Happy New (Fiscal) Year’s Eve to our unsung athletic heroes

It’s New Year’s Eve!

Not in Times Square, but in the hearts of those who keep the money straight for every branch and twig of the state of Louisiana.

Tomorrow begins fiscal year 2022-23. That new state budget you heard the legislature passed without too much pushing or shoving, with a not totally terrible amount of pork attached, starts functioning.

Today, the books that accountants in every state agency have been trying to close for weeks get slammed shut. That’s all but finished anyway, but today, it’s like Dunkirk. Those money people, trapped and huddled on a beach, float out to sea and the next time they touch ground, it’s in the Land O’ Plenty.

People like Flo Miskelley and Roxanne Freeman, and more accurately, those who should role model Flo and Rox, get their mojo back. They can dole out dollars again, not pinch pennies.

You’ve heard of the Tommy McClellands and the Eric Woods, and the Tynes Hildebrands and the Greg Burkes, those AD-types who introduce new coaches, extend some and have to fire others, and make major announcements and shake many hands, keeping fans happy and donors content as possible.

You’ve heard of the Brad Lairds and Bobby Barbiers, the Lane Burroughs and Brooke Stoehrs, the coaches who get a bit worked up on the sidelines at times and seem like such beautiful humans away from scoreboards. Coaches like to say, “It’s not the X’s and O’s, it’s the Jimmys and Joes,” explaining that who is playing has the most to do with who wins, not what the coaches decide to call.

Not enough people off campus at Louisiana Tech or Northwestern State have any idea how Flo and Rox made life better and work easier for those named above, those who came before them, and their colleagues past and present.

So far the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame has not inducted, or ever considered inducting, college athletic business managers. Flo and Rox make me think twice about that. Flo, especially, has a record that stacks up into the “viable nominee” category for the Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership Award, other than the fact that she was never technically a leader, never wanted to be, and was very comfortable, just like Rox, of being a below-the-radar unsung hero. So we’ll settle for a dash of spotlight in the next few words.

Flo Miskelley is a whole ‘nother column, really, a series of them. She was hired as Joe Aillet’s secretary and ticket manager. Had asked to work anywhere BUT athletics, and spent the next 40 years right there, making it work for everyone else. A few seasons later, she stepped out of secretary mode, kept the ticket work and added business management responsibilities.

Couples who had season tickets divorced, and Flo would have to put seats for an ex and new companion in another desirable but not nearby location at Aillet Stadium. Meanwhile, she kept the fuel flowing in the Tech sports coffers, and when it didn’t, Flo always found ways to compensate so coaches could still compete and win. Think about the national champion football teams in the ’70’s and the Lady Techsters’ hoops dynasty, and realize there were other sports that didn’t have that support. But most of the time, you couldn’t easily know that, and Flo was a big reason why.

Roxanne Freeman was Sam Goodwin’s football secretary, and loved it. But she put herself back in college classes, earned a degree and stepped up into administration when opportunity arose. She stayed there for 20 years and now can be seen in the stands at many NSU events.

Her predecessor was a wonderful fellow from my hometown of Jonesboro, Jack Freeman, a true gentleman whose smile disarmed any coach who was frustrated about his program’s finances. Going further back in fiscal history at NSU, you’ll find Loneta Graves, a Steel Magnolia if ever there was one, a woman who seemed like a unicorn in a man’s world of money-handling in the ’60s and ’70s. She went to work as an account clerk at Louisiana Normal in 1943 and gradually rose in the ranks, becoming a trailblazing Northwestern vice president in 1972.

In this 50th anniversary summer of Title IX, she’s more than a footnote. She was responsible for convincing Northwestern president Dr. Arnold Kilpatrick that there was money and merit to funding the first 10 athletic scholarships for women in the history of colleges and universities in Louisiana. In April 1975, Northwestern set an example that LSU and Tech and the rest followed in the months and years ahead.

They won’t go in the state Hall of Fame. Flo and Rox may not get in the Halls at Tech or NSU (Ms. Graves did get a Distinguished Service Award in 2008 from the N-Club HOF at Northwestern).

But they deserve appreciation, and on New Fiscal Year Eve, it’s a perfect time to toss some to them and those who are doing what they used to do, at NSU, Tech, Grambling, ULM, BPCC, LSUS, Centenary, and the rest.

The games don’t get played without them issuing purchase orders and requisitions for equipment, for supplies, for checks to game officials, for travel expenses on the road … the list isn’t endless but it seems to be.

Today, NFYE, the folks who make the money flow in athletic departments around our state are walking on air. Tomorrow is even better. There’s money to spend. And then, how sweet it is, they enjoy a long holiday weekend.

It’s not like a contract renewal, or a bonus, but along with this tribute, it’s a little something, anyway.

Contact Doug at DougIreland@LaSportsHall.com