Panthers off to the perfect start they envisioned

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?

That is happening for the Parkway Panthers football team and coach Coy Brotherton.

After a convincing 24-6 homefield victory over rival Haughton in the league opener, the Panthers were a unanimous choice as the Shreveport-Bossier Journal Team of the Week.

Not only is Parkway unbeaten through four games, and 1-0 in District 1-5A, but the Panthers’ defense hasn’t given up a point in three games. That piece wasn’t in Brotherton’s plan – but a clean start was in his vision.

No disrespect to the non-district opponents – Minden, Red River and Bossier – but they were all lower-division teams that a solid Parkway program expects to handle. Other than the opening 43-41 escape from the Crimson Tide, the Panthers have cruised forward, outscoring the next three teams 108-6.

But starting district against the Bucs provided a stiff test, which Parkway passed, opening a 24-0 halftime lead. The Bucs were playing without their starting quarterback and lost a key lineman, and their only score came on a long fourth-quarter fumble return.

The following game – this Friday’s encounter with another 1-0 district foe, Captain Shreve – completes a pivotal two-step for Parkway’s chances to be dancing into postseason.

“It (4-0) was attainable,” said Brotherton. “We knew all spring to this point, these first two district games will kinda make or break our year, show us where we’re going to be able to aim at the end of the (district) season.”

The Panthers were confident about their defense, and had no worries in the kicking game with Aeron Burrell back for his senior season as unquestionably one of the country’s top specialists.

Parkway installed a different defensive scheme this year, running a “Bear” defense (mostly a 5-2 front), counting on its veteran players to make the adjustment. They certainly have done so in the past three games.

“We did have some guys back on defense, so that was going to be a plus for us,” said Brotherton. “The defense has played well the last three weeks. We struggled in Week 1 at Minden, and that was alarming.

“Our defensive coaches, coach (Dillion) Jackson and his guys, got those kids ready to play. In the last three weeks, we haven’t given up a touchdown, so that’s good. And we’ve scored in every game on defense. That’s pretty impressive, what they’ve been able to do.”

As for Burrell, his kicking and punting have been as flawless as expected, and he’s getting better now.

“He’s not even 100 percent yet, battling some injuries from last year, but in the last three weeks he’s started to look healthy again and that’s been a bonus,” said Brotherton. “This (Haughton) was the first game he’s kicked off the entire game, because we were just easing him back into it, but he’s a full go now.”

The key questions offensively were in the backfield. So far, they’ve been exclamation points.

“It’s been good to get Antonio Gladney at running back and KB (Kaleb Williams) at quarterback some experience under their belts,” said Brotherton, whose offense is averaging 30 points per game. “They’ve gotten better each week – that’s always the goal, I know coaches say that all the time – but for us and our youth, that was important and it looks like they’ve done that.”

The Panthers’ secret to success is pretty basic.

“We’ve done a good job getting better each week. We’ve done well protecting the football. Those are things we need to continue to do,” said Brotherton. “When you’re young at key positions, they can look good one play and then do something bone-headed the next one. We’ve got to continue to eliminate those bone-headed plays.”

The defense, the heartbeat of this Parkway team, is particularly critical this week. Coming off a rivalry win, and facing an explosive, multi-dimensional Shreve offense, Parkway must be focused. Brotherton has no worries about that aspect.

“We’ve counted on those (defensive) guys to be leaders this year,” he said. “We have a good group of kids who have bought into the system. This is our fourth year here as a staff, so we’re the only coaches they know.

“They’re good kids to be around. I don’t think the emotions of last week will have any ill effect on the way they prepare this week.”

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High school sports aren’t just about the highlights

Insider tip: this week’s Shreveport-Bossier Journal Coaches Roundtable question being pondered by local head football coaches is one they’re enjoying.

“What’s your favorite memory from your football playing career?” Read replies Wednesday.

For today’s local players, it’s easy to suggest a few answers.

  • The senior class at Captain Shreve may not top the end of last Thursday’ 35-28 triumph over arch-rival Byrd. The Gators scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, sandwiched around a fourth-and-2 stop of the Yellow Jackets with 5:04 left, down by 1. It was Shreve’s first win in the Backyard Brawl since 2019.
  • Captain Shreve’s Jamarlon “Bobo” Otis raced 66 yards for the game-winning touchdown one snap after that fourth-down stuff. In the huddle, when Otis heard the “21 Cut” play call, he told Gators’ quarterback Brodie Savage it was going to be a TD. Hey, Bobo, got any ideas about the winning Powerball numbers tonight?
  • Across the Red River, on the same night, Airline QB Ben Taylor tossed seven touchdown passes – in the first half. Even in the recent hyper-charged scoring locally, seven TD throws in a game is amazing. To do that before halftime, against an opponent of Benton’s caliber, is stupendous.
  • Coleman Pratt made an extra point for Haughton in the Bucs’ Sept. 8 win at LaGrange. So what, you’d say, if you hadn’t read John James Marshall’s wonderful “Pratt makes a point, turns Bucs’ win into a bigger deal” story on Sept. 13. If you haven’t, use the search button at the upper left of this page. Pratt has defied the odds and consistently refuses to accept he can’t do something because he’s extra short.

Those are just a few recent examples. One of the joys of high school sports is the ever-present opportunity for young people to be part of achievements that create lasting memories in their lives, and for others. Big victories, and smaller ones. Those on a scoreboard, and those among teammates.

But as much as you wish it was all hugs and high-fives, it’s not.

None of those feats above were conjured up. They resulted from hours, days, months and years of practice, summer workouts, strength and conditioning sessions, and often plenty of time studying game tape, and always, responding to coaching.

One of the most overused phrases in sports: “people don’t know.” In plenty of cases, we do. But it is hard for outsiders to fully appreciate the commitment level, the toughness, the work ethic, the sacrifices, and the ability to learn and improve required not only to produce timeless memories and highlight reel plays, but simply, to go compete game after game, win or lose.

It’s challenging to stick with it when a coach is pushing you harder than you like. To stay the course when the scoreboard sucks. Especially when it sucks game after game.

Respect players, coaches, trainers and managers who keep pushing forward for teams where winning is elusive. Respect kids who aren’t getting to play much, if at all. Or those playing in a role they don’t necessarily like.

The easiest thing is to quit. Some do. They walk away from the work they’ve put in, give up on the experiences they could have. Most often – there can be exceptions – it’s a selfish act to give up, and doing so can open the door to much more dire consequences down the road.

“At some point you’re going to have some adversity, and you have to handle it, you have to conquer it. That’s a life lesson.”  Those were words earlier last week from Captain Shreve coach Adam Kirby, reflecting on how the Gators reacted to a 61-27 walloping by Calvary Baptist a couple weeks earlier.

Those are words that many coaches, in every sport, have shared with their teams and players, for as long as balls have been placed on tees, nets have been strung up on rims, bats have been swung, stopwatches and tape measures have been used, and ankles have been taped.

They should be heeded much more often today than ever. Things go wrong. Decisions, seemingly unfair, get made. Strong words from authority figures are spoken – a.k.a. “real talk.” Pride and ego take a beating. Feelings get hurt.

It’s at least uncomfortable, tough to take. Instead of quitting, it’s infinitely more impressive to face it head on, to listen and learn, to hang in there.

Here’s another well-used coaches’ line: “if I’m on you, it’s because I know you can do better.”

That’s a coach’s job. Not only to make his guys better players, but to help teenagers to keep pushing through struggles, working to succeed.

Those are the victories that matter most. 

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About ball, fans of local colleges can refer to The Bard

Noted scribe Bill Shakespeare, who some believe covered Man United in the 16th century, wrote it and many of us hacks since have adapted it.

“Now is the winter of our discontent …”

It’s hardly winter in the 318, but compared to the weeks-long oven we’re finally escaping, it’s not far off. My brother Monty, who turned 61 Sunday and presumably is wiser for it, said it feels like fall now. Next Saturday, it will be.

Owner of three degrees from Louisiana Tech, each in a different discipline, he’s smarter than the average bear, or in this case, older brother. Among his many talents – forestry, computer programming, nursing – he evaded exposure to Shakespeare. I did not. Woe is me? Well, that was first biblical. Back to Bill.

Discontent? Plenty to go around checking on the football on display to date at Grambling, Louisiana Tech and Northwestern State.

Not so much for Centenary, but they’re not officially started yet. The fledgling Gents held their own early in scrimmages against established Division III programs Millsaps and East Texas Baptist, and have toyed with a couple of similar start-up programs in full exhibition games over the past couple Saturdays.

It foreshadows a dramatic uptick along Kings Highway next fall when the games count. It’s already a nice enrollment spike for Centenary, which was the real purpose of restarting football for the first time since before any of us knew where Pearl Harbor was.

“The dogs bark at me as I halt before them …”

It feels that way at Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs won their opener in the final minute over Conference USA visitor FIU. But they lost Saturday night, after a thrilling rally in the closing minutes, when the leaky Tech defense could not stop just departed CUSA pal North Texas.

That was the fourth one-possession loss in Sonny Cumbie’s first 15 games in Ruston. Two of them came in overtime.

Oh, I am fortune’s fool!”

That one’s not just for unkind cuts bumming Bulldogs. It’s as grim as the end of Romeo and Juliet along Chaplin’s Lake on the NSU campus.

An 0-3 start was plausible. FCS teams on average win one of every 20 matchups with FBS foes, and the Demons opened at UL-Lafayette and Tech. They were not embarrassed either time. Not particularly close, but far from hopeless or inept.

The home opener against another ancient rival, Stephen F. Austin, looked to be on even footing. It quickly wasn’t. The Lumberjacks looked Paul Bunyan-esque ripping open a 21-0 lead seven minutes in – not that they did a lot on their own to that point, but the Demons made it easy.

This was not the same competitive level that Northwestern carried through its first two games. Not that Brad Laird’s team didn’t play hard, but it performed poorly, and after the 41-7 rotten egg was laid, he tersely sounded just as he did following last year’s 47-21 thrashing from Grambling at Independence Stadium.

In the best-timed open date imaginable, Laird will be taking roll to see who can be counted on.

“Everyone’s got to look in the mirror, coaches included, and make sure everybody’s doing their job. We’ll make sure those who are going to stay doing their job will be with us moving forward,” he said.

The Demons did find their footing last fall, and went into the last two weeks playing for at least a share of the Southland Conference title and a playoff berth. Didn’t get either, but did get hope for 2023. Current status, though:

“Have no delight to pass away the time, unless to spy my shadow in the sun …”

Over at Grambling, throw out the understandable massacre in the visit to pick up $780,000 and showcase the World Famed Tiger Marching Band at LSU. An opening loss against Howard, and Saturday’s less than impressive cruise by designated win Florida Memorial, left Hue Jackson pondering the G-Men’s defense.

“I am determined to prove a villain…”

Grambling gave up 445 yards of offense, 233 rushing, and 22 points to the NAIA’s Lions of Florida Memorial — a program that resumed football after a 64-year hiatus in 2021, going 6-21 since.

“Dive, thoughts, down to my soul …”

The Tigers start Southwestern Athletic Conference play this Saturday. Good news? It’s at home in Eddie Robinson Memorial Stadium. Better? It’s against Texas Southern, 0-3 after a 59-7 beatdown at Rice.

If the G-Men don’t get that one, then Jackson couldn’t be blamed for taking quite a few sips of his own branded tequila, Grand Leyenda – he’s a partner and Chief Strategic Officer. “The tequila takes on golden hue … “ is really, truly a promotional line from the brand’s website. I kid you not.

A parting piece of insight from The Bard, for Bulldogs, Demons and Tigers: 

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.”

September games don’t define a season. Hopefully. 

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Searching for solutions after the demise of a treasured (by many) tradition

NATCHITOCHES – The answer to the problem is Bigfoot.

Or maybe, it’s a totem pole. Or just a very big log, inscribed with school logos.

But that’s not really the solution in the “Chief Caddo” controversy swirling around the Northwestern State-Stephen F. Austin football rivalry to be renewed this evening at Turpin Stadium.

The problem, for shocked supporters including a horde of angry former Northwestern State players and alumni, is two-fold: 1) sorting through the why’s and who’s behind the sudden Wednesday announcement of the cancellation of the 62-year-old trophy tradition, and 2) what now?

The 7-foot-6, 320-pound wooden Indian statue, claimed by the winner of each football matchup between the schools, stands somewhere in storage on the SFA campus in Nacogdoches, its future unknown. Not long ago it was proudly displayed in the Lumberjacks’ athletic fieldhouse, and was relocated to their basketball arena when Northwestern visited.

But now it’s statue-non grata. Both university presidents issued a statement Wednesday formally shelving the “Chief” because of sensitivity to understandable concerns from some Native Americans, and outlining a vague path about “ongoing discussions about how best to commemorate this nearly century-old rivalry.”

What was left unsaid was exactly when the decision was reached, who was consulted to make it (obviously not players, coaches and alumni who were invested in the tradition for decades, from the widespread firestorm on social media and over coffee or cocktails), and any timeline to move forward with purpose.

When and who was involved is at best cryptic. It didn’t happen when Dr. Chris Maggio was NSU’s president, despite a polite but firm November 2020 letter of complaint to both schools requesting the end of the trophy exchange – not the tradition — from the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma chairwoman Tamara M. French.  It didn’t happen after an April 2021 resolution passed by the NSU Student Government Association later endorsed by the Faculty Senate.

Then the axe was grinding. After many years of shreds of occasional complaints to officials at NSU and SFA, in the aftermath of the social upheaval movement in the summer of 2020, the letter from French was followed a few months later by the SGA and Faculty Senate resolutions – not university policy, just their recommendations, but worthy of note.

Maggio surprisingly retired late that spring, and current NSU president Dr. Marcus Jones took over Nov. 8, 2021. At some point after that, apparently in conjunction with leadership across Toledo Bend, a decision was made. Unpopular, to be sure. But only a small circle of people knew, and whoever did used the ostrich approach. 

It wasn’t announced. Not when the Demons’ 2023 schedule was released with SFA on it. Not by SFA, whose football coach, Colby Carthel, made it clear Thursday what he thinks of the situation.

“There were rumors they (NSU) were going to turn him into wood chips or whatever for lawn landscaping, but that wasn’t going to happen on our watch,” he told Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel reporter Nathan Hague. “So he is secured out of public sight and will not be played for again, unfortunately for a lot of folks.”

All summer long, NSU fans inquired about the presumed upcoming “Battle for Chief Caddo” – after all, it was a fixture for decades — but got no answers. Finally with game day near, a five-sentence statement from the presidents confirmed the Chief was DOA.

“The main issue ex-players have with this decision is the fact it feels like it was done in the dark,” said a Facebook post by former NSU receiver and SFA assistant coach David Groman, a leader in the “Demon Brothers” support group of former players.

“It would have been nice, as an ex-NSU player and an ex-SFA coach, to be able to let the Caddo Nation know the honor and respect we had for the Chief. To let them know we never recognized this as a ‘cigar store Indian.’

“We would have heard from them the objections they have with the representation of the Chief. Maybe we could have come to an agreement to change … him, a better visual representation. Maybe not,” Groman wrote Thursday. “Maybe they could have heard the respect in our voices. Maybe not.

“I can say it was an honor to fight for Chief Caddo, but I can not say I was honoring Caddo Nation if they didn’t feel the same.”

Why this justifiable, albeit painful move wasn’t made public just after the 2023 schedule was released is puzzling and disappointing. That would have allowed months for a new trophy to be developed, one that did the same things the Chief Caddo trophy was created to do – recognize the historic relationship between the two oldest communities in their respective states, and the Native American influence that made their existence possible.

Saturday’s game could have been a celebration of a new tradition. Now the teams don’t meet until 2025. That leaves plenty of time for deliberation – and hopefully this time, collaboration past a small circle. Build some buy-in. Develop a wonderful new tradition. Fold in service activities by both schools to involve and benefit nearby Native Americans. Add some educational components. And a nice, new prize – hopefully one that is still the biggest in all the sports world. Why change that?

The “antiquated” Chief, thought to be reasonably historically accurate when Logansport wood carver Harold Green developed him in 1960-61, was due for an upgrade. Our society has made much progress since then. There are no longer two water fountains or segregated schools. Women and minorities have greatly enhanced standing in today’s America. It’s not perfect. It never will be, but it can always be better. Maybe over the long haul, this change helps, after it understandably inflamed angry emotions from blindsided Demons and Lumberjacks this week.

There’s one more twist. The Chief probably isn’t SFA’s to keep. Former Demons center Tyler Rapp points out the 2019 Lumberjacks had to forfeit nine games, including their 32-20 NSU win, because of rampant academic compliance shortcomings. SFA had to remove basketball conference championship banners, NCAA Tournament marks and other tokens of competitive success from that period.

Even the SFA record book cites results were vacated by the NCAA Committee on Infractions. So the Chief might have one more journey back to Louisiana, if justice prevails – if somebody will, as the NSU fight song ends, “fight for dear ole Demon land.” 

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End of an era:  No more ‘Chief Caddo’ for NSU-SFA football

TRADITION HALTED:  There will be no more postgame celebrations like this 2007 scene featuring the “Chief Caddo” trophy following football contests between Northwestern and Stephen F. Austin. (Photo courtesy Northwestern State Athletics)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

NATCHITOCHES – When the football teams from Northwestern State and Stephen F. Austin meet for the first time in four seasons Saturday evening at Turpin Stadium, they’ll play without the largest trophy in sports at stake, lacking the regional and national fanfare accompanying the rivalry for six decades.

Officials from both universities decided to retire a wooden statue known as “Chief Caddo” which has gone to the winner of the NSU-SFA football game since 1961. At 7-foot-6, 320 pounds, the “Chief” was the biggest physical prize globally in sports, not just college football.

They said in an announcement late Wednesday afternoon a decision on “how best to commemorate the rivalry” will be determined by a combination of students, athletic staff and the two university presidents.

For much of the historic “Chief Caddo” series, the schools were in the same conference, first the Gulf Star (1983-86) and then the Southland (1987-2021), and during that time the NSU-SFA football game concluded the regular season schedule just before Thanksgiving each year.

As the “Battle for Chief Caddo” was staged on the same weekend as other storied college football rivalries, such as Ohio State-Michigan, Harvard-Yale and other time-honored series, it garnered coverage from national media and was nearly uniformly featured on ESPN’s popular GameDay Saturday morning show.

Northwestern president Dr. Marcus Jones and Stephen F. Austin interim president Gina Oglesbee issued a brief joint statement announcing the decision Wednesday afternoon through their respective athletic media relations offices. Subsequent rampant posters on social media decried the move, although others offered differing perspectives.

The statue and the name “Chief Caddo” have been retired since the last football meeting in 2019, the schools’ leaders said, although there was no public acknowledgement of that decision until Wednesday’s statement. A letter dated November 16, 2020 from Tamara M. Francis, chairman of The Caddo Nation of Oklahoma, and an April 19, 2021 NSU Student Government Association resolution both requested the tradition be discontinued. It was unclear when exactly the decision was reached.

Stephen F. Austin won the 2019 meeting in Natchitoches, and therefore retained the trophy until the next matchup, which was expected to be the next November until the COVID-19 pandemic struck and few colleges – SFA yes, NSU no – played football that fall. The following spring, SFA withdrew from the Southland Conference to join the Western Athletic Conference, and the rivalry game was off the schedule.

Former NSU athletic director Greg Burke and his SFA counterpart, Ryan Ivey, later agreed to resume the series with a 2023 game in Natchitoches and a 2025 meeting in Nacogdoches, Texas.

Officials at SFA last week told Chris Mycoskie of ESPN+ that the statue is no longer on display and said it is in storage. The future of the statue is uncertain.

A combination of factors led to the statue being retired, including sensitivity to the region’s Native American population, along with the NCAA’s emphasis on eliminating mascots and traditions which some may consider demeaning. The issue quietly drew serious consideration just over a decade ago, during the administration of NSU’s longest-serving president, Dr. Randy Webb.

A couple of nearby universities, Arkansas State and UL Monroe, jettisoned Indian mascots during that time. Prominent professional sports franchises in the NFL (the former Washington Redskins) and Major League Baseball (formerly the Cleveland Indians) have adopted new brands. However, other pro teams (Atlanta Braves) and colleges (Florida State Seminoles) have not.

In 1960, the “Chief Caddo”  tradition  egan when the friendly rivals agreed to commission a statue of a mythical Native American chief whose tribe was settled in the locations that later became the English-speaking communities of Natchitoches and Nacogdoches, where Northwestern and Stephen F. Austin are located. They are about 100 miles apart, in a region now divided by Toledo Bend, but then by the Sabine River, relatively equidistant from each community.

The purpose was to pay tribute to the Native Americans who not only first settled the region, but provided safety for the early white settlers in the area. Historians say that if not for the Caddo tribe, the Spanish and French colonists who came to the region would not have survived onslaughts of Apache and Commanche warriors from the west and the Natchez from the east. Also, French and Spanish writers of the era reported Caddo chiefs were master diplomats who made it possible for the two European colonists to live as neighbors while their mother nations were at war against each other.

The statement issued by the presidents late Wednesday afternoon:

“As the Northwestern State and Stephen F. Austin football teams prepare to face off this Saturday, they do so with a focus on embracing our rich history and shared heritage while looking forward to the future.

“Following the teams’ most recent meeting in the 2019 season finale, the antiquated wooden statue known as ‘Chief Caddo,’ which was awarded to the winner of the NSU-SFA football game since 1961, was retired. 

“The universities are engaged in ongoing discussions about how best to commemorate this nearly century-old rivalry, which began in 1924. Student representatives, athletics staff and presidents of both institutions will play pivotal roles in shaping this commemoration. 

“The teams are scheduled to complete a two-year, home-and-home contract with a 2025 game at Stephen F. Austin.  

“Northwestern State President Dr. Marcus Jones and Stephen F. Austin Interim President Gina Oglesbee made the joint announcement.”

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Amid some stout outings, Lions roared a little louder

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

Week 2 was an early “statement week” in local high school football.

Class 2A’s No. 1 team, Calvary, blew out well-regarded Class 5A Captain Shreve 61-27. Class 4A Huntington outscored Class 5A Byrd 44-43.

Haughton went to LaGrange and hammered away in a not-that-close 43-22 romp, but using the passing game, with Christian Turner throwing a school-record-tying five TD passes.

Woodlawn dominated Class 5A Southwood 32-6, not allowing a first down until late in the game.

No shortage of good choices for the Shreveport-Bossier Journal Team of the Week honor.

The nod, in a photo finish, goes to Booker T. Washington, who went to Alexandria and slammed Bolton 52-6 – playing a quarterback who wasn’t expected to start until two days before kickoff.

First-year coach Gary Cooper explained. A misstep at school got the Lions’ starting quarterback briefly suspended, as of midday last Wednesday. 

“Brian French was our backup quarterback, and the opportunity presented itself to start,” said Cooper. “Brian’s a very good passer. He understands the running game without really practicing much, and he knows the passing game. Once he was told he had to be the guy, there were a lot of things he had to get caught up on. We kept the game plan basic and he performed very well.”

All he did was account for five touchdowns as the Lions roared. They did it together, unshaken at the late-in-game week QB change.

“The kids responded very well to Brian. We went through a couple of spring practices with Brian as the quarterback and that went well,” said Cooper. “So there weren’t doubts about the move.”

That success has altered the BTW depth chart.

“It’s actually a good problem to have – two talented kids who can do a multitude of things,” said Cooper. “We’re going to go forward with Brian as quarterback, and give Damion (O’Neal) the opportunity play a couple of positions he’s very good at – he’s a very talented defensive back, and also a return man.”

It was hardly a one-man show in Alexandria.

Senior linebacker Andrew Houston got the party started with a scoop-and-score fumble return on the game’s first play, and didn’t stop there. “He orchestrates our defense on the field,” said Cooper, “and had a great game.”

Defensive linemen Cardell Marston and Montrevion Chatman are anchors for the Lions, day in and day out. They controlled things up front at Bolton.

The romp evened the Lions at 1-1 after an opening 42-0 walloping by a strong Wossman team in Week 1 – what the doctor ordered, said Cooper, who is pleased with how they responded.

“They’re working hard. We went through a little phase of having success scrimmaging, and in the jamboree, and the kids felt, ‘we’re here.’  The Wossman game helped out in a number of ways. The score was really bad – shouldn’t have been that bad, but we had turnovers that played a big part – and the kids responded with a very good week of practice. We knew Bolton wasn’t the best opponent but the way the kids responded made me proud.”

In the big picture, he said BTW’s offensive line needs to develop.

“They’re doing things differently than before. The system is new to them, and as those kids continue progressing, it will make us so much better.”

The progress in Cooper’s first year extends far past when the young men are wearing helmets and shoulder pads.

“We want to bring pride back to 2104 Milam,” he said. “This is a place that’s very rich in tradition, and we just want to get it back to where it was, when everybody said, ‘I’m proud to be an alumni of Booker T. Washington High School.’

“It starts with being serviceable to the community. A lot of field day activities, going to church, anything we can do to shine a positive light on this school while doing things for the community, is what we want to do.”

One great opportunity on the field to spike pride in BTW comes Saturday at 5 p.m., when the Lions square off against their arch-rivals, the Green Oaks Giants, in the annual “Soul Bowl.”

Staying on task, Cooper said, is the pathway to success this week and going forward. Signs are encouraging.

“We have a group chat and last night the kids were in there saying the right things: understanding it’s just another football game we get to play. Next opponent up. We acknowledge the history behind it, understand the pageantry, but we have to play a football game,” he said. “For now, the mentality is right.”

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Halftime was a good time to enjoy something special

I never knew.

All the years I’ve spent closely watching college and high school football games, almost every one  including a halftime show with at least the home team’s band, and I didn’t know.

Many of the best shows have featured both the home and visiting bands, as was the case Saturday night in Aillet Stadium and in Tiger Stadium.

No doubt the sold-out crowd in Baton Rouge was eagerly anticipating the performance of the “World Famed Tiger Marching Band.” And they were certainly not disappointed, enjoying a trademark show from Grambling’s finest. Louisiana Football Magazine’s Lee Brecheen reported many LSU fans said it was the highlight of the night.

In Ruston, there was tailgating talk centered around halftime, with Louisiana Tech’s faithful having watched dynamic performances in 2014 and 2017 by NSU’s “Spirit of Northwestern.” The “Band of Pride” at Tech has rising stock and proved it Saturday night.

But until then, I never knew. Neither did Shreveport’s Gordon Boogaerts, a Demon football legend who  joined me on the way down from the visiting athletic director’s suite (I wasn’t in there, of course – I was in the O.K. “Buddy” Davis Memorial Press Box, an appropriate showcase honoring the legendary Ruston Daily Leader sports editor).

I knew Gordon should strike fear into the heart of any Bulldogs. In the 1973 State Fair Classic, with a struggling Demon squad facing off with the Bulldogs’ eventual Division II national championship team featuring the likes of future Pro Football Hall of Famer Fred Dean, current Evangel coach and longtime chancellor Pastor Denny Duron, Pro Bowl pass catchers Roger Carr and Mike Barber, Gordon made 33 tackles.

Thirty-three. Not a misprint. Just an indelible impact by a Captain Shreve product who has since become a successful farmer and businessman and an aficionado of beautiful roses. You probably never knew.

We navigated the west side stands, running into friends including Lady Techsters’ basketball coach Brooke Stoehr, eventually finding the elusive staircase to the field. Three steps down left Gordon briefly in the Bulldogs’ bench area, and that could have been bad if he suddenly reverted back a half-century.

There was no bull-in-the-china shop incident, although Gordon admitted he felt young again being so close to the action. We swept right, moving quickly past Champ the Bulldog mascot and the enthusiastic Tech cheerleaders, looping around to the NSU bench area in the waning moments before halftime.

Gordon was back in his element (not that he spent much time on the bench back in his day). In my 30 years as sports information director at Northwestern, I’d been on the Demons’ sideline plenty, but never at that stage of games, just in the closing minutes. I watched walk-off field goals score stunning upsets at TCU (2001) and Tech (2014). I watched coach Sam Goodwin carried onto the field on the shoulders of his players, more than once. I saw goalposts tugged down (twice). As the clock wound down, I had one of NSU’s greatest running backs, Clarence Matthews, ask me about his game rushing total, and then give me what he’d kept in his head. There wasn’t much difference, but he didn’t agree with the Stephen F. Austin stat crew.

The back of the bench area Saturday night began getting congested as the Band of Pride left the stands, moving into position to march. On the other end of the bench, there was an even larger contingent from the SON, as they’re called, massing in their purple and orange. They were first up.

Suddenly, the halftime horn sounded, the teams trotted toward their dressing rooms, and NSU’s band began excitedly streaming into position to take the field.

Northwestern-Tech, once a bitter rivalry, now not so much. For the guys wearing helmets and shoulder pads, there was obvious intensity but there was a definite pecking order – the Bulldogs were not only at home, they were supposed to win, being a much-greater resourced Football Bowl Subdivision team compared to the Football Championship Subdivision Demons.

For the guys and girls in shorts and shirts, toting instruments, trotting giddily to find their spots so the show could begin, the dynamic was flipped. Over the past three decades, the scholarship-heavy SON has earned a national reputation for excellence – mentioned in band blogs alongside stalwarts like Ohio State, Texas and yes, LSU – along with the Human Jukebox from Southern, and Grambling’s crew. That I knew.

What I didn’t know, had never seen before, was the kinship between the bands. I was later told that’s not uniformly the case, in bitter school rivalries, but what I saw in a few fleeting moments on that sideline was remarkable.

Louisiana Tech’s bandmembers were cheering NSU’s. They were encouraging them. They were high-fiving them as the SON streamed in front to start the show.

I never knew.

It was very, very cool.

I’m pretty sure Boogaerts and Duron never had that friendly bond 50 years ago.

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Bearkats bounced back for stirring opening victory

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

Down but not out.

That’s Bossier Bearkats football – last Friday night, and moving forward under new coach Gary Smith with his three decades of experience.

An 11-game losing skid ended with the Bearkats’ comeback 46-38 homefield triumph over North Caddo Friday night. Not only for the outcome, and its notable impact, but for the incredible rally, Bossier is the Shreveport-Bossier Journal’s Team of the Week.

The game had a worst-case start for the ‘Kats. North Caddo scored on a big play on the Titans’ first series, then added to the lead with an interception return TD, and followed with a long scoring drive. Last season opened badly for Bossier — North Caddo roared to a 49-0 halftime lead in a game halted then by bad weather.

“These kids could have said, here we go again, but they didn’t,” said Smith.

“I’m thinking, this could get out of hand, quick,” he admitted. “We had talked about in a 48-minute game, a lot of bad things can happen. You’ve just got to not let it get to you, overcome it, deal with adversity and they did a great job doing that.

“The thing I was most proud of was rebounding like they did. They fought back and got back into the game, and at halftime, we were still down, but it didn’t really bother them. They just kept chugging away.”

The tone changed when two-way standout senior Keyshun Johnson, part of the Bearkats’ state champion basketball team, made a steal and slam. Johnson intercepted a pass near one sideline, snaked through Titans and looped far right, then evaded possible tackles and raced into the end zone on a long interception return.

“It was a huge momentum changer. We got another score, and were still down at halftime, but I thought we had the momentum coming out to the third quarter,” said Smith. “It was just realizing that, with nothing special being said, ‘we’re back in it. Let’s get the ball and go down and score,’ and starting the third quarter, we did.”

Although Bossier opened a two-score lead coming down the stretch, the outcome wasn’t secure until the final horn.

“We never had it in hand. We knocked down a pass from the 5 going in with 4 seconds left, that could have let them tie it up (on a two-point conversion). We were up 14 with 3-4 minutes left, and of course I never feel good until that clock runs out,” said Smith. “Sure enough, they scored and got an onside kick. Hats off to them, they also could have laid down, and they fought back and had a chance to win.”

The moments after the game went final – the hours after, and the weekend – have been refreshing.

“It was a huge relief, like a monkey off our back. It was great for these kids, for the school,” he said. “We had a student section in the stands, real excited, and it was a great atmosphere.”

Despite taking over a program coming off a winless season, Smith didn’t find negativity this spring.

“It was never a bad situation. They were very receptive to the changes the staff made. It was a real positive transition. We had a good summer,” he said.

Anchors for the Bearkats, not just on Friday night, include Johnson, junior quarterback Quan Scott, and another senior two-way player, Lebrandon Davis.

Scott is “a strong leader who does a good job at QB,” Smith said. Johnson didn’t sit down Friday night and “never got a cramp. I was impressed with the way he played, and the shape that he’s in.” Davis “has done a good job in a leadership role, and ran the ball very well” against the Titans.

Bossier’s offensive coordinator is former Mississippi State defensive back C.J. Morgan, who starred both ways at Parkway. “He asked about running (former Parkway, Minden, and Glenbrook coach David) Feaster’s and (current Airline coach Justin) Scogin’s offense, and I was on board with that,” said Smith. “He’s designed his offense with that same mentality.”

Defensive coordinator Marcus Hudson “was a 3-3 guy and we’ve gone to a 3-4, and he has the kids responding,” said Smith, whose roots are on defense during a career that started at Bossier as an assistant 30 years ago. He was the DC at Airline (where he coached Hudson) under current Loyola coach Mike Greene, then head coach at North DeSoto and several years as DC at McKinney (Texas) before the last seven seasons with Jason Brotherton’s Haughton program.

“Haughton’s a great spot. It was really tough to leave, but the last of my boys graduated from there last year, and this job opened at the right time,” said Smith. ”I figure I’ve got 6-7 years left and thought It was something I needed to do.”

He and his staff see good days ahead in a gradual build.

“We have a good group of young kids. We started four sophomores and a freshman on defense Friday night,” he said. “We’re building something that can be very successful in the future.”

For the moment, Bossier is focused on preparing for Friday’s contest at Class A power Glenbrook. It helps to have such a sensational debut.

“It was a great way for us to start. Hopefully it leads to more success,” said Smith. “I see light at the end of the tunnel.”

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Burns makes the most elite cut, picked for U.S. Ryder Cup Team

BOUND FOR ROME:  One of Sam Burns’ youthful dreams became reality Tuesday when he was chosen to play in the Ryder Cup for the USA.

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

Sam Burns fans didn’t have to wait to see if their favorite PGA Tour pro was chosen Tuesday morning for one of six at-large spots on the United States Ryder Cup Team.

Burns was the first of those six announced by team captain Zach Johnson, from PGA of America headquarters in Frisco, Texas. He was joined by four major championship winners and Ryder Cup veterans — Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas – and another familiar Ryder Cup figure, Rickie Fowler.

He got the good news from Johnson Monday, and was clearly delighted when interviewed in the Tuesday morning press conference, speaking from his home in Choudrant. The six at-large choices all participated by Zoom.

Burns nearly made his Ryder Cup debut two years ago on American soil at Whistling Straits, but team captain Steve Stricker didn’t find a spot for him then. Burns was considered a bubble pick this time, too, but to his relief, Johnson went with him.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was my Number 1 goal. It’s something I wanted to be part of, didn’t want to miss out on (again),” said Burns, who is based out of Squire Creek Country Club in Choudrant. “When Zach gave me the call, (I was) just incredibly honored.

“For me personally, there’s no higher honor than to represent your country, to be a part of this Ryder Cup and tee it up alongside these world-class players and guys. I’m extremely, extremely excited,” said the native Shreveporter, a Calvary Baptist alumnus and an All-American at LSU who won the Jack Nicklaus Award as the nation’s top collegiate player.

The Ryder Cup will be staged Sept. 29-Oct. 1 in Rome at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club.

Burns is not new to international team competition. He was part of the USA’s 2014 Junior Ryder Cup Team (a combined boys and girls roster) that posted a 16-8 win over Europe in Scotland, and played for his country in the 2022 President’s Cup, won 17 ½ to 12 ½ over the International team.

But this is the ultimate international competition, and the 27-year-old is elated.

“I definitely dreamed it, many, many times. As a kid you watch every Ryder Cup and I always had this idea in the back of your head that you want to be a part of that, and you’d get to experience that one day,” he said. “It’s a very surreal experience when the opportunity presents itself. I can’t wait to be there, tee it up alongside these guys, and hopefully bringing the Cup home.”

What did Johnson see that set Burns apart from Keegan Bradley, Cameron Young and other high-ranked contenders?

“Sam is a stud athlete, number one,” said Johnson. “He won the World Match Play Championships this year. Tremendous putter, which is always good in the Ryder Cup.

“To say he meshes well with the other guys on the team would again be a massive understatement. A versatile teammate. Guys want to be around him, guys want to play with him. It’s nice to lock hands, lock shoulders with somebody you want to be around, and Sam fits that to a T.”

Burns is one of four Ryder Cup rookies on the 12-man squad making his Ryder Cup debut, along with automatic qualifiers Wyndham Clark (the reigning U.S. Open champion), Brian Harman (winner at The Open) and Max Homa. World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, Patrick Cantlay and 2020 Olympic gold medalist Xander Schauffele were other automatic selections based on money won in 2022-23 before last week’s Tour Championship taken by Norway’s Viktor Hovland.

Burns is the fourth Shreveport-Bossier product to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Tommy Bolt played in 1955 and 1957. Hal Sutton teed it up the Ryder Cup in 1985, 1987, 1999 and 2002. David Toms was a teammate of Sutton’s in 2002, played for Sutton’s 2004 team (Sutton captained that squad) and played again in 2006.

Two other Louisiana golf greats, brothers Jay and Lionel Hebert from Lafayette, made Ryder Cup squads in 1957 (Lionel), 1959 and 1961 (Jay). Current LIV Golf pro Patrick Reed, who graduated from high school in Baton Rouge, made the roster in 2014, 2016 and 2018.

Burns’ putting ability, and his strong friendship with Scheffler, has made him a popular choice to partner with the Dallas native in the Ryder Cup. Scheffler has struggled putting all season long, and although he ranks No. 1 on the Tour in most statistical categories, he did not capture a tournament this summer after early wins at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and The Players Championship.

They did partner in the President’s Cup, with Burns going 0-3-2 and scoring one point, but golf analysts agreed that was mostly due to Scheffler being badly out of form as they partnered in all but the closing singles play.

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After dominant showing in jam, experienced Cavaliers embrace No. 1 ranking

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

All systems are on go at Calvary Baptist.

Monday’s news that the Cavaliers are the state’s top-ranked Class 2A high school football team was greeted by veteran coach Rodney Guin and his players.

“It’s a neat thing for the kids. We know the rankings only matter in November and December. But it’s good that people recognize us,” he said.

Calvary isn’t downplaying the lofty expectations. The Cavs embrace them.

“We put that pressure on ourselves. We say we’re going to try to win a state championship, and we’re ready to go,” said Guin.

“We have a bunch of two- and three-year starters back, 18 total starters back, so it’s been kind of an easy deal getting ready. It makes the prep work easy and we just fine-tune things.”

Calvary looked the part last Friday night in its jamboree outing at Union Parish in Farmerville, rolling 28-7 over a 3A program that has been a steady playoff entry and reached the state finals twice in a row in 2020 and 2021.

“We played very well,” said Guin. “Super, super pleased with the conditioning, because I thought we were a little behind. We played two-and-a-half quarters against a team that’s really physical and at the end of the game, I thought we were winning in that area.

“The whole offense played well. We threw it well, we caught it well. Defensively, we gave up one big play and other than that they didn’t come close to scoring. The whole team played very well.”

Along with a veteran team, Guin likes the blend on his coaching staff.

“I’m super pleased with the staff. I’ve got a lot of great help.”

Calvary goes to Class A power Logansport Friday night to open the regular season.

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Making the toughest choices on the state sports scene

You know that business meeting you dread? The Louisiana Sports Writers Association just held their version Sunday in Scott, the boudin capital of our state, just off I-10 west of Lafayette.

A four-hour discussion that occasionally slipped into a friendly debate ensued. Incredibly, as 40 voters scattered to race storm clouds home around the state, there was boudin from Best Stop left over.

I said voters, as in the members of the selection committee for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. Every year, just before football kicks off, the committee finishes a month-long review of roughly 150 candidates by convening to pick the handful who will be inducted the following summer.

Why, you ask, would anyone dread that? A chance to talk sports with friends who are experts, and choose the best of the best to join the legends forever honored in the amazing Hall of Fame museum at 800 Front Street on the bricks in beautiful, historic downtown Natchitoches. Sounds great.

It is. And it’s not.

In a couple of weeks, you’ll see the announcement heralding the election of nine people from the “competitors’ ballot” to be the cornerstone of the LSHOF Class of 2024.

“What a great class.” That’s the reaction the announcement always solicits. That’s how each of the 40 selection committee members feel in the aftermath of voting.

Yet, every one of them (I’m one, along with local pals Teddy Allen, J.J. Marshall, Roy Lang III and Shreveport native Kent Lowe) leaves with an equal, if not bigger, sense of remorse. As deserving, as worthy, as the new inductees always are – and the 2024 class will at the very least hold its own with its predecessors – there’s regret and frustration about those incredible candidates who don’t make the cut.

They roll over to next year’s ballot – at least, the 46 finalists considered Sunday will, along with most of those others who didn’t get enough support in the semifinal round of online voting earlier this month.

But staying power is no guarantee they’ll ever get elected. Every year, roughly 50 new candidates are nominated, and 20 or so survive vetting and make their first appearance on the full ballot.

Some of those are absolute locks – I am not betraying any secrets by telling you Drew Brees is in his first year of eligibility, having been retired for three years as of 2024. The “Future Hall of Fame Candidates” list – not a complete one, but just a compilation of some of the prominent possibilities – is included in each year’s commemorative program, a full-color 108-page publication that each guest receives at his seat for the induction ceremony.

It’s a challenge for voters to not succumb to the “new and shiny” urge and give first-year candidates more consideration than those who are repeaters on the ballot. Some of those holdovers, though, have been strong contenders in previous years, and many of them are unquestionably impressive enough to take a place in the Hall.

Many are names you know. Others aren’t. The full 2024 ballot listed nominees from 27 – yes, that’s right – different sports categories, including chess, sailing, shooting, swimming, athletic training and women’s boxing, along with more mainstream pursuits.

There are world champions, Olympic gold medalists, multiple Pro Bowlers, and pro bowlers. Voters compare apples to Corvettes. Is that outdoorsman more remarkable than the world top 10-ranked tennis pro, or are the All-Star Game participants in baseball and basketball better than a four-time USA Olympian  who won a silver medal in one of his appearances?

The choices are brutal, and personal. The standards are not absolute, they’re subjective for each voter.

But in rounds of voting, like the political conventions used to have, there’s ebb and flow. That comes after a robust discussion of each sport, with committee members touting their favorites and weighing compelling points about others.

The toughest part? In each round, voters can list only five picks, in descending order, in a point system. By design, dating back to the words of Otis Harris, the Shreveport Journal sports editor of the 1950s: “only the state’s immortals in the sphere of athletics will be enshrined.”

I can’t tell you who got picked – yet. But I can tell you, that credo was honored once again with a star-studded, diverse and fascinating Class of 2024. Mid-September, I think you’ll agree. Next year, I hope you come see for yourself at the Induction Celebration.

Check for tickets. They’ll go fast.

Select definition cornerstone of judge’s injunction scrambling LHSAA playoff plan  

COLLISION COURSE:  Athletes from schools like Northwood (white) and Captain Shreve, who scrimmaged last Friday, may have new paths to the state playoffs after Monday’s court ruling against the LHSAA. (Photo by KEVIN PICKENS, Journal Sports)

By BRET H. MCCORMICK, Journal Sports

A Baton Rouge judge issued a temporary injunction on Monday that could have major implications on the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s playoff brackets this school year. 

Nine high schools – including Tioga, Buckeye, Glenmora, Rapides, Northwood-Lena and Plainview in Rapides Parish – filed suit against the LHSAA after its executive director, Eddie Bonine, and executive committee changed the definition of what a “select” school is in the summer of 2022. 

Also joining the lawsuit were Monroe City Schools Neville, Carroll and Wossman.

Before last season’s football playoffs, Bonine and the LHSAA executive committee changed the definition of a “select” school to include any school that offered a magnet program, all charter schools, and all schools in a district that offers open enrollment. 

That move expanded the amount of select schools and produced playoff brackets that were more evenly distributed with teams. However, it also created hard feelings because the move was not ratified by a vote of the entire LHSAA body.

The LHSAA consists of more than 400 member schools, while the executive committee consists of 26 representatives, including principals and other appointees. 

After hearing testimony Monday afternoon from witnesses on both sides of the issue, including Bonine and former Tioga principal Alan Lacombe (who now works at the Rapides Parish central office), Judge William Jorden of Baton Rouge’s 19th Judicial District ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. 

The schools argued that being classified as “select” caused them undue harm and damage during the postseason of multiple sports. 

All Caddo Parish public schools are now in the “select” division, but Monday’s injunction means they may be reclassified as “non-select” as all Bossier Parish schools are.

Northwood High principal Shannon Wall, who has been an outspoken critic of the LHSAA’s playoff policy change and how it was enacted just over a year ago, was the only person testifying in the hearing not directly affiliated with the lawsuit. 

“We finally got to a courtroom – which we didn’t want to do except as a last resort – and what we’ve been saying all along won the day, so we’re excited. We’re willing to go with what a majority of the principals around the state decide, but that vote never happened.

“We don’t want divisions where there’s small number of teams in the playoffs. We want the select division to have full brackets, we want their kids’ experiences to be worthwhile, but the only way that’s going to happen is to allow the principals to have a voice. That’s what we’ve been fighting for, and that’s what we haven’t had,” said Wall.

In the LHSAA’s plan adopted last summer, Northwood was among schools around the state sent into divisions in which they faced much larger schools in postseason play in 2022-23. Wall said Northwood was wrongly classified as “select” due to a clerical error identifying it as a magnet school on the Louisiana Department of Education website.

“What we’re trying to do is what’s right for all the kids playing high school sports in Louisiana. I don’t want another group of kids to lose their senior years competing in situations that are simply unfair,” said Wall.

State Rep. Michael T. Johnson, R-Pineville, who is the attorney for the Rapides Parish School Board, served as the co-counsel for the plaintiffs while the lead counsel was Baton Rouge attorney Brian Blackwell – a graduate of Shreveport’s Woodlawn High School.

Blackwell argued that Bonine’s changing of the definition of “select” in the LHSAA glossary affected every amendment that included that word and that Bonine did not have the authority to change amendments. Johnson said Blackwell used the LHSAA’s own constitution against the organization, and he was pleased that Jorden sided with the plaintiffs.

“It was a thing of beauty to watch,” Johnson said.

The LHSAA has the right to file an appeal of the injunction, but Johnson said he’s hopeful the organization will do what it should have done all along – bring the issue before all of the principals for a vote. 

The principals deferred a vote at the regular LHSAA meeting this past January believing it might have an unwanted negative impact on the basketball playoff brackets, which were to be released soon, and those of spring sports. Many principals believed the issue would be addressed at a meeting this past June, but that meeting never occurred. 

Attempts to reach representatives of the LHSAA were unsuccessful Monday evening. 

Johnson said he hopes the LHSAA can call a special meeting within the next few months – before the football playoff brackets are released in November – to address the issue.

“I just appreciate that we (in Rapides Parish) have a group of principals, a school board and a superintendent who were willing to step up and do what’s right,” Johnson said.

Wall praised all the plantiffs in the suit.

“Alan Lacombe in Alexandria, and Mickey McCarty from Neville were very essential to all this, because they’ve been catalysts and their parishes were willing to put up the money and hire the attorneys,” he said.

Monday night, Wall echoed Johnson’s hope that the LHSAA will not pursue legal action and all of the state’s principals will be included in developing a system that gains majority approval from the entire group, not just the LHSAA’s executive committee.

“Hopefully we’ll be included in the process. We’ll see,” he said. “We’ll get together to hopefully work on proposals to keep this from happening in the future.”

  • With reporting by Doug Ireland

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Haughton’s hero:  Joe Delaney starred at NSU, in NFL, before this day in 1983

JOE D:  Haughton’s Joe Delaney, a two-sport All-American at Northwestern State and the 1981 NFL Rookie of the Year for Kansas City, is honored in many ways in Natchitoches, including by this artwork in the university’s Friedman Student Union. Shown with the art is one of Delaney’s Demon teammates, Jack Brittain Jr. and artist Chris Brown (at right). (Photo by CHRIS REICH, Northwestern State).

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

It’s been 40 years now, and the tragedy is still resounding. But it also has become a vehicle for good, benefitting thousands of young people in Kansas City and back home locally.

On a steamy afternoon in Monroe, Haughton native Joe Delaney gave his life trying to save three drowning children.

It was June 29, 1983. The Northwestern State two-sport All-American and Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowl running back was attending a water park outing for children at Chennault Park when he heard cries for help outside the park, from a nearby oxidation pond.

He handed his wallet to a bystander, telling him, “I can’t swim good, but I’ve got to try to help those kids,” dashed a couple hundred yards to the pond, and leaped in. He never made it back out. One child did.

Delaney was a two-time All-America running back in 1979-80 for the Demons. After being picked by Kansas City in the second round of the 1981 NFL Draft, he joined Mark Duper, Victor Oatis and Mario Johnson on the Demons’ 1981 NCAA championship 4×100 meter relay team, earning All-America honors.

Delaney was the 1981 AFC Rookie of the Year for the Chiefs and played in the Pro Bowl. Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy, who drafted Delaney in the second round of the 1981 draft and coached him in 1981-82, said Delaney was one of the five best players he coached in his 45-year career, including nearly 30 years in the NFL. He thought Delaney was destined for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Delaney left behind his wife, Carolyn, and their three young daughters. His heroic act matched his selfless lifestyle and coupled with his astounding athletic career to make him an instant icon in north Louisiana and elsewhere far beyond the sports world. Among those attending his funeral: then-vice president George Bush.

His No. 44 Demon football jersey was retired at halftime of his final game at NSU. Since his death, no Kansas City player has worn his No. 37. He is immortalized in several ways at Northwestern, including plaques at Turpin Stadium and the Ledet Track Complex, a painting by renowned sports artist Chris Brown in the student union, and with the permanent football team captains receiving Joe Delaney Memorial Leadership Awards annually. The Demons’ spring football game has been known as the Joe Delaney Bowl since 1989.

He was the subject of a 2015 film entitled “Delaney,” part of ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 Shorts series, available through ESPN+.

The Joe Delaney Park in Haughton honors his memory and provides play space for youth in his hometown. Swimming lessons are taught in his name in Kansas City, and next month will begin in Haughton, supported by The 37 Forever Foundation.

Last fall, the “Joe Delaney Learn to Swim Program, Presented by GEHA Health” launched in Kansas City, supported by the Hunt Family Foundation and the YMCA of Greater Kansas City, reports Vahe’ Gregorian, a columnist for the Kansas City Star newspaper who covered Delaney in Kansas City and has avidly chronicled his story since. The Hunt family owns the Chiefs franchise and the late patriarch, Lamar Hunt, founded the team in Dallas and moved it to Kansas City shortly after being a founding owner of the American Football League in 1960.

The program is expanding this summer, Gregorian reports, including $10,000 in support to the Delaney37 Foundation to bolster its efforts to promote water safety in and around Haughton. Already, more than 100 local children have signed up.  By summer’s end, nearly 1,000 children in Haughton and Kansas City will have gone through the program, which will provide swimsuits, goggles, swim caps and towels that bear the Delaney tribute decal the Chiefs wore in the 1983 season.

Three years ago, a monument honoring Delaney was dedicated at the site of the drowning in Monroe’s Chennault Park. The mayor of Kansas City declared Oct. 30, 2020 as “Joe Delaney Day” on what would have been his 62nd birthday.

In 2021, a two-mile stretch of I-435 going past Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City was renamed “Joe Delaney Memorial Highway.”

Delaney was posthumously awarded the Presidential Citizen’s Medal from President Ronald Reagan, presented at his funeral by then Vice President George H.W. Bush to the Delaney family. Delaney is enshrined in the N Club Hall of Fame, the Ark-La-Tex Museum of Champions, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, the College Football Hall of Fame and the Chiefs’ Ring of Honor at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.

LSU stars ringing it up is a rising Tiger tradition unlike any other

Billy Cannon didn’t raise his arm and signal No. 1 as he neared the goalline, 89 yards later, on that Halloween night in 1959.

None of his 1958 teammates on the LSU football team pointed to their ring fingers in the waning moments of the regular-season finale, a 62-0 trashing of Tulane in New Orleans that confirmed those Tigers as national champions.

Now it’s in vogue. Joe Burrow coming off the field in the Superdome with Clemson subdued, pointing jubilantly at his ring finger. Burreaux was already Joe Cool in the eyes not only of LSU fans, but much of college football. It fit. He was kicking off the Natty celebration.

A couple of months ago in Dallas, Angel Reese spends the last seconds of LSU’s dismantling of Iowa pointing jubilantly at her ring finger. The Bayou Barbie long since had established her flamboyant on-court persona, delighting many LSU fans and plenty of avid women’s basketball followers. It fit. She was tipping off the national championship celebration.

Monday night in Omaha, having emphatically said “later, Gator,” Dylan Crews is the first of a series of Tiger teammtes savoring their late-game moments in the spotlight, pointing jubilantly at his ring finger. Crews, like Burrow, had just been annointed the premier player in his sport. Unlike Burrow, Crews has a subtle, blue-collar approach accompanying his prodigious production. His ring thing didn’t fit, but with a double-digit eighth-inning lead, not even Florida fans could protest his exuberance. He was launching the College World Series championship celebration.

Conversely, Reese drew heat from many, including some Purple and Gold loyalists, for her antics. She seemed to go toward Iowa star Caitlin Clark, taunting her in the waning moments of play. Clark later said she took no offense. To do so would have been hypocritical, since the Hawkeye hotshot had done much the same thing several times during the Big Ten season and notably to Louisville star (and now LSU’s own) Hailey Van Lith closing out an NCAA Elite 8 contest.

So in the aftermath of Monday’s grilling of the Gators in Omaha, LSU’s series of stars ringing it up quickly attracted the spotlight. The game’s ESPN telecast immediately referenced Reese, but overlooked Burrow, catching the oversight late in their coverage and in time for Scott Van Pelt’s SportsCenter show. The recovery surely was spurred by rampant social media posts showcasing Burrow along with Reese and Crews.

Very quickly on social media, the question arose – what’s the difference? Why is nobody objecting that Crews, Tommy White, Tre’ Morgan and more Tiger baseball heroes flashed their ring fingers, and a crescendo of critics rose up to rip Reese?

From some corners, there were undercurrents of racism, and sexism, at play. Reese is an effervescent personality who happens to be a Black woman. Undoubtedly some of the disgust stirred by her activity came from pigheaded people seeing someone of a different appearance doing something brash.

But her celebration was different because it certainly was directed at her opponent, Clark. You can’t get around the fact it was taunting. That’s the part that I didn’t like. The fact that it’s widespread nowadays to confront and mock foes doesn’t justify it.

Celebrate, yes. Be flamboyant, great. But don’t scurry to show up an opponent. Hurry to find a teammate to embrace. That’s how an AARP-eligible dude sees it.

If Reese had ignored Clark and trotted toward teammates pointing at her ring finger, it would be no less an iconic moment in the history of women’s basketball – not only in LSU lore, but for the sport overall.

I didn’t condemn Reese then and will not now. She’s only doing what she sees her heroes doing. She’s only doing what we’ve seen for years in pro wrestling and so much of modern culture outside of athletics. She’s a strong young woman, very smartly building her brand, and bringing in the Benjamins at a rate none of her predecessors in college women’s basketball ever could.

Was it spontaneous, or calculated for cash value? She’ll never tell. After the heat faded, it’s worked way in her favor. Reese’s fan base continues to expand. It should. She’s a special talent, a dynamic figure in her sport, whose persona not only entertains but inspires, and forces us to ponder our perspectives.

That’s not entirely comfortable. If you want to go down that rabbit hole, it’s there for your consideration.

But currently, I’ll just savor the jubilation and salute LSU’s champions. The rings fit.

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Just like they drew it up, the Tigers are back in the CWS

You knew LSU was going to roll into Omaha, right?

You knew it last fall. After Jay Johnson assembled his roster, chock full of talent, with a heavy dose of transfer portal gold to blend with returning Tigers, everybody knew it last fall.

The hype machine cranked up, Tiger fans guzzled the purple Kool Aid, and why not?

As the preseason polls began to pop out, they all agreed. LSU was No. 1.

There the Tigers stayed, until shoulders and elbows began to pop in the cruelest ways. By midseason, LSU was NOT No. 1, and the presumed sweeps of Southeastern Conference series were very much in doubt.

Hosting Kentucky in the Super Regional might have seemed like a gimme, until you looked back at the mid-April series at Alex Box. The Tigers needed an eighth-inning bases-loaded hit-by-pitch to squeak out a 7-6 victory in the final game to win the weekend.

Still, with Paul Skenes on the bump, LSU could chalk up a Game 1 win as certainly as Donald Trump enters not guilty pleas.

All Johnson had to do was not lose Skenes to a long rain delay after a short, interrupted outing. For all of the talent on his roster, Johnson’s best asset for most of Saturday was a lightning detector. The Super Regional opener finally unfolded seven hours after it was slated, with a well-lubricated 12,000 and change in the ballpark.

The Wildcats had no chance. Two TDs and a couple of PATs later, the Tigers needed only one more win.

The result was inevitable even if things were tense with a 5-3 lead heading into the top of the ninth. After LSU added a run, the great Tiger scriptwriter above brought Dylan Crews to the plate with runners in scoring position.

So the two-time SEC Player of the Year ended his homefield career in the only appropriate manner, LSU’s advantage was 8-3, and retiring the Wildcats was little more than a ceremonial exercise in the bottom of the ninth.

Geauxmaha, we comin’.

Bar owners up there are grinning broadly. The good ole days are here again. Not every Tiger fan is a big drinker, but the ones who are more than make up for the ones who aren’t.

It’s not a birthright, LSU in the College World Series. It just feels that way. This will be the 19th visit to the Cornhusker State in June for the Tigers, who have returned home on top of the college baseball world six times.

These Tigers have been perfect, 5-0 in postseason. To fulfill their preseason destiny, they’ll need five more wins.

Local hero Hayden Travinski was a third-team catcher when LSU was a dead-solid lock to win it all as the season began. He took advantage of limited opportunities, rose to the occasion when called upon in April, and in May emerged alongside Crews as the Tiger hitter opponents most need to avoid.

Now we wonder if LSU has enough pitching to win five games in Omaha. Figure Skenes throws two of them, the first and the last, and the pitching question comes down to finding ways to win three times.

Wake Forest looks formidable. Florida and Virginia are bonafide threats. But the Tigers can swing with anybody.

And suddenly, they do look a bit like a team of destiny.

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No pride in the latest NSU baseball coaching departure

NATCHITOCHES — For years, Northwestern State baseball fans have been able to boast about former Demon coaches who moved into the forefront of college baseball.

It has been an incredible run. Jim Wells, Dave Van Horn and John Cohen were head coaches at NSU who subsequently took Power 5 conference programs to the finals of the College World Series. Wells’ former Demon assistant Mike Bianco had been very successful for years at Ole Miss before his resurgent Rebels shocked everybody by winning last year’s national championship. Van Horn’s pitching coach with the Demons, Rob Childress, won 66 percent of his games in 15 seasons at Texas A&M and got the Aggies to Omaha. 

Mitch Gaspard coached with Wells at NSU, went with him to Alabama in 1994, and after three CWS trips in seven years, took over the Demons’ program when Cohen departed. He went back to Alabama as Wells’ assistant and heir apparent in 2009 and two years later, Wells stepped aside and Gaspard spent the next seven seasons in charge of the Crimson Tide.

For eight seasons (2009-16), all of the SEC West’s head coaches except for Paul Mainieri at LSU and two flailing failures at Auburn were former Demons – Childress at A&M, Van Horn with Arkansas, Bianco at Ole Miss, Cohen at Mississippi State and Wells, then Gaspard at ‘Bama.

Demon fans loved it.

Until recently. Even more so, until Monday.

Seven years ago, when Lane Burroughs was hired away from NSU by Louisiana Tech, Demon fans cringed. Any other school, they moaned. But by then, even the most ardent Northwestern supporter had to accept that the historic rivalry was, in fact, history. Tech had much more money, more students, and more to offer.

Sure, when the schools collided in competition, there was some added intensity and interest. Still is. But Burroughs got a hefty raise and infinitely more resources by moving upstate, trading the Christmas Festival for the Peach Festival. Understandable.

Fast forward to Monday. It became official, what was reported here last Friday morning as very likely. Bobby Barbier, the first NSU grad to lead his alma mater since Wells (1990-94), departed the Demons for fellow Southland Conference member Southeastern Louisiana.

Barbier was a Demon as a player (2003-06), as an assistant coach under Gaspard (2007), J.P. Davis (2008-09) and Burroughs (2015-16), and for the last seven seasons as head coach. That’s 16 years playing or coaching at Brown-Stroud Field. He was in his happy place. He was proud to wear the purple and white, and NSU fans were very proud to have him at home.

And he left to go to an in-state Southland rival? That hurt.

It wasn’t his idea; SLU athletic director Jay Artigues, once the head baseball coach at Bossier Parish Community College, pursued him. Made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

It wasn’t about the Barbier bank account. Sure, he got a nice pay bump, but the decision had everything to do with other things that Southeastern offered and Northwestern couldn’t.

The Lions have averaged about 1,400 fans per game, far better than any other of the eight other Southland baseball programs, and more than double what the Demons draw. That translates into baseball being a revenue-producing sport in Hammond, really the No. 2 sport on campus behind football.

Southeastern has the best home environment and facility in the league – one that 10 years ago was ranked as the 16th-best in the country by It’s getting even better. On the far side of the left field fence at Pat Kennelly Diamond at Alumni Field, the Lions are developing a baseball operations center, the kind that has been dreamed about for years but was never more than on a wish list at NSU.

It was not apples and oranges as Barbier contemplated staying at Northwestern or making what the uninformed considered a lateral move. While enrollment declines and staff reductions have unfolded in the last couple of years at Northwestern, SLU has almost 14,000 students and that brings in an estimated $1.2 million more in student fee support for the Lions’ athletic program than what NSU Athletics receives.

A bit of the angst was relieved Monday when NSU’s second-year athletic director, Kevin Bostian, wisely promoted associate head coach Chris Bertrand to replace Barbier.  Bertrand – a former BPCC player and LSUS assistant coach whose four UT-Tyler teams won three conference titles and made three NCAA Division III Tournament appearances – has since been Barbier’s right-hand man for his seven seasons in charge at NSU.

It soothes the sting and pleases loyal supporters writing especially meaningful checks to try to keep NSU baseball competitive. Bertrand is a strong recruiter, which is vital, considering a 13-man senior class and a sudden transfer portal signup coinciding with Barbier’s exit. Some of those players were leaving anyway, but losing freshman first-team All-Southland third baseman Michael Datallo was unexpected.

Bertrand is the first head coach since Van Horn (following the 1994 season) to take over NSU’s program with prior head coaching experience. He’ll say all the right things when Bostian introduces him in Natchitoches at 2 o’clock today.

And at least he knows right away all there is to know about the Demons’ program. That vital advantage can help him stave off what would otherwise be a disaster-prone situation, and gives him the best chance to sustain NSU’s winning tradition.

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NSU could lose baseball coach Bobby Barbier to Southeastern

HEADED SOUTH?:  Northwestern State baseball coach Bobby Barbier appears to be the choice to take over the program at Southland Conference rival Southeastern Louisiana. (Photo by CHRIS REICH, Northwestern State)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

NATCHITOCHES – Northwestern State’s baseball tradition since 1990 is second to none in the Southland Conference.

But Southeastern Louisiana’s baseball resources are unquestionably second to none in the league currently, which could result in the Lions hiring Demons’ coach Bobby Barbier.

Baseball America national writer Teddy Cahill reported Thursday that Barbier has emerged as the likely pick at SLU, which fired veteran coach Matt Riser shortly after the end of the regular season. The Lions finished eighth in the nine-team league and did not qualify for the seven-team Southland Tournament, finishing with an overall record of 25-25 and a league mark of 9-14.

An announcement could happen as early as Monday, sources close to the SLU Athletic Department indicated. Barbier was unavailable for comment Thursday evening.

If Barbier is the choice at Southeastern, associate head coach Chris Bertrand – a former championship head coach at UT-Tyler after serving as a longtime assistant at LSUS – will be a prime and popular choice to take over the Demons’ program. Bertrand has been Barbier’s top assistant in the last seven years and has been a pivotal figure in recruiting and fundraising, and has worked with all coaching aspects, including coaching the pitchers, catchers and hitters at various times.

Barbier wrapped up this season as head coach at his alma mater by leading the Demons to a third-place finish at the Southland Conference Tournament, with a 29-27 overall record, 12-12 in the conference regular-season. NSU won series over five of the other six teams in the tournament, including beating regular-season and tournament champion Nicholls 2-1.

Barbier, a New Orleans native, was a standout player for the Demons from 2003-06, helping NSU to the 2005 NCAA Tournament and earning Academic All-America status in 2004. He still ranks in the school’s top 10 list for career RBIs.

In seven years as head coach, he is 181-169 overall and 89-88 in conference play. NSU’s best league finish under Barbier is third place in 2018, when the Demons won the first Southland Tournament title in school history and won a game over San Diego State at the Corvallis Regional. Barbier was Southland Coach of the Year and Louisiana Coach of the Year that season.

NSU won nine Southland regular-season titles between 1991 and 2005, but did not win an SLC Tournament crown until Barbier’s club went unbeaten in the 2018 event. The Demons then made the fourth NCAA Regional appearance in their NCAA Division I history (1991, 1994, 2005 and 2018).

His teams have routinely produced Major League Baseball draft picks – seven in the past five years. Four of the last five years, except in 2021, Barbier-coached Demons have been the top Southland picks in MLB’s annual draft.

Cleveland Guardians infielder David Fry developed under Barbier’s leadership. As the Demons’ pitching coach under current Louisiana Tech head coach Lane Burroughs, Barbier was credited with elevating Adam Oller from a catcher to an All-American pitcher, and Oller has reached the big leagues with the Oakland As. A third Barbier-coached Demon, outfielder Nick Heath, briefly reached MLB with Kansas City and Arizona.

Barbier’s second NSU team equaled the best single-season turnaround in school history, improving by 18 wins.

Barbier began his coaching career at NSU in 2007 under Mitch Gaspard, then moved to Alabama in 2010 as an assistant under Gaspard. Burroughs hired Barbier as his pitching coach after the 2014 season.

Southeastern athletic director Jay Artigues, a former Bosser Parish Community College baseball coach, was SLU’s head coach before giving way to Riser 10 years ago. Riser went 320-224 and led the Lions to four NCAA Regional appearances (the last in 2022), but was reportedly on thin ice last season before his team won the conference tournament.

That earned Riser a contract extension which will require a buyout of $224,000 to be paid no later than 60 days after his termination on May 22, according to Lions Athletic Association president Allen Waddell.

Riser’s salary and outside income at Southeastern was essentially equal to the approximately $115,000 package Barbier has at NSU. But the Lions’ program annually leads the Southland in attendance, averaging well over 1,000 fans, and has what is considered the league’s best-funded program with a combination of university budget money and outside revenues.

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Grambling’s SWAC run tops among area D-1 baseball programs

TOUGH TIGERS:  Grambling’s second-place finish in the Southwestern Athletic Conference was the best among the three local NCAA Division I baseball teams this spring. (Photo courtesy of Grambling State Athletics)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports 

Not much went as expected this spring for the area’s NCAA Division I baseball programs, but all three were at or above .500 in conference play.

Grambling was the big surprise with a second-place overall finish and a West Division title in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The Tigers looked poised to win the SWAC Tournament but faltered just shy of the championship game.

Louisiana Tech was picked to win the Conference USA crown but things began to unravel in the season’s opening series when school RBI record-holder Cole McConnell was lost for the season. Major shortcomings in the bullpen hampered the Bulldogs much of the year but down the stretch, the bats kept Tech going.

Northwestern State was picked for fifth in the Southland and that’s where the Demons finished. But the same poll had the eventual champion (Nicholls) picked last and the preseason choice (Southeastern Louisiana) was the season-ending cellar-dweller. NSU’s Jeffrey Elkins broke the Demons’ career home run record in his senior season.

As for 2024 prospects, the transfer portal makes the crystal ball cloudy. Safe to expect lots of new faces at Tech and NSU and lots of anticipation at Grambling. 

Grambling (29-24 overall, 22-7 Southwestern Athletic Conference – second among 12 teams) 

SWAC Tournament – Grambling rolled to a winner’s bracket semifinal but was ousted in two straight games last Friday night and Saturday by Bethune-Cookman, which fell in the championship game to rival Florida A&M. 

Notes – The Tigers were outstanding in SWAC play under longtime assistant and first-year head coach Davin Pierre. but struggled otherwise. Grambling returns three All-SWAC hitters – Cameron Bufford (first base, .321 batting average, 12 home runs), Trevor Hatton (rightfielder, .305, 12 HR, 71 RBI, 27 steals) and Kyle Walker (second base.357, 25 RBI, 21 steals). 

Louisiana Tech (28-31 overall, 15-15 Conference USA – sixth among 10 teams) 

CUSA Tournament – The Bulldogs outslugged eventual tournament champion Charlotte in the opening game, but couldn’t go any further, dropping their next two. 

Notes – Frustrated to the boiling point at times from midseason on, coach Lane Burroughs sent no mixed signals. There will be a massive roster turnover at J.C. Field this summer. First-team All-CUSA performers Jorge Corona (catcher) and relief pitcher/infielder Ethan Bates can return. Seniors Jonathan Fincher (LHP) and slugger Philip Matulia will leave a void, but Tech could have 2023 Preseason All-America outfielder Cole McConnell back after a season-long NCAA suspension. 

Northwestern State (29-27 overall, 12-12 Southland Conference – tied for fifth among nine teams)

SLC Tournament — The Demons were third, with a pitching-depleted ninth-inning collapse costing them a game that would have gotten them to the championship round.

Notes – NSU set school season records for home runs (61) and staff strikeouts (469). The Demons won series over each of the Southland’s top five teams, but were 2-7 against the three teams at the bottom of the SLC. A 13-member senior class leaves plenty of openings. Freshman All-SLC third baseman Michael Dattalo flirted with a .400 batting average but faded in final two weeks to settle at .372. He’s the most likely of NSU’s four all-conference performers to return.

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 It’s summer, off to a surreal start in some ways

Crawling out of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the sports calendar is now officially into summer.

Nothing says that more loudly than 7-on-7 high school football leagues cranking up. Some begin playing this evening.

But the Women’s College World Series comes close. It starts this week, the Division I softball showdown which draws better TV ratings than its baseball counterpart in Omaha later this month. True, if the yardstick is actual attendance in stadiums, the NCAA baseball postseason is clearly more attractive. But no doubt, the combination of the WCWS and the NCAA baseball regionals signals it’s summertime.

There’s the NBA Finals beginning this week, along with the Stanley Cup Finals. That leads to Charles Barkley doing promos for TNT’s hockey coverage. It’s wacky, like the Celtics-Heat series. Anyone who correctly picked the winner in more than two games is lying.

Another bizarre sign: the wrapup of local youth baseball and softball league seasons. Once upon a time, the games kept going for another month, with playoffs finishing just before Independence Day. That left time for all-star competition and family vacations before school started mid-to-late August.

But travel ball gnawed away at the local youth leagues, and the calendars sped up. Too bad.

The MLB schedule is a third of the way gone, and the Rangers look capable of contending. Teddy Allen’s Orioles have wings. My Pirates have inevitably tumbled under .500.

Yes, it’s summer.

There’s a regional at Alex Box, as routine as it gets in college baseball. There’s a Tulane-LSU matchup, which absolutely nobody saw coming a week ago.

Somehow, the Green Wave soared from the scrap heap to the top of the American Athletic Conference Tournament last weekend. Tulane, which lost its last seven conference series. Tulane, which has the worst staff earned run average in school history. Tulane, whose 19-40 record is the worst for any regional entry since Youngstown State (16-36) in 2014.

The Tigers, meanwhile, look headed for Omaha. They can save college baseball’s best pitcher, Paul Skenes, for their second-round contest against either Oregon State or Sam Houston. After that win, they just have to take one of two on Sunday to move on to a Super Regional two-out-of-three series against (likely) Kentucky in Baton Rouge. Skenes gives LSU the Game One advantage and once again, the Tigers will be one win away from the CWS.

Airline product Hayden Travinski has surged in the last month to become a valuable part of the Tigers’ offense. He has recorded seven multi-hit games in the 13 he’s played in May. His .426 batting average and 1.362 OPS are team bests (although to be fair, his 68 at-bats, most of them lately, pale in comparison to the 207 by SEC Player of the Year Dylan Crews, who is hitting .420 with a 1.277 OPS).

The state has two more NCAA Regional entries, the Ragin’ Cajuns of UL Lafayette and the Nicholls Colonels, who swept the Southland Conference regular-season and tournament titles.  The Cajuns made a late-season charge to snatch an at-large invitation and get a trip to the Miami Regional, where they won’t back down against the host Hurricanes or their first-round opponent, Texas. ULL is 7-8 against top 50 competition. Nicholls has an exceptional defensive club and good pitching, but has to play the Crimson Tide at Alabama to open its first NCAA Regional appearance in 25 years.

The local area’s best college player, Haughton’s Peyton Stovall, is on the shelf a year after being a catalyst for the Arkansas Razorbacks’ postseason run that went all the way to a third-place finish in Omaha. Stovall hurt his shoulder swinging in midseason, tried to play through it for a few weeks, and was shut down earlier this month.

Don’t count out Woo Pig Sooey, though. SEC Coach of the Year Dave Van Horn has a magic wand, even if he doesn’t have a first-team All-SEC player.

Stranger things have happened recently, like Tulane punching its regional ticket, and the Miami Heat punching out the Celtics in Game 7 at the Boston Garden.

Next thing we’ll hear is smooth passage of the federal debt-ceiling deal.

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Conference tournaments only path to NCAAs for Grambling, Tech, NSU

THAT TIME OF YEAR:  LSU has ambitions to reach Omaha and the College World Series and is assured of its NCAA Tournament participation, but for area teams Grambling, Louisiana Tech and Northwestern, this week’s conference tournaments are do-or-die for their NCAA regional hopes. (Photo courtesy of LSU Athletics)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

Grambling’s superb Southwestern Athletic Conference season won’t be enough.

As for the conference campaigns by baseball teams at Louisiana Tech and Northwestern State, not disastrous but not especially distinguished.

Of course, down in Baton Rouge, preseason national champion favorite LSU has its sights set on the College World Series and will be among the prime contenders to reach Omaha.

As all four NCAA Division I teams of strong local interest begin their conference tournaments Wednesday, only LSU is a sure thing to play the following weekend in an NCAA regional. Grambling, Tech and NSU must navigate their league brackets and come out on top to get into the NCAA postseason.

Each of the league tourneys is double elimination.

GRAMBLING:  The Tigers went 22-7 in the SWAC and are the West Division champions.  Grambling was 27-24 overall – making its non-SWAC record 5-17. The Tigers hope to face non-conference foes next weekend and to do it they must win in Atlanta. They  begin the conference tournament there Wednesday against Jackson State (28-23, 13-17) in a 6 p.m. EST game on the Georgia Tech campus. Alabama State (39-16, 26-4) is the favorite.

LOUISIANA TECH:  The Bulldogs are the defending Conference USA Tournament champions but have an uphill battle to retain that crown and make a third straight regional. Tech (27-29, 15-15) is the No. 6 seed and opens the tournament at 9 Wednesday morning against third-seeded Charlotte (29-25, 17-12). Dallas Baptist (42-13, 25-5) is the presumptive favorite in its first CUSA season, and may already have a firm grip on an at-large invite. Second-place UTSA (38-17, 21-8) is a threat, and the Bulldogs played the Roadrunners competitively last weekend in Ruston.

NORTHWESTERN STATE: If the Demons had handled the two Southland teams that didn’t qualify for the league tournament, they might be the regular-season champions. But NSU (27-25, 12-12) went 1-5 on the road at Southeastern Louisiana and Houston Christian, so the Demons are relegated to the fifth seed and face No. 2 UIW (28-24, 14-10) Wednesday morning at 11. Only three wins separated league champion Nicholls and three teams at 12-12 in the bottom three slots of the tournament, so it’s anyone’s to win. Good news: the Demons evaded the one-and-done opening play-in game tonight in Lake Charles. Tournament host McNeese and A&M-Corpus Christi are on the brink in that contest.

LSU:  The No. 5-ranked Tigers (42-13, 19-10) follow Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Dylan Crews and Pitcher of the Year Paul Skenes into the SEC Tournament at Hoover, Ala., with a regional hosting role a virtual lock no matter how LSU does this week. Skenes won’t lose his outing. The Tigers play at 9:30 Wednesday morning against the winner of today’s Georgia-South Carolina contest. Hard to fathom, but the No. 3 seeding is LSU’s best since the 2017 Tigers were the No. 1 seed at Hoover.

But as tournament play begins, regular-season results are only points of reference for all but college baseball’s elite. While most of the SEC is going on to regional action next week, underdog teams can emerge from the SWAC, CUSA and SLC events, and often have in the past. So, for Grambling, NSU and Tech, there’s a chance.

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Southwood football turns to local coaching veteran Mike Green

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

The local high school football coaching carousel made another turn Tuesday, with a well-known name taking the reigns at Southwood.

Considering Mike Green’s track record of turning struggling programs into playoff entries, the Cowboys have renewed optimism after a spirited team meeting with their new coach.

“I told them, ‘Cowboys up!’ and they loved it,” said Green. “I’m very enthusiastic after meeting the young men today. They were all excited, and that’s a very good thing.”

Green was offensive coordinator at Woodlawn High School last season. He has previously been  head coach at Woodlawn, Huntington and Mansfield and among other stops, was an assistant at North DeSoto.

Notably, in 13 seasons as a head coach, he’s taken over winless teams and produced playoff appearances. Mansfield was 0-10 before he arrived and made six playoff trips in seven seasons. His Woodlawn teams quickly climbed from cellar-dwellers to playoff participants in two straight seasons.

“I pride myself in getting struggling programs back on the winning track,” said Green. “Hopefully with a lot of hard work, we can do that at Southwood.”

Green fills the vacancy created with the departure of Jesse Esters, whose team won its first two games in 2022 but was forced to forfeit those contests and went winless the rest of the season.  He led the Cowboys for the past three seasons, and steadily increased the roster size and the strength program.

“Coach Esters and the staff were doing some good things,” said Green, “and I hope I can add some enthusiasm and hard work, and it equates to some victories over on Walker Road.”

Last season’s Cowboys had 32 juniors so Green could have a big senior class.

The Cowboys were 0-10 in 2021, also incurring a forfeit that season, after COVID protocols left Southwood unable to have enough players for a game against Captain Shreve.

Green said he’s already making calls to build the staff and establish relationships with feeder schools.

“My plan is to get a staff assembled that can be visible on campus, because that translates to a lot of good things. My vision is to work hard, and keep the kids in our district that are supposed to come to Southwood in our school. We have some good-looking young athletes there already. We might be missing some kids who are going other places right now, and we plan to change that.”

Decisions on when to start summer workouts and “getting those kids informed on what we’re going to be doing at Southwood are my top priorities,” said Green. “We’re going to chase some of those kids who may be leaving, who could possibly come back and be part of something exciting here at Southwood.

“I’m very thankful to the administration at Southwood, and I’m very grateful to the administration at Woodlawn, and to coach (Thedrick) Harris, who’s the head coach at Woodlawn, who have brought me to this opportunity.”

There’s been some significant head coaching turnover during the offseason among local schools. Six of 19 football programs in Caddo and Bossier parishes have changed coaches.

Booker T. Washington, Bossier, Green Oaks, Magnolia School of Excellence, North Caddo and Southwood will all have new leadership entering the 2023 season.

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It all leads up to this, and is anybody happy about it?

It’s an agonizing point in the season for area college baseball and softball fans.

With postseason play either looming (for baseball teams at LSU, Northwestern State, Grambling and Louisiana Tech) or underway (just off Youree Drive in the Shreveport Bracket for the LSUS baseball club, also on campus for the Bossier Parish Community College softball team, and at home at Tiger Park for LSU softball), there’s drama.

The boys of Alex Box have been No. 1 in the country since preseason projections began last fall. Until recently, when injuries and underwhelming performances have left the Tigers desperately seeking pitching past Friday night ace Paul Skenes. He’s been lights out. Lately, the rest of the LSU staff has been lit up.

Every weekend, Skenes dominates opponents and helps a noble cause. On Feb. 8, he pledged a donation of $10 per strikeout to support Folds of Honor, a non-profit organization that provides scholarships to spouses and children of American military heroes. He has 152 Ks heading into the final weekend of the regular season, with the SEC Tournament and NCAA Regional competition assured.

No doubt his NIL and pending MLB Draft signing bonus will cover his tab. The former Air Force Academy All-American will probably spike his donation to Folds of Honor, and no doubt LSU fans will contribute generously as well.

It will soothe their frustration over a dream season faltering at its peak. Plans to storm Omaha are suddenly in doubt. “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” said the baseball sage, Yogi Berra, and he’s been proven right countless times. (BTW, Berra DID storm Omaha – Beach. He took part in the D-Day Invasion on June 6, 1944 and initially turned down a Purple Heart after being grazed by a German bullet, because he didn’t want to alarm his mother back home in St. Louis.)

Conference tournaments are next week for LSU, NSU, Grambling and Tech. Under the radar, Grambling has won the Southwestern Athletic Conference West Division with a week left to play, owning a 20-6 record (25-24 overall). Alabama State (24-3 in the East) is the team to beat in the SWAC Tournament in Atlanta next week.

Northwestern (27-22 overall, 12-9 in the Southland) is third, but not eliminated from the championship race entering the final regular-season series at Southeastern. The Southland has no chance of an at-large NCAA bid this year and the tournament title is wide open next week in Lake Charles.

Tech baseball fans are perplexed to see the Bulldogs (26-27, 14-13) not battling for the Conference USA crown they were picked to win by league coaches in preseason. Losing their best hitter for the season before the first pitch hurt the ‘Diamond Dogs, and so did over-the-top expectations after two straight spectacular seasons and several key graduation departures.

LSUS is on the same flight plan as it followed all the way to the NAIA World Series last year. The Pilots rolled through the Red River Athletic Conference, winning 25 straight, but exited the RRAC Tournament early. Monday night the Pilots were two runs down in the ninth inning of their NAIA Tournament Shreveport Bracket opener, waiting on lightning to cease above and ignite below.

This time last year, LSUS lost its opener in the Shreveport Bracket, but scrapped back to earn a trip to Idaho for the World Series, where the Pilots reached the semifinals. They’ve done it before. After Monday’s 6-4 loss to MidAmerica Nazarene, they’ll have to do it again.

A World Series trip is on the line today at noon for the Bossier Parish Community College softball team, after the Lady Cavs came up two runs shy of clinching one Monday on their home field.

If BPCC can wipe away the frustration, opportunity knocks.

Not to overlook the LSU Tigers softball team in Baton Rouge, where to the consternation of some – most  across the Atchafalaya Basin who are UL Lafayette loyalists – the Tigers host an NCAA regional, including the Ragin’ Cajuns, this weekend.

The teams split games in February, both winning on the road. So why do Cajun fans mind the 50-mile trip east? It will be entertaining, to say the least. And that’s just in the stands.

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Blue about the loss of Mansfield’s legendary MLB pitcher

Vida Blue.

Baseball brings us the best names, and in big league history, that’s one that ranks at the top.

Grant Balfour, an Australian and a journeyman MLB pitcher. Bud Weiser, an outfielder before World War I for the Phillies. Montreal first baseman Razor Shines. Yankees’ pitcher Urban Shocker, a teammate of Babe Ruth on the Yankees’ powerhouse 1927 championship team.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of others. But only a handful of MLB players, ever, wore just his first name on his jersey.

The most prominent was Vida Blue, not only Mansfield’s finest, but undoubtedly one of the greatest baseball players this state has ever produced.

Blue gave one of those unique Number 14 Oakland Athletics’ jerseys to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame when he was enshrined in 1990. It’s going to return to the display area this summer at the $23 million museum on Front Street in Natchitoches, as the shrine marks its 10th anniversary.

Vida Blue died Saturday night, age 73, in the Bay Area of California, where he was something of a cultural and sports icon. His baseball credentials carried him to the outskirts of Cooperstown.

A six-time All-Star, Blue won 209 games in the bigs, and was an integral part of Oakland’s early ‘70s dynasty. That’s a term which fits when a team wins three straight World Series (1972-74).

Not only did he win the 1971 Cy Young Award in the American League, but he was also the AL Most Valuable Player that season. All he did was lead the AL with a 1.82 ERA while going 24-8, also topping the league in complete games (24) and shutouts (8). Blue was the starting pitcher for the AL in his first All-Star Game. He made the covers of Sports Illustrated and Time magazine.

All that at the ripe age of 22. He already had a no-hitter to his credit, thrown in his first full MLB season, 1970. He combined on another no-no in 1975. He made his final big league appearance Oct. 2, 1986, for the other team in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Giants.

Blue is in the Athletics’ Hall of Fame and included on the Giants’ Wall of Honor. He isn’t in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he is unquestionably one of the remarkable figures in the game in his lifetime.

His colorful personality, and his tendency to make brash statements, made him a team and fan favorite in Oakland. At times, he was also in the good graces of A’s owner Charlie Finley, who also had more than a little flair for showmanship and supreme confidence. It was Finley who decided putting “Vida” on the back of the Number 14 jersey was a distinctive touch for a spectacular talent.

Later, it was Finley who tried to trade Blue to the Reds and the Yankees. Both deals, which would have tipped the balance of power almost absurdly to those two teams of the late ‘70s, were vetoed by everybody’s least-favorite baseball commissioner, Bowie Kuhn.

Nobody in Oakland, Cincinnati or New York named their kid “Bowie.” Anyone who did elsewhere was doubtlessly thinking of Jim Bowie, hero of the Alamo.

Few players last 17 years in the big leagues. Fewer still overcome personal problems, tied to drug use, a short (suspended) prison sentence, and a full year (1984) in MLB’s purgatory. There’s that word, suspended, again.

But Blue’s MLB story, with such a spectacular first act, also has a redemption theme. At the height of his career, he accompanied Bob Hope on a USO tour of Vietnam. He became noted for his steady involvement with a wide range of charitable activities for good causes, and that never stopped.

He worked for the Giants in community service for a while, notably being involved in administration of a little league system that served 28,000 kids in the Bay Area.

Former Oakland All-Star pitcher Dave Stewart, who made it to the big leagues in 1978, offered a powerful tribute.

“If you’ve ever spent one minute with him, you’d think that you’ve known him for a lifetime. He’s a giving man, very, very genuine, very, very heartwarming. Vida never met a stranger. He really, really poured himself into people and that’s what you love about him and that’s the impact that he had on me,” Stewart said on MLB Network’s High Heat show.

Vida Blue wasn’t perfect. He never threw a perfect game in the big leagues, either. But throughout his life, he brought joy almost every step of the way, including in an Arizona barber shop.

The owner was excited that Blue was coming by, and let it slip to a kid visiting the shop, then made him promise not to share the news. It was an impossible request, leading to a predictable response.

Kids in Scottsdale, parents and fans lined up down the block to meet the great Vida Blue.

It was just 20 years after he threw his last pitch. Now, that’s adoration.

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Purses, optimism up as Louisiana Downs marks its 50th anniversary Saturday

TOUTING THE TRACK:  Louisiana Downs racing secretary Matt Crawford spoke enthusiastically Wednesday about the local track’s upcoming 61-day thoroughbred meet, which begins Saturday afternoon. (Photo by DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports 

Saturday’s opening day at Louisiana Downs begins the 50th anniversary season of live thoroughbred racing in Bossier City. The excitement was evident Wednesday at the track’s media day, with supporters and staff cheering at every opportunity in a brief presentation.

There haven’t been ringing cheers in the grandstand in years, though. Although rather ambivalent previous ownership was a significant factor, the overriding challenge has been a national malaise, as the industry has struggled to adapt.

“I don’t think it will ever be what it was,” said Shane Wilson, who has won the last two training titles at Louisiana Downs and races at several tracks in and outside Louisiana. “When we started opening off-track betting parlors, and online wagering, it changed the game. We just left the Fair Grounds, one of the country’s great tracks. They have great purses, they have big-name horses and trainers, but you come out on the weekends and there’s not anyone there.”

New track ownership arrived in Bossier City early last year, and while there were first-year hitches – notably having to rein in plans to stage the track’s signature event, the Super Derby – Kevin Preston, the president of Rubico Acquisition Group, has Wilson and other horsemen optimistic that better days are around the corner. 

The revival of the Super Derby – unlike last year, now listed on the 2023 schedule of the industry’s information hubs, with a relatively modest $200,000 purse on Sept. 2— is one key stride forward.

“It shows Louisiana Downs is coming back. We didn’t have enough purse money (last year) to have a Super Derby,” said Wilson, who has 748 career wins and $14.3 million in purse money won by his horses. “Now they do, and they’re putting it on, and that will bring people from out of state, some of the better trainers sending in horses for this signature race.”

Improving the purse money is vital for the owners and trainers to bring their horses to Louisiana Downs. That happened with the strategic decision, reached in consultation with the Louisiana Racing Commission, to reduce the traditional 84-day meet to 61 days here and at Evangeline Downs. The move was forced by a financial crisis created by bookkeeping mistakes away from the tracks, by the Louisiana Horsemens’ Benevolent and Protective Association making a $600,000 overpayment to purses last year at Louisiana Downs, leaving a gaping hole for 2023.

The gaffe – nothing that anyone around Louisiana Downs had anything to do with — was a blessing in disguise, explained track racing secretary Matt Crawford, who trained at the Downs in the 1980s and had the track’s 1987 horse of the year, Big Sturgeon.

Another benefit – installation of new slot machines, which should hike revenue that can bolster purses.

“Louisiana Downs has been in a 10-year string of leveled-out, no purse increase. With 84 days, it was getting difficult,” said Crawford. “The slot revenue helps a little bit, and it’s going to improve even more with Kevin and the group getting new machines in here for the first time in 20 years. That will gradually build up our purses, and dropping to 61 days increased our daily distribution tremendously.

“Our purses went up 42 percent. It’s going to attract horsemen, and that will attract the racing. Every year it will get better and better,” he said.

“That’s what’s hurt this place forever,” said Wilson. “It’s had the lowest purses in the state for the last few years. Why come here when you can go somewhere else and make more money? You have to just like this area. Now, with the increased purses, you’ll see more horsemen and a better product.

“Also with Kevin, he’s opened a new restaurant downstairs, and he has another brewery, and he’s brought in new slots to bring people in. Everybody is excited to see this place might could be one of the better tracks. It used to be one of the best in the country, and we fell down to being about fourth in the state, but we’re working our way back up.”

Wilson, back home in Haughton after an impressive fourth-place season at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, is happy to be racing in Bossier City for the fifth straight thoroughbred meet.

“It’s exciting. I was a 14-year-old kid who started working at Louisiana Downs as a summer job. Now I’ve had the opportunity to race at other tracks, but we come back because we want to support Kevin. We see the things he’s doing, bringing in new people, and with the purse increase this year, we have trainers who haven’t been here before. We’re really looking forward to the meet.

“The racetrack here is immaculate always. We can train young horses, and it’s always safe. The racing office does a good job trying to help the owners to make revenue and pay their bills. The track is heading in the right direction.”

Preston was in Kentucky Wednesday for his daughter’s graduation Friday at the University of Kentucky, but in a brief video said he would hurry back for Saturday’s opening day.

The meet begins at 2:05 Saturday with seven races, and a simulcast of the 149th Kentucky Derby from Churchill Downs. The season runs through Sept. 12.

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