By JASON PUGH, Written for the LSWA
NATCHITOCHES – Twelve people does not a village make, but plenty of villages made the 12 inductees in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2023.
Family members. Teammates. Friends.
They all proved to be driving forces behind 10 athletes, coaches and two journalists who enjoyed their moment in the state’s sporting limelight during Saturday night’s induction ceremony inside the Natchitoches Events Center.
“I don’t believe anyone is self-made,” said Shreveport born-and-raised Alana Beard, a four-time state champion at Southwood High School who went on to a Wade Trophy-winning college career at Duke and became a two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year. “Ron (Washington) spoke about it earlier. Wendell (Davis) spoke about it earlier. It’s about the people who made a difference for you along the way.”
As much as Saturday’s ceremony was a conclusion to a three-day period where the inductees were honored for their accomplishments, it was a chance for them to offer “thank yous” to those who helped them reach this point.
Take Beard, whose family helped foster a love for basketball in the left-hander who helped build Southwood’s state championship machine under coach Steve McDowell.
“We’d find a park on the weekends as a family and go play one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-three,” Beard said. “I quickly realized when I was beating my brothers, his friends, my uncles, that I was pretty good. They can admit that now.”
Like many in Saturday’s induction class, Beard found great success both inside and outside of Louisiana.
Beard’s talent left an impression on Duke where her three-time ACC Player of the Year career helped lead the Blue Devils to a pair of Final Fours and their most successful era of women’s basketball.
“Alana’s legacy is one of excellence,” said Gail Goestenkors, who coached Beard at Duke. “It’s one of the lifting up of Duke women’s basketball and the excellence on the court, in the classroom, in the community and the giving back. It’s a legacy of joy, of passion. It’s a love of the game, a love of people and the determination to be great.”
Eli Manning made history as the third member of the first family of Louisiana football to reach the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
A two-time Super Bowl MVP who holds or shares 45 school records at Ole Miss, Manning joined his father, Archie (inducted in 1988), and his older brother, Peyton (inducted in 2019), in the state’s sports shrine.
Eli never missed a game at any level because of injury – a fact for which his two older brothers may be due some credit.
“Both of them take full credit for that because of the mental and physical torture they put me through,” said Eli, flashing the Manning family charm. “Coop picked on Peyton, and he felt he should pass that down to me. He’d pin me down and put his knees on my arms and start hitting my chest, telling me to name the 28 NFL teams. I basically got smart and learned all the teams by conference and by division, so then he’d start with the SEC, the Big Ten, the Pac 10.
“He’d always say, ‘If you tell mom or dad what I did, I’ll make it worse next time.’ That was always my thought with the trainers. If I told them what happened, the defense would make it worse the next time. I wasn’t allowed to be hurt.”
Instead, Eli took that out on opposing defenses, leading the Giants to a pair of Super Bowl titles while forming his own identity in the shadow of his father, a Saints legend, and older brother, who rewrote the NFL passing record book.
“After the Super Bowl, Eli’s on the podium, and in a lot of ways, you think of how much pressure that took of this young man,” said Manning’s former teammate Michael Strahan. “He had a name that is synonymous with this league. After that, he was no longer Archie’s son. He was no longer Peyton’s younger brother. He was his own man. He was Eli Manning.”
Davis, eloquent and charming, but modest, typically let his numbers do the talking – and they speak loudly especially through the prism of time.
Long before spread offenses and the Air Raid made college football a pass-happy game, Davis was establishing pass-catching numbers that would fall right in line with today’s stars.
“He’s really the forefather of receivers in this conference,” said Davis’ LSU quarterback Tommy Hodson, himself a Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer. “He was the first guy to put up those numbers. His routes were so good. He created separation and was easy to throw to because he was always open. I’m happy the kids and people in the state get to relive his career. It’s well deserved.”
Davis was named the 1987 SEC Player of the Year and worked daily with Hodson to create the chemistry that led to that award, but it was in Shreveport where his athletic talents were groomed even before he was turning heads at Fair Park High School.
“I’m a neighborhood kid,” Davis said. “We played football, baseball. We shared equipment. We found equipment. We shared that. Team was very important to us. That’s how I learned to play sports.”
After barely missing a pair of World Series championships as manager of the Texas Rangers in 2010 and 2011, the ever-positive Washington finally broke through and won that elusive World Series title as Atlanta’s third base coach in 2021. For much of the weekend, Washington’s exquisite World Series ring was as ubiquitous as his ever-present smile – and for good reason.
“This represents 52 years of grinding,” Washington said. “Fifty-two years of not ever giving up. Fifty-two years of dedication, commitment, attitude, passion and more than anything else, belief.”
Oh, and people that never left his side.
“I realized I made a difference in a lot of people’s lives and there have been a lot of people along the way who made a difference in Ron Washington’s life,” he said. “I’m blessed and just happy to be alive.”