outfielders. He really knew a lot about the game.”
Despite winning the SEC title, LSU was unable to represent the SEC in the NCAA Baseball Tournament because of a university policy keeping the team from competing against blacks or teams that had black players.
Winston said the baseball team was disappointed, but under coach Didier’s leadership, the team moved past its frustration.
“Coach laid it right on the wood and told it like it was,” Winston said. “He said we had to do it like this, and that’s exactly what we did. He was a hell of a coach and a hell of a man.”
After a successful stint ts his second Louisiana school, Raymond Didier was looking for a new challenge, and in 1963, Nicholls provided him with the right opportunity.
When Vernon F. Galliano took over as Nicholls’ president, he asked his old friend Didier to take over as the school’s athletic director and head baseball coach.
Prior to Didier’s arrival, Nicholls had a successful baseball program — an 86-36 record in its first four seasons — but it lacked the structure needed for overall success. Many players were using the program as a springboard to either bigger schools or the professional ranks.
Didier quickly established his rules and wanted to reshape the program into a winning mold on and off the field, a model that worked in his previous two coaching stops. He stressed the importance of getting a quality education to his players.
Moving the program in the right direction was not easy.
Chip Didier said during a game early in the days at Nicholls, his father couldn’t find his starting pitcher soon after pulling him a few innings earlier. He found the player sitting in the stands with a six-pack of beer and surrounded by girls.
The steps that Coach Didier took to reshape the baseball program were needed as Nicholls was working toward making the jump from the NAIA to the NCAA.
Mike Davis, who played at Nicholls from 1969-72, said Coach Didier needed to make the changes because the baseball program was struggling in other areas, especially academically.
“When Coach came in, they had some guys who were not going to class and were not studying,” Davis said. “He needed to clean that out to get the program set to go into the NCAA and move ahead. We had some guys who were strictly here to play baseball at that time, and Coach had to find student-athletes. Those were the challenges he was faced with early on.”
Didier’s efforts started to pay off in the 1969 season when he guided the Colonels to a 28-13 record and a second-place finish in the Gulf States Conference.
Nicholls followed it up with arguably the best season in school history. The Colonels advanced to the Division II College World Series and finished as the national runner-up, losing to San Fernando Valley State, 2-1, in the national championship game.
“Coach taught us that if you work hard you will have success,” Davis said. “We felt like we would be successful. Nobody actually dreamed about the playoffs until we actually got into it.”
Frank Monica, who played at Nicholls from 1967-70, was team captain on the 1970 team and became the longtime football coach at St. Charles Catholic. He said the Colonels’ overall success could be attributed to Didier.
“He taught us so much about the game,” Monica said. “We endeared ourselves to him, and he did the same to us. He taught us discipline, and he gave us a tremendous amount of baseball knowledge. He taught us stuff beyond the baseball field, and many of us took that with us for the rest of our lives.”
Didier remained in the Colonels’ dugout for three more seasons, winning one Gulf States titles and earning another trip to the Division II regionals.
Leaving baseball was tough, but it was necessary as he had to dedicate more time to Nicholls’ football program, which was started in fall 1972.
After the 1973 season, Didier stepped down as baseball coach to concentrate on his duties at the school’s athletic director. He compiled a 217-154-3 record at Nicholls and a 460-311 mark overall.
Going to baseball games after that was extremely tough for Didier. There were times when he would leave the ballpark because he missed coaching the game he loved so much.
Under Didier’s guidance, Nicholls experienced unprecedented success in the three big sports — football, men’s basketball and baseball. The three programs combined to win four Gulf South Conference titles from 1974-1977.
He stayed as AD at Nicholls until his death on March 9, 1978. He died of a stroke at 56.
Davis said Coach Didier’s death was tough because he was more than a baseball coach for many of his players.
“Coach was our father when we were here,” Davis said. “We dreaded facing him more than our parents. He looked at our report cards before we left. He looked at everything. But we knew he had our best interests in mind, and we respected him for that.”
Didier left a lasting legacy at Nicholls as scholarships are named for him, and the Nicholls baseball field is known as Ray E. Didier Field.
Mel Didier said his older brother was always well-respected around NCAA circles and even served on several national committees, so it is only natural that he will take place in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
“I was surprised that Raymond wasn’t in before he actually got in,” said Didier, 90. “He was a big name around Louisiana sports after leaving his mark at SLI, LSU and Nicholls.”
Now that his father will be taking his spot in the Hall of Fame’s hallowed halls, Chip Didier said he wished his mother, Adene Didier, could live long enough to see it happen. She passed away on Dec. 29, 2015 at the age of 96.
“The only thing I regret about the whole thing I wish my mom could have lived a little bit longer to find out about it,” Chip Didier said. “She would have loved that and would have been really proud. I know she is looking down excited knowing that dad is heading to the Hall of Fame.”
Servant leadership leads to Dave Dixon honor for Donohoe
By Teddy Allen
Written for the LSWA
Sue Donohoe has led a Forrest Gump-like existence in college athletics, traveling light with a humble and approachable attitude rare in big-time sports, yet always ending up near the center of landmark events in what’s been a rapidly changing landscape during the past 35 years.
“Sue Donohoe is someone who always gives back,” said Hall of Fame Texas A&M women’s basketball coach Gary Blair, who gave Donohoe her first college assistant coaching jobs, first at Stephen F. Austin and then at Arkansas. “She’s a good athlete, a pretty fair golfer, a wonderful coach and recruiter, but an even better teacher, communicator and administrator.
“More than anything,” Blair said, “Sue is just a lot of fun.”
One of college basketball’s most accomplished administrators of all time, Donohoe will receive the 2017 Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership Award at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony June 24 in Natchitoches. Presented annually by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association’s 35-member Hall of Fame selection committee, the award honors and thanks an individual who has played a decisive role as a sports leader or administrator benefiting Louisiana and/or bringing credit to Louisiana on the national and international level.
Donohoe began her influential career as a graduate assistant at Louisiana Tech, coached high school and college basketball for 10 years, then moved into administration, first with the Southland Conference and finally with the NCAA. Perhaps fittingly, Donohoe is the first woman to receive the award since its inception in 2005.
Two snapshots taken 20 years apart encapsulate the scope of the impact of Donohoe, who grew up “putting up shots until dark” in the driveway of her home in Pineville, the game a part of her life “since as long as I can remember,” she said.
She was a graduate assistant coach of the first NCAA women’s basketball champion, the 1982 Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters. Total attendance for the Final Four was around 7,000; a ticket for the whole thing set a fan back 10 bucks.
Now go to the 2002 Women’s Final Four in the Alamodome and see Donohoe, in the middle of her 12-year run as the NCAA’s Vice President for women’s basketball, standing center court and, preparing to make a presentation, beaming as she looked around at 29,619 fans.
“That night was one of the most telling things for me about the impact of Title IX,” said Donohoe, who recently retired to East Texas, a pond, a fishing pole and maybe, Blair suggests, the occasional Coors Light. “I’ll never forget that number -- 29,619 -- for as long as I live. I stood there and thought, ‘We’ve come so far. But we’ve still got a long way to go.’”
Debbie Primeaux Williamson, a backup to an All-America backcourt of the 1981 AIAW champion and 1982 NCAA champion Lady Techsters teams, has traveled a road similar to Donohoe’s through the women’s game, seeing strides and seeing shortcomings. After coaching for nine seasons and officiating for seven, she began working for the NCAA, first as the organization’s secretary of rules editor and then in various spots as coordinator of officials. When she arrived in Indiana to interview with the NCAA, there was former Lady Techster grad assistant Sue Donohoe, hopefully about to become her boss.
“She's the same Sue as VP of the NCAA as she was as GA at Tech,” Williamson said. “You could sit next to her on a plane trip and never know you were talking to somebody who has been such a big part of the women’s game for the past 35 years, someone who’s accomplished so much -- and she did it all with a servant attitude. She has a way with people, a way of getting us all to do things that were best for the game.”
Donohoe’s plan as a teenaged freshman at Tech was to study for medical school. By the end of her sophomore year, “I knew I wanted to teach and coach,” she said. “Once I made that decision, I never looked back.”
“Sue always had a plan,” said Sylvia Stroops, head of Tech’s health and physical education department and Donohoe’s academic advisor at the time; Donohoe calls her a “lifetime mentor.”
“Before Sue makes a decision, she really thinks it through,” Stroops said. “Very seldom through the years has she made any kind of change that I wasn’t included in the decision. And she’s always been very organized; the first on-campus tournament the Lady Techsters ever had, she basically ran it. She’s always done ‘a lot of everything.’”
The Lady Techster program, just out of infancy, had already been to a couple of AIAW Final Fours when Donohoe, “a gem from the get-go, showed up at Memorial Gym to do whatever,” said Sonja Hogg, who was then early in her Hall of Fame career as the first coach in the history of the storied program.
“She was so organized and started taking care of every detail, me and (then co-head coach) Leon (Barmore) turned the summer camps over to her,” Hogg said. “That foreshadowed where she would end up with the NCAA, handling all of women’s basketball. Our president (F. Jay Taylor) allowed us to fly from coast to coast, to play in Madison Square Garden, to have so many opportunities, and Sue was right there with us every step. Now teams have directors of operations and assistant directors of operations and so many assistant coaches, but Sue did all of that; she oversaw what you didn’t see out front.
“Each new success Sue had never surprised me,” Hogg said. “She did so many things well, but in a lot of ways, she was made to be an administrator.”
“Every so often, all of us come into contact with somebody who just has ‘it,’” said Ruston Daily Leader executive sports editor O.K. “Buddy” Davis. “During her time with the Lady Techsters, you could see Sue was destined for great things in whatever she chose. She’s been one of the most influential, valuable leaders in NCAA history. But no surprise; Sue always had that ‘it.’”
Hogg, Barmore, Blair and others are on a long list of people Donohoe credits for her being honored with the Dixon Award, named for a man whose “leadership, vision, and tenacity” were traits, she said, she tried to emulate. “I don’t receive this award without so many of those people who guided me, mentored me, and picked me up when I was down,” she said.
Credit Donohoe for being a good student, but also for putting those lessons into action in a way that will, as Davis said, “impact the game of college basketball in a positive way for years to come.”
“Sue is a master of everything,” Blair said, “but she really found her niche in administration. Most administrators don’t have this ability, but Sue can talk with people and not at people. What makes her special is her personality. There’s nothing about putting on bigtime airs with her; she’s just Sue.”
“I loved what I did, every day,” Donohoe said. “Some days I loved it more than others -- when you pick a tourney field and you have to tell people they didn’t get in, that’s not the best of days -- but I still loved what I did.
“I tried to live by this throughout my career: what we do is important; how we do it is more important; why we do it is most important,” she said. “Always, why we did it was the most important thing.”
A fixture on the New Orleans media landscape never intended to stay for long
A fixture on the New Orleans media landscape never intended to stay for long
By Jeff Duncan
Written for the LSWA
Jim Henderson initially thought New Orleans would be a pit stop in his journey to the summit of sports broadcasting.
When Henderson joined WWL-TV as sports director in 1978, the plan was to spend a year or two in the Crescent City then move on to bigger and better things career-wise. He had never been to New Orleans and had no connection the place they call the Big Easy.
“I was coming here for one year and then moving on,” Henderson said.
At the time, the local CBS affiliate was in the middle of an unprecedented run of dominance. The station led the local ratings for every morning, afternoon and nightly newscast and would maintain its lofty spot with loyal viewers for decades to come.
Not everyone was excited about Henderson’s arrival.
On his initial flight into New Orleans, an acquaintance sarcastically wished him “good luck” replacing the station’s beloved longtime sports director, the legendary Lloyd “Hap” Glaudi. Fans, some brandishing “Don’t scrap Hap” signs, picketed outside the station’s French Quarter studios during Henderson’s first week on the job.
“I was the only person to come to New Orleans and get run over by the welcome wagon,” Henderson quipped.
Henderson endured the shaky start, and eventually became an icon in his own right.
Thirty-nine years later, he remains a fixture in the New Orleans media landscape. And on June 24, he will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame as a 2017 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award for Sports Journalism.
“It’s a great honor,” said Henderson, a 13-time winner of Louisiana's Sportscaster of the Year honor as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. “I feel so fortunate to have had the career I have had and to have worked with so many great people along the way. I never could have imagined this in 1978.”
Henderson’s rise to prominence in New Orleans is somewhat unusual for a so-called outsider from upstate New York.
Henderson was born and raised in Ontario, N.Y., the son of a fruit farmer and elementary school educator. He was a three-sport athlete at Wayne Central High School and majored in English at Cortland State (N.Y.) University. After serving in the Army and a brief stint teaching middle-school English, Henderson enrolled at Syracuse University to pursue a master’s degree in radio-TV broadcast journalism.
“I had always been in front of people,” Henderson said of his time as an athlete and performer in high school plays and bands. “That never scared me. I went to Syracuse expressly to be in front of the camera. I knew that’s exactly where I wanted to be.”
His broadcasting career began in Panama City, Fla. A connection made with legendary sportscaster Milo Hamilton brought him to Atlanta, where he worked as the No. 2 sports anchor at WSB, the local ABC affiliate. J. Michael Early hired him at WWL in 1978 to replace Glaudi in the sports chair at the anchor desk.
The Atlanta television market was twice the size of New Orleans at the time, but WWL offered Henderson a chance to run his own sports department for the first time in a major market. And there was no better place to do it than Channel 4, the deep-pocketed, family-owned station on North Rampart Street.
Henderson gradually earned a following and not just among the city’s hardcore sports fans. His insightful takes and eloquent delivery appealed to a wide variety of people in WWL’s vast viewing audience.
“He’s the best sportscaster we’ve ever had in 45 years,” said former Saints quarterback Archie Manning, who called preseason games with Henderson for several years. “He presented the news the way I wanted to hear it. He was always so professional. Everybody watched WWL.”
Sources quickly learned they could trust Henderson. He became one of the most connected journalists in the New Orleans market and regularly broke stories and lent insight to the news of the day.
“He was always extremely professional and to this day has a mastery of the Queen’s English beyond his peers in his business,” said University of Texas-El Paso basketball coach Tim Floyd, who befriended Henderson during his tenure at the University of New Orleans in the mid-1980s. “He’s a guy that I could talk to and I knew what I said wasn’t going beyond our relationship. Our relationship was and is built on trust.”
Henderson eventually landed a side gig with CBS Sports to national events like the Masters and Major League Baseball All-Star Game. He also worked with Paul Hornung on Notre Dame football highlight broadcasts.
He moved into the TV broadcast booth as the color analyst for New Orleans Saints preseason games, then served in the same role for radio broadcasts in 1982. Four years later, he was named the play-by-play announcer for the Saints radio broadcast team.
Henderson’s tenure as the Saints play-by-play voice coincided with the team’s ascension under general manager Jim Finks and head coach Jim Mora. Under the ownership of Tom Benson, the Saints raised their profile and became competitive in the NFC West Division.
For countless Saints fans, Henderson provided the soundtrack for the most memorable moments in club history – both good and bad.
The Saints’ first playoff win against the St. Louis Rams in 2000: “Hakim dropped the ball! Hakim dropped the ball! Brian Milne the most unlikely hero of them all falls on the fumble, the muff by Hakim. There is a God after all!”
The shocking 2003 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars after the River City Relay: “Pending the extra point by John Carney. … Nooooo!! He missed the extra point, wide to the right! Oh my God! How could he do that?!!”
None bigger or more memorable than his call of Garrett Harley’s game-winning field goal in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 24, 2010: “It’s good! Pigs have flown! Hell has frozen over! The Saints are on their way to the Super Bowl!”
The famous call was classic Henderson, a by-product of diligent preparation and emotional spontaneity.
“I used to think, if the Saints won the Super Bowl what would I say, because I knew that tag line was going to be etched in the memory of Saints fans forever,” Henderson said. “I used to see fans in the stands with signs saying, ‘Pigs fly,” and ‘Hell freezes over.’ Well, when Hartley kicked that field goal, in the back of my mind I thought, maybe I shouldn’t press my luck. Maybe I should use this now. It was great to be part of that moment.”
The tagline from the call has been preserved for posterity by Saints fans on T-shirts, hand towels, magnets and Christmas ornaments.
"It's amazing what being a part of that moment has done,” Henderson said. “To have your voice associated with a moment that's going to live forever among Saints fans is really special.”
Henderson “semi-retired” from WWL in 2012, but still works three days a week during the football season. His weekly commentaries on WVUE-TV continue to be appointment viewing for New Orleanians, his 3-minute monologues delivered in trademark Henderson style, with wit, eloquence and substance.
Meantime, he continues to call Saints games, a role he plans to continue for the foreseeable future.
"I love the expectation,” he said. "I love the preparation. I love the excitement. I love the discipline. I love the feeling of calling a real good game. It's the closest thing I think you can get to playing, being a play-by-play announcer.
"I'm one of 32 guys in the county who gets the chance to do it. It’s pretty cool. I savor every second of it."
Henderson, 71, spends much of his free time at his lake house in Poplarville, Miss. An avid fisherman, he and wife, Carol, travel frequently and spend as much time as possible with their children, son, Derek, and daughter, Lindsay, and their three grandchildren.
“There’s not going to be somebody like him for a long time,” said former WWL-TV photographer and producer Bob Parkinson, who worked side by side with Henderson for decades. “He’s so totally unique. He wasn’t a screamer or a yeller. His commentaries were also so smart and well thought out. He really was a sportscaster for the McNeil-Lehrer Hour. And the people loved him.”
College, let alone football, wasn’t in the early plans of LSU, NFL standout Eddie Kennison
College, let alone football, wasn’t in the early plans of LSU, NFL standout Eddie Kennison
By Scooter Hobbs
Written for the LSWA
Best he can remember it was along about his sophomore year at LSU.
Maybe it was after that “incident” against Mississippi State.
But it was sometime that season that Eddie Kennison started thinking that, hey, maybe this whole football thing he’d been doing for grins and giggles since he was a little kid might amount to something.
It did, well enough to earn him a spot in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017 set for induction June 24 in Natchitoches.
Many others had an inkling far sooner — and it was surely the only time in his life that Kennison was ever “slow” to come around on anything.
Way before his career epiphany, most of the warning signs of a looming football career were already there to see, and had been for a while.
Most of them involved speed — the kind of speed that can turn you into one of the SEC’s most feared receivers and kick returners and a six-time track All-American, followed by an illustrious 13-year NFL career.
You could even include a harmless sideshow that would one day earn him the title of the “NFL’s Fastest Man.”
Or his charitable foundation — Quickstart.
Oh, sure, Kennison had noticed he was faster than the other kids growing up in Lake Charles, but didn’t think much of it. Just neighborhood pickup silliness, kids running around having fun. One faster than the others.
When the family moved to Houston for a couple of years, he was introduced to organized football with pads and coaches and whatnot, but still didn’t give it much thought.
When the Kennisons moved back to Lake Charles for his sophomore year, at Washington-Marion High School, maybe he still didn’t realize he was anything special. But the Charging Indians’ coaches, most notably the late Robert Lavergne, the head coach, and assistant Brent Washington, surely did.
“And it didn’t take long,” Washington recalled. “We just knew we had to figure out how to get him the football. That would be a pretty good offense right there.”
You want the definition of man playing against boys? During one span of his senior season at Washington-Marion, Kennison scored on the first play of three straight games.
He was also one of the state’s top sprinters in track, and recruiters liked the sure hands that made it clear he was a football player dabbling in the short-pants sport, not the dicey vice versa.
By the end of his junior year, the recruiting letters were coming in, 10-20 per day. Kennison didn’t know what to make of it.
By his senior year, when he was named to the prestigious Parade All-American team and ranked by many as nation’s No. 1 high school receiver, the rate had doubled.
But college? What was that?
“There was really no one in my family that even talked about college,” Kennison remembered. “It was never a top priority, football was just something to do.”
Lavergne and Washington sat him down several times.
“Basically they said this is a life changer. You need to do things in this manner to get yourself ready to go to college. This is a life you can have for yourself.
“Even when they were giving me the message, I don’t know that I really got it. I’d never heard it before.”
He heard pleas from just about every major football power, with the recruiting battle royale coming down to Florida State, with iconic coach Bobby Bowden, against LSU and Curley Hallman.
“Curley was just real,” Kennison said of his decision to become a Tiger. “An honest guy. You always knew where you stood. I still talk to him occasionally.”
Despite the badgering from his high school coaches, Kennison didn’t immediately qualify academically.
But after sitting a year getting his grades right — “It only made me want it badder” — he quickly became an integral part of the Tigers’ offense, and just as feared as a kick returner.
“It’s hard to pick out a highlight,” he said. “But playing in Tiger Stadium on Saturday night, there’s nothing like that.”
Anyone who was in Tiger Stadium on Sept. 10, 1994, wouldn’t have much trouble picking out his top moment.
That night against Mississippi State Kennison turned in his signature play at LSU, one that then-Bulldog coach Jackie Sherrill is positive to this day had to be illegal or impossible or vodoo-magic or ... or something. Maybe trick photography.
But as long as there are record books at LSU and the NCAA, he’s probably destined to be remembered for the “punt return.”
Kennison still has no idea what made him chase down the line-drive punt, which first bounced at the 4-yard line, down to near-about the goal line.
“Football says you don’t field it inside the 10...and I knew that,” he recalls. “Instinct, I guess.”
He didn’t just let it bounce into the end zone, either. He complicated matters by slapping at it, losing the handle with a brief bobble and finally getting a grasp on it a half-step on the wrong side of the goal line.
“The one thing I do know now is that God is in control,” Kennison said. “That particular time, He must have said, ‘Pick the ball up and go with it.’ I did something you don’t normally do.”
It wasn’t looking much like God’s plan early on.
Kennison turned around to be greeted by a wild-eyed Bulldog Welcome Wagon, two of whom knocked him five to six yards deep into the end zone.
But they didn’t knock him down, a big mistake it turned out.
“Instinct took over,” Kennison said. “That’s the only explanation I have.”
Somehow he found a sideways escape route and, once the 2-point safety was avoided and he was sprinting down the sidelines, anything shy of an Olympic 4X100 relay was wasting its time with pursuit.
It went into the books as a 100-yard punt return, a record that can’t be broken since the NCAA measures anything from inside the end zone as an even 100 yards. It rarely comes up on punt returns anyway.
The next day when the team gathered in the film room to review the game, Kennison recalled that Hallman went into a small rant as the play unfolded on the screen, pointing out everything that was wrong, foolish and dang-near disastrous with what he’d done in breaking one of the game’s golden rules.
Hallman paused the film again as Kennison looked hopelessly trapped back there in the end zone, Bulldogs swarming around from every precinct.
Then Hallman let the film run loose for good.
“You SHOULDN’T do it,” Hallman shouted, suddenly grinning. “But if you do ... then THIS is the result you want,” as Kennison was again — Ha, the joke’s on you, Bulldogs — sprinting down the sidelines into history.
These weren’t the glory days of LSU football.
Even coast-to-coast punt returns couldn’t save the Tigers from a sixth consecutive losing season — four under Hallman — and Gerry DiNardo took over as head coach for Kennison’s junior season in 1995.
Kennison didn’t have quite the warm and fuzzy relationship with DiNardo that he’d enjoyed with Hallman.
There were no major problems, Kennison said. “But we would have eventually butted heads if I’d stayed for my senior year.”
He was already mulling over the idea of leaving after that junior season for the NFL. The decision got a lot easier after LSU turned things around in the 1995 season with its first postseason trip since 1988. Kennison lit up the Independence Bowl -for 249 all-purpose yards against Michigan State, including a game-changing 92-yard TD kickoff return.
It got easier still after running a 4.28 40-yard dash for scouts at LSU’s Pro Day, and the St. Louis Rams made him their first-round draft pick in the spring of 1996.
He and head coach Dick Vermeil formed an immediate bond — they still communicate several times a month — and Kennison was the Rams’ rookie of the year and an alternate selection for the Pro Bowl.
Along the way he happened upon one of those rookie symposiums, sponsored by the NFL, lectures that many players see as an excellent opportunity for a nap. It was the usual warnings of players who made millions and still finished their careers dead broke, often leading to bigger trouble.
“I did a little research of my own,” Kennison said. “It wasn’t just football. It’s baseball, basketball, all athletes. I didn’t want to be a negative statistic.”
Suddenly, the guy who was so slow to take to schooling couldn’t get enough of it.
Over the years during the off-seasons he took part in three of the NFL’s MBA programs, one at LSU but also one at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and another at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.
For fun, there was also a side trip to Dallas, where Emmitt Smith was sponsoring an “NFL’s Fastest Man” competition. Kennison, reliving his days on the LSU track team, edged two other speedsters to win the 60-yard dash in the finals.
“There wasn’t a lot of hoopla about it,” Kennison said. “Social media wasn’t big back then and I wasn’t flashy to talk about it. They kidded me about it more than anything.”
Kennison played three more seasons with the Rams, but his career looked to be waning after three nondescript years, one season each with the Saints, Bears and Broncos.
But then he signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, where Vermeil was now the coach, and resurrected his career — at least 800 yards receiving for five straight seasons, including 1,086 in 2004 and 1,102 in 2005.
But he and his wife, Shimika, got much more than that.
“Kansas City just so happened to be the place where it flourished for us, as much with our personal life as football,” he said. “It was that point when both of us I guess matured. Better husband, better wife, we were better parents (three boys) and understood what life should really be about. Everything clicked.”
Meanwhile Kennison was doing plenty for himself — and even more for others — off the field.
He had never heard of lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease, when Shimika was diagnosed with it in 2003.
But Quickstart - the Eddie Kennison Foundation was soon formed to raise money to learn more about it and fight it.
He was warming up before a Chiefs’ game in New York when on the sidelines he saw Jets owner Woody Johnson, who had had his a foundation fighting the disease since his daughter was diagnosed with it.
Kennison sprinted up to say hello and asked if he could talk to him sometime. Johnson suggested Kennison better return to his warm-ups, but the next week Johnson did make contact.
The football player and the football owner hit it off, eventually merged their foundations and in the last 10 years, he said, have raised over $90 million.
Perhaps it contributed to Shimika now being symptom-free and weaned from her medications.
Meanwhile Kennison formed and sold several businesses, but now is personally involved only in Barrel 87, an online club where he personally deals with wine and beer distributors, getting a jump on new products to get them to his members.
He now calls himself a “Pro Wine Receiver” and personally chooses new spirits for club members to sample once a month.
Usually the wine is delivered by mail order. But those members in the Kansas City area often get personal deliveries from Kennison himself.
Very quickly, no doubt.
Tireless work ethic, cool demeanor blended with immense talent to shape McDonald’s path
Tireless work ethic, cool demeanor blended with immense talent to shape McDonald’s path
By Raymond Partsch III
Written for the LSWA
Dan McDonald is known for keeping his composure.
Nothing appears to rattle the Louisiana native, who for four-plus decades has been revered as one of the most accomplished and professional sports media figures the state has produced.
McDonald’s cool demeanor and professionalism was there from the start of his esteemed career, as evident by the manner in which he handled a particularly daunting weather crisis in the fall of 1976 in Natchitoches.
"The first time I ever met Dan he was as young SID at Northwestern State University,” said Bruce Brown, the former longtime sports editor at The Daily Advertiser in Lafayette. “USL was playing there in football, but NSU was in a transition at their facility. There was no real press box. It was more like a tree house and they had this torrential rain and raging wind and he was trying to run around and do everything and help everyone. It was really helpless, but Dan pulled it off. I was so impressed that night with despite all that chaos, he was still moving things forward to help everyone with their stories and deadline and survive the night.”
That work ethic and approach helped make McDonald one of the state’s top sports information directors and journalists. On June 24, he will inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame as a 2017 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism.
“I almost cried when I found out he was being inducted,” UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns radio announcer Jay Walker said. “I was riding in the car and happened to see someone mention it on Twitter and I texted him and all the text said was ‘You stud.’ Dan has never been in this for any personal recognition. As a matter of fact, I think sometimes it almost embarrasses him but I can’t think of anyone in journalism that deserves this more.”
McDonald’s career took root when he was still a teenager growing up in the timber country of north Louisiana, where he worked for both his hometown’s weekly newspaper (The Jackson Independent) and local radio station (KTOC-AM) in Jonesboro. While in high school, he handled scoring, public address and posted weekly statistics and stories in the Jackson Independent for the local youth baseball league.
After graduating from Jonesboro-Hodge High School in 1972, McDonald went on to study at Northwestern State. He honed his craft working as a student assistant under former SID Pesky Hill, writing and editing for the student newspaper, The Current Sauce, and helping launch NSU’s first radio station, KNSU, now known as KNWD. When iconic musician Jim Croce perished in a plane crash after a concert on campus, McDonald’s coverage was picked up by Rolling Stone, among others.
After graduating in three short years, McDonald joined the sports department at the Alexandria Town Talk in 1975 and worked under legendary sports editor Bill Carter, who himself received the DSA honor in 1988.
McDonald’s time in Alexandria was short-lived, as after a year his alma mater came calling.
Hill had departed to take the same position at Oklahoma State, so NSU reached out to McDonald to return as the school’s SID at the ripe age of 21, making him the youngest SID at any Division I program. Despite his youth, it didn’t take long for McDonald to make his mark as he won a couple of national awards for brochures from CoSIDA.
McDonald left NSU in the summer of 1980 for the same position at then-USL. That is where he remained until 1999, winning numerous awards for his brochures, fact sheets and, of course, writing.
“If God created a better sports information director than Dan then he must have kept him himself,” said 2015 DSA recipient Glenn Quebedeaux, then the sports editor of the Daily Iberian in New Iberia.
McDonald’s work as an SID in Lafayette is where he cultivated a reputation for professionalism unmatched by many of his contemporaries.
“USL was playing in the Great Alaskan Shootout back in 1981 and Dan was doing the radio broadcast with me,” former Cajuns play-by-play man Don Allen said. “I was indisposed elsewhere before a game and I didn’t get to the arena until five minutes to tip. He already had everything set up and ready to go. That was Dan.”
Added Walker, "When he was the SID, his commitment to detail was as about as complete as anybody I’ve ever known. Every single ‘I’ was dotted and every ‘T’ was always crossed. He was always very precise with his details. And Dan never said no. His favorite question was probably, ‘Do you need anything?’ Because of that, everybody respected him so much.”
During his tenure at USL, McDonald also served as a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee media relations staff for two Summer Games (Seoul in 1988, Atlanta in 1996), and six U.S. Olympic Festivals. In 2011, he was inducted into the CoSIDA Hall of Fame.
“If he could have cloned himself, I think he would have,” Brown said. “He tried to be everywhere at once. I think it drove him half batty that he couldn’t because he wanted everything to be just so.”
McDonald’s lasting impact resides in the legion of former assistants and student assistants who have gone on to become prominent figures and leaders in collegiate and professional sports. A few of those notables are Herb Vincent, associate commissioner of the Southeastern Conference; Greg Sharko, media relations director for the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP); Pat Murphy, Hall of Fame softball coach at the University of Alabama; Christopher Lakos, associate SID at University of Georgia; Joe Lynch, executive director of alumni relations at Gettysburg College (Pa.); and Doug Ireland, longtime SID at NSU and chairman of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
"One of his biggest joys is enjoying the success of others," Walker said. "With Dan it is never about Dan. When somebody that might have worked for him, and they have personal or professional success, that truly pleases him more than his own successes. This is an ego driven business and you just don't find people like him."
“He is the current-day father of SIDs in the state of Louisiana,” said Jeff Conrad, who served as a student assistant and general assistant under McDonald. “There are other excellent SIDs that have worked longer at their schools, but nobody can top the lineage, the tree and branches that he has. Dan hired some very good people, and it’s not a coincidence that so many of his SIDs have gone on to do remarkable things. You learn so many things from him that you carry over as you move on to new jobs and ones that will make you a better person.”
McDonald would eventually retire from the SID world in 1999, and for the man who succeeded him, the shadow his mentor and predecessor cast was intimidating.
“When he left it was overwhelming,” said Conrad, who is now director of communications at the University of Houston. “I remember we were coming back from Sun Belt Conference Media Day and we were in his car. Just out of curiosity I asked him if he had ever thought about leaving, and he said, “Well, that’s kind of funny that you mentioned that.’ It was overwhelming because those were tremendous shoes to fill. To be honest with you, you don’t replace Dan. You just follow him.”
McDonald may have retired from being an SID, but he had no intentions of slowing down.
McDonald joined the sports department of The (Lafayette) Daily Advertiser and quickly ascended among the state’s best writers. He captured 31 LSWA writing awards in his nine years at the paper, including three “Writer of the Year” honors in a five-year span. He also received a national “Best of Gannett” award for his coverage of the 2005 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
"The thing about Dan is that he can write anything, and he will write anything,” Brown said. “There wasn’t an assignment that he would ever turn down. He would attack it with all the talent he had in him and more. And if he turned something in on deadline you didn't have to proofread it, because you could just put it right on the page. It was always that well-written and clean.”
McDonald left The Daily Advertiser in 2008 and became vice-president of McD Media, Inc., a marketing and public relations firm founded by his wife, Mary Beth, also an NSU graduate. In addition to his role with McD Media, McDonald works as a freelance sports journalist, including earning his fourth LSWA Sports Writer of the Year honor in 2011, and doing extensive broadcast and television work, including anchoring annual webcasts of Sun Belt Conference baseball, softball and golf tournaments.
In addition, McDonald has served as media relations director for the Web.com Tour’s Chitimacha Louisiana open, chairman of the Bill Bass Open fundraiser tournament for the ULL golf team, co-chairman for LHSAA state high school golf tournaments held in Acadiana, served as vice president and president of the LSWA, and remains a key member of both the LSWA Executive Committee and Hall of Fame Committee.
In 1999, McDonald received the LSWA’s esteemed Mac Russo Award, which recognizes those members who represent the ideals of the organization, an award that was also bestowed on his wife Mary Beth in 2015.
For those who worked with McDonald and consider him a friend, they proudly say that those ideals go far beyond his life’s work.
“When my wife Barbara passed away in 2012, I was devastated,” Brown said. “She had always handled our finances in our marriage and I was allowed to write about sports my whole life. One of the things I knew I had to do was find someone that could take care of that, like a CPA for my taxes, or a money person for my finances.
“I always trusted Dan and he guided me through that. They got me straightened out and got me on the right track. That crisis was averted because of Dan. That is the kind of trust I have in him as a friend. He would never steer me wrong."
Hard work, humility, life-changing scripture carry Pierre into Hall of Fame
Hard work, humility, life-changing scripture carry Pierre into Hall of Fame
By Bob Tompkins
Special for the LSWA
One of the iconic images of Juan Pierre from his 14 seasons in Major League Baseball is that of him running with pure joy from center field to the pitcher’s mound to celebrate the World Series championship for the Florida Marlins in 2003.
Yet, there is a less known but just as poignant image from the career of the base-stealing legend who is among the 2017 inductees into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, to be enshrined June 24 in Natchitoches.
It was from the 2009 season, when he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he was sent to bat as a pinch-hitter.
Manny Ramirez had just come off a 50-game suspension, and Dodgers manager Joe Torre made the strapping, highly paid slugger his starter in left field, sending perhaps the best known baseball player ever to come out of Alexandria, Louisiana to the bench, even though he had filled in admirably during Ramirez’s absence.
“I pinch-hit the first night he came back,” said Pierre, “and some 50,000 fans in Dodger Stadium gave me a standing ovation – something I totally didn’t expect. It was one of the coolest things in my career. It was like they understood all the hard work I had put in and the humility I had, not complaining or whining about it. It showed they appreciated how I went about my business. Pretty cool.”
How Juan D’Vaughn Pierre went about his business was one of the attributes people noticed favorably about him since youth baseball.
“I saw Juan from T-ball up,” said Don Boniol, who coached him in youth baseball and later at Alexandria Senior High. “You knew that he was going to be a player, a great player. He worked hard at the game. He wasn’t a big guy, and the little fellow knew if he was going to be good, he’d always have to work hard on his skills.”
That is what he did, and it was instilled in him from his parents, James and Derry Pierre.
“His mom was pretty strict on him: ‘If you start something, finish it; try to be the best at what you are,’” said James Pierre, who named his second son after his favorite ballplayer, San Francisco Giants legend Juan Marichal.
“As a kid, he always wanted to be the best. One of his first gifts was a baseball glove when he was about 3 years old. His older brother (Derrick) was a natural, but he didn’t work as hard as Juan.”
Boniol recalled how Juan played both basketball and baseball at ASH but would work on his own at baseball during the basketball season.
“Juan would ride his bicycle from Deerfield subdivision to ASH with his bat and his glove and knee socks with seven or eight balls in them,” said Boniol. “He’d run up the stadium, then hit six or seven balls off the tee. He’d simulate catching fly balls in the outfield and throwing a runner out at third or home. He’d work on his bunting. He’d work on his steal break. He worked on all details.”
This same work ethic carried through his playing days at the University of South Alabama, where he is a member of USA’s Sports Hall of Fame; Galveston Junior College, the minor leagues and the major leagues.
“A lot of times in professional sports you don’t get to meet a guy you really click with,” said Chone Figgins, who began a strong friendship with Pierre as a minor league teammate in Portland, Oregon in 1998 and would later be Pierre’s teammate again with the Marlins in 2013. “From day one, his locker was two lockers down, and he was like, you want to go hit some more?”
In his fourth season in the major leagues, Pierre was the first Marlin to record 200 hits in a season – one of three 200-hit seasons in his career -- but he made his biggest mark in the big leagues as a base stealer, collecting 614 stolen bases while playing for six different teams through 14 seasons. That ranks him 18th on MLB’s career base stealing chart. He was the season’s league leader in steals three times.
He is one of only four major leaguers to collect at least 100 steals with three different teams (Marlins, Rockies, Dodgers.)
“You could tell right away (about his potential as a ballplayer) because he had the speed,” said Jodie White, a baseball icon in Alexandria as a youth coach, recreation superintendent, minor league general manager, public address announcer and ballpark custodian. “When I coached him in T-ball, I’d often have a quiz for the kids after practice. ‘Who’s the fastest guy on the team?’ I’d ask. ‘Juan,’ they’d all answer. Then I’d ask him who’s the fastest player on the team.
Juan’s answer: “Me.”
“It was instinctive to me,” Pierre, who now lives in Parkland, Florida near Fort Lauderdale, said of his base-stealing talent. “My instincts would take over, but (former major league players and coaches) Dave Collins and Dallas Williams, when I got to the big leagues, really challenged me and taught me a lot about pitchers’ moves.”
A leadoff hitter and outfielder, Pierre fashioned a .295 career batting average and led the National League in hits in 2004 (221) and ’06 (204). Pierre had 2,217 career hits (225 doubles, 94 triples, 18 homers) and 517 RBI. He had a 16-game hitting streak to start his career – the second-longest streak to begin a career in MLB history.
“When we met (in the minor leagues), he wasn’t actually a starter, he was a backup,” said Figgins. “The first game he played -- they wanted to give one of the other prospects a day off – he went 4-for-5. After that, the manager had to put him in the next day and he had three or for hits. I remember thinking, this guy can hit. How was he ever a backup?”
Pierre wouldn’t be a backup again until Opening Day 2008 when, in the second year of a five-year, $44 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he found himself sitting on the bench for the first time in his big league career.
“My whole foundation was rocked because all I cared about was baseball,” he recalled of the experience in a 2014 interview with the Town Talk, his hometown newspaper. “I had played in 800 straight games. I didn’t know what was going on, and I was bitter and wanted to get traded.”
He realized later, he said, that “God was breaking me down.” He realized this after his life “changed forever” at a 2009 team chapel service in spring training. The chaplain spoke from Hebrews 4:12 – “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
The words spoke to him in such a significant way that he said he gave his life to Christ that spring “and life has not been the same since.”
That explains why he didn’t sulk when Torre sat him in favor of Ramirez, in contrast to his depression after being benched the year before in favor of Andruw Jones.
Torre said Pierre was “the feel good story” in baseball during the time he filled in for Ramirez. He said despite having to deliver bad news to him two years in a row, Pierre was “a pro through this whole thing.”
At the end of the ’09 season, Pierre was presented the Roy Campanella Award, given annually to the Dodgers player who best exemplifies the spirit and leadership of the Hall of Fame catcher. Then in 2010, his first of two seasons with the Chicago White Sox, he led the major leagues in stolen bases (68) for the third time in his career.
“I probably wouldn’t be in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame if I hadn’t changed my ways,” said Pierre.
“How you react when adversity strikes, that’s the test of a human being,” said former Marlins teammate Dontrelle Willis. “Being able to show class, your coaching staff sees that, your teammates see that. Quite possibly the finest person I know is Juan Pierre.
“We’d go together to practice,” Willis said, “and if you weren’t in his car at 6:15 in the morning, you were getting left behind. I ran down the stairs a couple of times with toothpaste still on my face so I wouldn’t get left behind.”
The work ethic he picked up from Pierre helped shape his career, said Willis.
“If it weren’t for Juan Pierre, there would be no ‘D-Train,’” Willis added. “From the first time I met him, he just oozed professionalism. He always stuck to his routine and to his roots.”
His lifestyle changed after that chapel experience – “the music I listen to, the places I visit, the mindset that God is everything” – but he never changed his “routine or his roots,” as Willis said.
Remember that image of him joyfully running from center field to the pitcher’s mound after his team clinched the title in the World Series – one that Pierre helped make possible with a .333 batting average, two doubles and three RBIs?
These are some flashes of thoughts he had during that dash to dog pile.
“To win the World Series in 2003 at Yankee Stadium -- home of Mantle, Ruth -- was the icing on the cake,” Pierre said. “I thought of Little League days, my parents bringing me to practices, going to ASH (Alexandria Senior High), and that my mother and dad, sister and brother were there, and all the work I’d put to get to that point and how it was a great feeling.
“Remembering all that,” he continued, “I couldn’t believe that for little me, this literally happened, and I’m from Alexandria, Louisiana.”
Skill set, ability to improvise and excel carried Reed to football greatness
By Lori Lyons
Written for the LSWA
Ed Reed always seemed to have a knack for being right where he was supposed to be.
That was, in part, because former Destrehan High School football coach Scott Martin didn’t always know where to put him.
Reed, who hails from the small dot on the Mississippi River called St. Rose, Louisiana, was the best athlete anyone around there had ever seen, including Martin.
Knowing he had to put his best player where he would have the most effect, Martin put Reed at quarterback. And sometimes at running back. He returned kicks and, occasionally, was even called on to punt.
Of course, Reed excelled at safety, which is the position he would redefine in four years at Miami then over a 12-year career in the NFL, most of it with the Baltimore Ravens. His pro career quite likely will lead him to Canton, Ohio, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but on June 24, it lands him in Natchitoches for the 2017 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Although he would go on to win a National Championship with the Miami Hurricanes and a Super Bowl with the Ravens, most folks around Destrehan remember Reed for his part in winning the 1996 District 7-5A championship for the Wildcats.
They call it, simply, “The Play.”
Destrehan led South Lafourche 14-7 in the final seconds of the final game of the season, but needed to win by 9 to win the championship.
As the final seconds ticked off, South Lafourche quarterback Mark Danos heaved a desperation pass up the field. Reed wasn’t there, but teammate Aaron Smith was.
“Aaron gets the pick and the whole time he’s just looking for me,” Reed recalled. “He knew he was going to pitch it and I’m screaming his name from across the field. Finally, he takes a crushing hit and, as he takes the hit, he pitches it. I cut back to my right and that was it.
“Everybody’s hopping on the field.”
Actually, Martin was about to have a heart attack.
“We’re all yelling at him, ‘Get down! Get down!’ thinking ‘That’s it. The game is over,’” Martin said. “Then he starts running for the end zone and we all start yelling, ‘Go! Go! Go!’”
“I had three people to beat,” Reed said. “But nothing could have stopped me.”
After running 54 of the 55 yards for the score, Reed dove into the endzone like his idol, Warrick Dunn.
After the excessive celebration penalty, nobody blamed then-junior place kicker Mike Scifres, who went on to a stellar career as a punter with the San Diego Chargers, for missing the extra point.
It would not be the last time Reed would pull off that play. Reed remembers that one too.
“Boston College. The same thing,” Reed said. “We’ve got to win by a certain margin because of the BCS. Matt Walters gets the ball and it looks like Matt is trying to score, so I go help him out.
“I catch up to him and I’m yelling Matt’s name. Everybody thinks I took the ball from him, but at the last minute, if you look at the tape, you can see him looking up at me. He knew it was me and he gave the ball to me. Then I’m acting like a little kid racing.”
That was an 80-yard score.
He even managed to give Ravens coach Brian Billick palpitations on occasion.
“He will do some things on the field that you wonder, ‘what in the heck are you doing?’” Billick said. “It’s not just being haphazard or, ‘Oh, I’m going to make something happen here.’ It’s almost always based on something he saw on film.”
Reed even had Billick do his best imitation of Martin once when he intercepted a pass against the Jets, four yards deep in the end zone.
“Their coach told him, “If Ed Reed is back there, don’t throw it.” The kid threw it anyway,” Reed said. “Coach Billick was like, ‘Go down Ed! ‘Then he saw me come down the sideline and he’s like ‘Go Ed! Go Ed!’ I wound up returning it and scoring, but it was nullified by a penalty. It’s so funny that happened on every level for me. All the coaches are yelling, ‘Fall! Fall! Fall!’ then ‘Go! Go! Go!’”
Reed wasn’t always so focused.
He grew up on the playgrounds of Shrewsbury in Jefferson Parish, trying to be like his older brother, Wendell Sanchez, who was a standout athlete in his own right at Riverdale High.
Dad, Edward Reed Sr., used to let the boys tag along to his weekend softball games at the parks.
“I used to always be that little kid that would be at practice with my dad when he went to the softball games,” Reed said. “I was the kid who was running the bases when they hit. I’m out there developing my speed and not even knowing it. I’m developing my instincts shagging balls in the outfield.”
There were some rough roads on the way to the ballparks, however, and Reed occasionally found trouble.
“A lot of my friends at the time were in the street, sorry to say,” Reed said. “You’d be amazed how many of those guys turned me away from those streets or tried to turn me away from those things they were doing. I felt like it was my job to play sports and keep myself out of trouble. It didn’t always work, though.”
Destrehan High’s office specialist, Jeanne Hall, knew Reed was walking a fine line. She frequently would offer Reed and other students a safe haven at her St. Rose home. Eventually, Reed moved in with the family, a situation that often has been compared to the “The Blind Side.”
“It wasn’t too far from it,” Reed said.
Reed never was homeless or abandoned by his family.
“It was more to give him some stability, some discipline,” Hall said. “There were several young men around that time who were with us. The players were so often at our house just hanging out, watching TV, playing video games. It was about getting him to school on time, getting him to do his homework. He just became one of my kids, a part of my family. Our house was just conducive to that. Once he’s in your world you can’t get him out of your world.”
Coincidentally, Reed later would become a teammate of Michael Oher, the real life subject of The Blind Side.
“He didn’t know I went through that, too” Reed said. “We talked about it a bit. I know he wasn’t too happy with the way Hollywood portrayed him. It was such a blessing for them to tell his story and not mine.”
With the Halls’ help, Reed could focus on sports. He not only was a standout football player, he also excelled at baseball, basketball and track, where he was an excellent triple jumper, javelin thrower and ran on a state champion 4x100 relay team.
“I think he could have easily gone to college and played in any one of them,” Martin said.
After mulling all offers, Reed signed to play football for Miami, where he became a two-time All-America and helped the Hurricanes to the 2001 National Championship. Besides graduating with a liberal arts degree, Reed left with Miami records for career interceptions (21), most career interceptions returned for touchdowns (4), most career interception return yards (389) and most season interception return yards (206 in 2001). He was the 2001 Big East co-Defensive Player of the Year, selected the 2001 National Defensive Player of the Year by Football News, a 2001 Jim Thorpe Award finalist and a 2001 Bronko Nagurski Award semi-finalist.
Hall said Reed used to tell her he planned to change the way the position of safety was played, to which she would reply, “Yeah. OK, baby. Whatever.”
“He certainly redefined it,” said Billick, who made Reed the 24th pick of the 2002 NFL draft.
“Before, we used to not take safeties in the first round. That was for corners, defensive ends and whatever. But the game has become so much about that position. I think Ed was at the forefront of those. The top ones, you ask a lot of them. Certainly Ed was one of those guys. I think he has defined the position and what you need at that position.”
Reed spent 11 years as a ball-hawk in Baltimore, during which he was selected first-team All-Pro five times and was elected to the Pro Bowl nine times.
After brief stints with the Houston Texans and the New York Jets, he signed a one-day contract with the Ravens and retired on May 7, 2015.
He finished with 64 career interceptions (seventh on the NFL’s all-time list), with seven touchdowns. His 1,590 yards on interception returns is the most in NFL history. He set a record for the longest interception return with a 106-yard return against Cleveland in 2004. He broke that record with a 107-yard return in 2008 against Philadelphia.
Reed had at least five interceptions in seven of his 12 seasons. He also had 13 fumble recoveries and 11 forced fumbles.
The defining moment of Reed’s career, though, came in 2013 when he brought his teammates home and hoisted the Super Bowl XLVII trophy following a 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers in the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
It was the first Super Bowl played in the arena after Hurricane Katrina had torn it apart in 2005. Reed also had played there in the last preseason game before the storm, helping the Ravens beat the New Orleans Saints, 21-6, in a Friday night game.
The night before that, Reed, accompanied by Billick and several teammates, had been honored before the River Parishes High School Jamboree at Destrehan, which he continues to sponsor
After teaching his teammates how to peel and eat boiled seafood during Super Bowl week, Reed had sat in his hotel room overlooking the Mississippi River. He had grown up on that river, traveled that river, lived on that river.
In 2011, his younger brother, Brian Reed, had drowned in that river.
It was right where Reed needed to be.
“I cried so many times in my room, just looking at the Mississippi River, thinking about my brother,” Reed said. “I had the perfect room. I was just praising God the whole time because I knew it was His doing. The whole year I knew we were on the road to get there and I knew we weren’t going to lose. Not in my hometown. Wasn’t happening.
“For us to go from the last team to play in the Superdome to being the first team to play in the Superdome and win the Super Bowl after Katrina, nobody would ever know the story from start to finish. To go from Louisiana to Miami to Baltimore, then Katrina and come back to New Orleans. Nobody would believe it. It’s like a Hollywood movie.”
All roads lead home for Hall of Fame inductee David Toms
By Roy Lang III
Written for the LSWA
In the 1990s, the Dallas area was – and remains -- a popular retreat for professional golfers. Thanks to a myriad of prime travel options, optimal weather and a bevy of immaculate venues, the Metroplex served as a logical place for a talented upstart to establish a home base.
There was just problem for David Toms and wife, Sonya.
“It never really felt like home,” David Toms said.
The problem was exacerbated in July of 1997 when the couple welcomed their first child, son Carter.
“The grandparents, family and friends – everybody was in Louisiana,” said Toms, an Airline High product. “We always felt like we were away from home.”
After a two-year Texas experiment, the duo packed up, drove east on I-20 and returned to Shreveport.
It’s no coincidence the career of David Toms subsequently blossomed.
An individual SEC champion while at LSU, Toms scored his first victory on the PGA Tour -- two weeks before Carter was born -- at the 1997 Quad City Classic. The triumph sparked a two-decade run that included 13 Tour victories, highlighted by the 2001 PGA Championship.
His links success made him an easy pick in his first year of eligibilty for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017, set for induction Saturday, June 24 in Natchitoches.
Even in the prime of his career, when he was a consistent member of the Top 10 in the Official World Golf Rankings, Toms couldn’t stay away from home.
Success, heartbreak, family, philanthropy – every road has led Toms back to Louisiana.
As a kid from Bossier City, Toms followed the careers of Bert Jones, Ron Guidry and Terry Bradshaw. He had no “allegiance” to the Colts, the Yankees or the Steelers, but tracked those stars because they hailed from Louisiana.
When it became obvious golf was Toms’ forte, he didn’t have to look far to find a role model.
“(Shreveport’s) Hal Sutton – already a Player of the Year and all these accolades,” Toms said. “I thought, ‘Now that’s a guy who lives around here, you see him on TV and he’s one of the best in the sport.’ It gave me extra incentive to be one of those guys.”
On June 24, Toms will join every aforementioned athlete as a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
“It’s special for a guy like me who’s had his roots here forever, and had the support of sports fans, golf fans,” Toms said. “Being in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame with a lot of the greats is an honor.”
Toms, 50, is a full-time rookie on the Champions Tour this year. Even if he doesn’t win again on the PGA Tour, his Louisiana roots are firmly planted on the world’s best circuit.
In 2013, Toms completed his Golf Academy, also known as 265 (signifying the aggregate scores of his first and last Tour wins, plus his major championship). The multimillion-dollar facility has helped cultivate elite-level talent, including LSU’s Sam Burns, ranked as the nation’s No. 1 college golfer last season.
Not only does the inordinate amount of young golf talent in Northwest Louisiana have a role model in Toms on the course, but they are sure to glean his passion and pride for his roots.
Toms’ first love was baseball. However, as hot summer after hot summer went by, he realized the desire to shag flies, get in the cage or take infield had disappeared. Meanwhile, he didn’t mind grabbing dragging his golf clubs along for 36 or 54 holes in the heat.
“I still love (baseball),” Toms said. “Back then, I thought ‘(Golf) is different, something I enjoyed.’ I didn’t want to do anything else.”
His grandfather, the late Tom Toms, was the man who dropped him off at the course at dawn and picked him up at dusk.
“(Tom) was special for me because, at a time in my life, when I was getting to be a teenager, (Airline) high school through my college years, he’s who I lived with,” David said.
The former military man took his grandson to Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City on Mondays when “everything else was closed.” He read all the books and helped David pick the range.
“To know my game and what he thought was going to help me – he poured his heart and soul into me,” David said. “Financially, he did that, too.
“He gave me the opportunities that all the other people had to be successful. He was a person that gave everything to an individual to be the best they can be.”
With more than $41 million in career PGA Tour earnings, Toms enjoyed his fair share of success. However, it took eight years after departed LSU as an All-American and the SEC Player of the Year to jump into the Winner’s Circle on the PGA Tour.
One detour en route to stardom was the Asian Tour.
“It did a lot for me – seeing places in the world where people aren’t nearly as lucky as we are,” Toms said. “It puts it in perspective – things I saw in India and Thailand, places I thought, ‘I can’t believe people function like this.’
“Golf can really make you feel sorry for yourself a lot of times – whether you miss putts, hit a bad drive or get a bad break, the game can do a lot of things to you mentally. Those three months made me hungry to succeed on the PGA Tour, and helped me not get complacent when I did succeed so I did not have to do those things again.”
After full seasons on the PGA Tour in 1992-94, Toms lost his card in 1995, but won twice on the Nike Tour – then the PGA Tour’s feeder system.
“There were plenty of ups and downs – from ‘I can do this,’ to, ‘Is this ever going to work out for me?’ Add to the mix getting married and starting a life outside where you knew.”
Toms finished 105th on the PGA Money List in 1996 – the top 125 earned Tour cards for 1997 -- with $205,000 in earnings and set the stage for his breakthrough, a three-stroke victory in Coal Valley, Illinois.
Toms won twice in 1999 to begin run of at least one PGA Tour victory in seven of eight years – he recorded three runner-up finishes in the season (2002) he didn’t win.
The 2001 campaign was hard to top. Toms won three times, including the Compaq Classic in New Orleans and the PGA Championship near Atlanta.
For Toms, the comeback victory at English Turn was the closest he’d get to feeling as if he was playing in Tiger Stadium, a place he loves dearly.
“It was the greatest,” he said. “I would think that’s what Tiger Woods got every week because he had so many fans. To know everybody is pulling for you, that was pretty cool. It doesn’t happen that often to anyone, no matter where we play. Even if it’s a home game for another player, they don’t get anything like that.”
Toms shot 63 and a 64 on the weekend. He was six strokes off the lead entering the final round, but posted a back-nine 30 to clip Phil Mickelson by two strokes and become the first Louisianan to win the event.
“It happened so fast on the weekend,” Toms said.
Three months later, Toms rode one of the most memorable shots in major championship history to the PGA Championship.
A third-round hole-in-one on the 243-yard 15th helped Toms grab a two-stroke lead over Mickelson, his victim at the Compaq Classic, entering the final round.
With a one-stroke lead on the final hole, Toms famously played conservative facing a treacherous approach on 18 at Atlanta Athletic Club and clinched the victory – and, at the time, the lowest score in a major, 265 -- with a 12-foot-par putt.
“Besides the confidence taken from the victory, I met people I probably would not have met if I didn’t win the PGA,” Toms said. “You’re a major champion and see all these people you wouldn’t normally see. Would I be in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame if I didn’t win the PGA?”
Toms was on top of the golf world in the early 2000s. He represented the United States on three Ryder Cup teams and four President’s Cup teams. However, there was always a battle raging within.
“I always felt like it was selfish of me, even if I was playing great, to continue to stay away and not try to have some sort of normal life with your family,” Toms said. “When I was in the prime of my career, Carter was playing baseball. It used to kill me to miss games.
“I tried to figure out how I was going to get some kind of live feed – before FaceTime and all these crazy things. I was like, ‘I have to see this at-bat.’ A lot of times, my spring schedule was based around his baseball schedule.
“Rain outs for the baseball game were the worst. It would rain three nights in Shreveport and I didn’t get to see a game, but they would schedule five the next week when I was playing.”
Outsiders could question why Toms took time away from the Tour when he was playing his best, but he says: “It did a lot more for me to be as normal as I could.”
Carter is now a member of LSU’s golf team. David and Sonya also have a 11-year-old daughter, Anna.
Although Toms’ days on the PGA Tour are numbered, his legacy in his beloved home state is not in jeopardy of fading anytime soon.
His foundation, established in 2003, donated more than $3.7 million to local organizations, specifically those with programs to help underprivileged, abused and abandoned children, in its first 10 years.
“It was our avenue to give back to people in need. Kids that needed to be at a golf course, a roof over somebody’s head, clothes – the reason we were able to do it, is we had the support of people who supported my golf career. Fans of mine, fans of golf, fans of Louisiana.
“They’ve always supported me. It’s not always rosy. If you have high expectations, you’re always dealing with failure. To have people that support you through that, and help you get through it, you have to have that.”
Four years ago, Toms’ world-class instruction and training facility opened in Shreveport and is the site for many after-school golf programs and summer golf camps for children of all socioeconomic backgrounds.
At one point, three of the nation’s top seven high school players in the country were all members at 265. In 2016-17, five members of the LSU’s men’s golf team hailed from Shreveport.
In 2011, Toms received the PGA Tour’s Payne Stewart Award – the top off-the-course honor. He received the Independence Bowl’s Sportsperson of the Year in 1997 and entered the Gulf States Section PGA Hall of Fame in 2012.
“It begins with the image of the sport, and the image of the sport is driven by the players, how they carry themselves, how they conduct themselves, what people at home feel like they represent, and when 93, 94 percent of Americans say I want my kid -- I'm comfortable with my kid using a PGA Tour player as a role model, significantly higher than any other sport, it's because of players like David Toms,” former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said.
“David Toms, in addition to everything else, has been a leader on the PGA Tour. He’s been on our policy board, and all of us in the sport owe him a debt of gratitude for the contribution he's made in that regard.”
Toms hopes his resume and visions like 265 can help produce subsequent Tour stars oozing with Louisiana pride.
“I’ve always tried to provide a good example for them – on the course and off the course,” Toms said. “If that’s helped them, great. It’s always in the back of my mind – especially around (265) or wherever I am.”