By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports
NATCHITOCHES – Susan Jackson had seen it before, the Walk of Legends that opens every Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
It’s a stirring start. After the national anthem, past Hall of Fame inductees are introduced with the theme from “The Natural” playing in the background. Each hero (19 were there this time) strides to the middle of the stage, turns and faces hundreds of guests and the TV audience, and the inductee waves, briefly basking in the glow, and exits the other side of the platform.
Then the current inductees (this time the Class of 2022) get introduced, also one-by-one, alphabetically. But after acknowledging the cheering crowd, they don’t exit the stage quite yet. The first inductee in the class plays catcher, ensuring the rest don’t depart for their seats before the class picture can be taken.
So our own Teddy Allen, 2022 Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism recipient, grinned modestly, bowed, waved and walked to the right edge of the stage, then stopped and went into catcher mode. No excited fellow inductee would get past Teddy.
Not the emotional siblings of the late Eric Andolsek. Not Jay Cicero, burly rodeo cowboy Steve Duhon, or Claney Duplechin. Not even big Jahri Evans, or Cory Martin, the super-charged great grandson of 1932 USA Olympic gold medal-winning boxer Eddie Flynn. Not fellow journalism award winner Garland Forman.
But then came Jackson, all 4-foot-11 of her, the three-time NCAA champion gymnast at LSU, a 12-time All-American from 2007-10, a member of Team USA at age 11, bubbling up the three steps to the stage.
At the bottom of those steps, a moment earlier, she made an unusual request of the LSHOF staffer cueing the inductees.
“This needs SOMETHING. Can I cartwheel up there?,” she whispered, eyes dancing.
So for the first time in 63 induction classes, somebody entered the Hall of Fame actually flipping over it.
At the other end of the stage, the normally unflappable Teddy Allen, annually the master of ceremonies with a quip for every eventuality, froze. His face was a combination of glee and panic. Would Susan STOP in the middle of the stage, or would he have to catch her before she tumbled one time too many?
Just like she did in routine after routine in her competitive career, Jackson hit her mark, to the delight of the crowd, which erupted in laughter and roars. And to the great relief of Allen, who joined in, with the rest of Susan’s classmates.
“That’s just Susan,” laughed her coach at LSU, 2017 inductee D-D Breaux. “She’s going to brighten everything she does and everybody she meets. We didn’t really coach her much. She was technically wonderful when she got to us, and she worked so hard, every day.
“She is so smart, so charismatic, so passionate, so dedicated,” said Breaux, whose induction five years ago was the first LSHOF ceremony Jackson witnessed. She had seen it before.
Honing her natural talent into a national champion was the job of Breaux and assistant coach Bob Moore, who echoed his former boss’ thoughts on Jackson.
“Susan and I worked at this coaching thing as more of a partnership than a traditional athlete and coach,” Moore said. “We worked together. We were honest with each other. I can’t take credit for anything. The greatness was already there. I had the good fortune to help her relax and reach out and get her potential.”
And when she improvised, back then and last Saturday night, Breaux and Moore cheered like everybody else.
Contact Doug at DougIreland@LaSportsHall.com
Photo by CHRIS REICH, LSWA