McConathy’s latest honor is especially fitting for Bossier City native

MR. LOUISIANA BASKETBALL:  Bossier City native Mike McConathy stacked up 682 college coaching wins, best ever in the state. (Photo by CHRIS REICH, Northwestern State)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

It’s impossible to envision anyone fitting the title of “Mr. Louisiana Basketball” any better than the 2023 recipient, Mike McConathy.

From his family roots to his high school and college playing career, to his more than 40 years coaching the game at the high school, junior college and NCAA Division I levels, his entire basketball story is as Louisiana as the red clay hills on the McConathy family homestead in Bienville Parish, and the bayous and levees in the southern part of the state.

McConathy will receive the Mr. Louisiana Basketball award during the Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches’ 49th Annual Awards Banquet this Saturday night at the Baton Rouge Marriott.  It is the most prestigious annual award given by the LABC and is presented annually to someone who has made a significant, long-term contribution to the game of basketball at any level in the state of Louisiana.  The banquet is sponsored by the Baton Rouge Orthopaedic Clinic and Universal Coin & Bullion, Ltd.

It’s not unreasonable to suggest that in his 39 years coaching college basketball – the first 16 starting a Bossier Parish Community College program from scratch and building a junior college powerhouse, the next 23 returning a long-struggling program to national prominence at Northwestern State, his father’s alma mater – there are aren’t many state highways that McConathy hasn’t driven as he searched for players and built relationships with high school coaches, administrators and community leaders.

One colleague said he may have been happiest with a steering wheel in his hands, driving on roads where the tree tops touch over the center line, heading for a nearby gym or a far-away game, or on the way to a home visit with a prospect, and frequently, hustling to a wedding or a funeral, because those are priorities in McConathy’s family-values, Christian-centered mindset.

However, McConathy isn’t being honored by the LABC for his travel log.  It’s his credentials in the game, and the respect he’s earned along the way, that bring him into this spotlight.

It’s not simply that he is the winningest college basketball coach in state history, in the men’s or women’s game, with 682 victories in 39 seasons.  It could be, but there’s much more.

He is already in the Louisiana Basketball Hall of Fame for his exploits as a player, just like his father, Johnny, and his uncle, George.  They starred for Northwestern State in the decade after World War II.  His daddy was the Number 5 pick in the 1951 NBA Draft and his number 14 jersey is retired and hanging in Prather Coliseum at Northwestern State.

McConathy was named one of the top 100 prep players in the nation after a spectacular three seasons at Airline High in Bossier City, averaging 28 points per game as a senior.  He went on to play at Louisiana Tech (1973-77), where he was a two-time honorable mention All-American and finished as the school’s second leading career scorer with 2,033 points for a 20.7 average.  In 1976, he earned Southland Conference Player of the Year honors when he led the Bulldogs to the conference championship, then going in Round 4 of the 1977 NBA Draft following a 27.5 scoring average as a senior.

After being told he would make the Chicago Bulls’ roster, then getting cut on the last round, he briefly went to play in Europe but abandoned that to begin his teaching and coaching career, back at Airline High, starting the Lady Vikings’ basketball program.

In 1983, Bossier Parish Community College hired him to start a men’s team.  There was no gym, barely a budget.  After 41 wins in his first three seasons, the fourth year netted 24, and from there, 10 of the next 12 included 22 W’s or more, totaling 352 against just 159 losses in 16 years.  His teams were nationally-ranked and twice reached the junior college national tournament.

Then, after getting passed over for NCAA Division I head coaching posts at six different schools, he was finally the pick to take over the Northwestern State Demons’ downtrodden program in March 1999.  There had been only five winning seasons in 24 years of Division I membership.  Northwestern State had never been in a conference championship game at that level and hadn’t sniffed the NCAA Tournament.

He didn’t gut the roster and bring in a horde of junior college players.  He added a couple, gradually sold the players on his approach, and led that first team to 17 wins and the Southland Conference Tournament finals.  A year later, they were back in the conference tournament title game, in his hometown of Bossier City, and edged top-seeded McNeese State to reach the NCAA Tournament.

It was the first of three NCAA Tournament trips for the Demons, who won a pair of games in March Madness – the first-ever opening round game, over Winthrop, in 2001, and a stunning last-second comeback over third-seeded Iowa, the Big Ten Conference Tournament champion, in 2006.  All told, McConathy’s Demons won 330 games and two Southland Conference regular season championships, played in seven Southland Conference Tournament championship games (winning three), while notching regular-season road wins over Mississippi State, Auburn, Oklahoma State, and Oregon State and raising about $4 million in guarantee money for the general athletic budget by going against Power 5 foes over 100 times. 

That’s a Cliff’s Notes version of McConathy’s basketball resume.  It barely scratches the surface of why he personifies the “Mr. Louisiana Basketball” award.

In his 23 seasons at Northwestern State, almost 90 percent of his players earned diplomas, while the graduation rate around NCAA Division I hoops hovered around half that number.  Northwestern State drew commendation from the NCAA for ranking among the nation’s top 10 percent in the Academic Progress Rate report.

Community service was a cornerstone of McConathy’s Demons.  One initiative, an educational program with area junior high schools, brought him into the National Association of Basketball Coaches’ ring of honor when he received the 2012 Pillar of the Game Award for Education at the Final Four in New Orleans – chosen over nominees from every level of college basketball.

He was also a leader in the LABC, serving terms as an officer, and as a catalyst for years of a coaching clinic in Baton Rouge on the day of the LABC’s annual awards banquet.  For 15 years, McConathy was a voter on the USA Today coaches’ Top 25 poll, and his ballot was late only once – after a return flight from a game in Hawaii.

Servant-leadership continues to be a core principle in his life, including six decades of involvement with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  Remember his love of driving?  Ask members of various Bossier Parish CC sports teams about his driving not only the basketball team bus, but also buses and vans for tennis, baseball and softball during his 16 years there.

A few years ago, Northwestern State’s cross country team had no professional driver to get the runners to a meet at Nacogdoches, Texas.  “Coach Mike” found out, went to renew his Commercial Drivers’ License, discovered a physical exam was required, and got that done just in time to get the CDL so he could get the team on the road.

“What other Division I head coach, any sport, does that?” said Demons’ track and field coach Mike Heimerman.

“Nobody. Just Coach Mike,” said associate head track coach Adam Pennington.  “That’s just him.”

McConathy was something of a unicorn around the Northwestern State campus, seen wielding a weed eater to trim grass, sometimes around Prather Coliseum before women’s basketball recruits were arriving during a holiday when the grounds crew was off.  If it wasn’t a weed eater, it might be a power washer, or a paint brush, and it wasn’t limited to athletics facilities or grounds and it happened again and again, winter, summer, spring and fall.

“Coach Mike saw a need, and next thing we knew, we were following his lead and headed out to do whatever we could to make something better,” said longtime assistant coach Jeff Moore, now at LSU.  “Not for recognition, but just because it was the right thing to do.  Talk about teaching life lessons to his staff and players, and leading by example, that’s Mike McConathy.”

At too many NCAA Division I schools, there’s not much of a relationship between the men’s and women’s basketball programs, although almost always, they share facilities and must collaborate on schedules and practice times.

“From the day we arrived in Natchitoches, Coach Mike welcomed us with open arms and shared his time, wisdom and knowledge with nothing expected in return.  He taught me so many valuable lessons about leading a program with integrity and developing relationships within the department and community,” said current Louisiana Tech women’s coach Brooke Stoehr, who led the Lady Demons from 2012-16.

His decades of impact as a coach have overshadowed his beginnings as a player.

After averaging 28 points and being listed among the nation’s Top 100 high school seniors, McConathy resisted the pitches of LSU’s Dale Brown and his assistant, Homer Drew (later the iconic Valparaiso coach whose son, Scott, has won a national championship at Baylor); and among others, Oklahoma’s John McLeod (later the Phoenix Suns’ coach).  The college choice came down close to home, to Louisiana Tech, coached by future NBA coach Scotty Robertson, and Northwestern State, led by Tynes Hildebrand.  McConathy’s grandmother’s sweet tea in Bienville Parish helped sway him to nearby Ruston.

Billy Grisham had a very close view of McConathy the player.  He refereed many of McConathy’s games in high school and college.  The Shreveport native first saw McConathy play in junior high, and watched him work his way into a breakout star as a sophomore at Airline High.  By then, McConathy was known as “Opie” since he had a head full of red hair, like Andy Griffith’s TV son, played by Ron Howard in Mayberry RFD.

“He wasn’t anything special until his sophomore year at Airline.  From then on, he just grinned when he shot it, ‘cause most of the time, it went in, like ole (Steph) Curry in the NBA,” said Grisham.  “If they’d had a 3-point shot in his time, he would easily have averaged in the 30s.  He was one of the most prolific scorers I ever saw, along with Lou Dunbar, Jackie Moreland, Cotton Nash and a very elite few.

“He could shoot it, from way out and mid-range, and he could drive it.  When he got to the free throw line, he was automatic.  And he was a really fine point guard, but what a shooter!  He could light up a scoreboard,” said Grisham.  “You had to keep extra light bulbs around, because he’d burn ‘em out.”

At Louisiana Tech, two future college head coaches were teammates – Tim Floyd, who along with stints at New Orleans, Iowa State and UTEP, coached NBA teams in Chicago and New Orleans; and Jim Wooldridge, who coached at Texas State, Louisiana Tech, Kansas State and Cal-Riverside. They said “Opie” earned everything he accomplished.

“I’ve seen and coached a lot of athletes through the years, but even now, I can say Mike McConathy is the most dedicated athlete I have ever been around,” said Wooldridge. “He was unrelenting in his drive to improve. He would often wear ankle weights, and he was constantly jumping rope. After practice, many nights he would return to the gym and shoot and shoot and shoot.”

“He was completely self-made and his numbers each year reflected how hard he was working,” said Floyd.  “He could have started for North Carolina, UCLA or anybody else.”

That work ethic has remained constant.  Since he left coaching in March 2022, he’s still up before dawn and on the road, visiting friends and making new ones, finding ways to be of service.  He’s taken a timeout from hoops, but for his friends in college basketball, he left an indelible impression.

“He’s the Lone Ranger in a lot of ways,” said LSU’s legendary Brown.  “He followed every rule.  Two, he knows the game very well.  Mike loves kids.  He gave my grandson a break.  Peyton is indebted to him.  If you were going to send a son someplace to learn the game and learn lessons about life, you sent him to Mike McConathy.”

Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams got his first full-time coaching job on McConathy’s first Northwestern State staff, and it changed his life.

“In my career in college athletics, I am not sure if there’s ever been a better example of a leader on and off the floor than Coach Mike.  Wherever he coached, his name is attached to every record there is, but what isn’t quantifiable is the impact he has made to all of those who were part of his program, regardless of their position.  His impact has changed thousands and thousands of lives for the better, including mine.”

Said Brown: “Generally players don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.  Mike had that down really well.”

“His record-setting career will be what many recognize,” said Stoehr, “but the legacy he has left and the lives he’s touched through the years will go on to impact generations.”

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Willis’ double, Parkway’s throwers, Airline’s success among regional highlights

ON PACE:  Byrd’s Jenna Key stayed in front of Ruston’s Parker Nations and Raegan Monroe (white top) of Alexandria near the end of the girls’ 3200 meter run Wednesday, pulling away to win the Region I-5A championship by two seconds. (Photo by DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

NATCHITOCHES – Nine event champions and 32 state meet qualifiers from Caddo and Bossier Parish schools emerged from the Region I-5A track and field meet on a wild weather Wednesday at Northwestern State’s Walter P. Ledet Complex.

A late-morning lightning strike across the street at Turpin Stadium left the timing company’s computers fluttering and sent everyone scurrying for cover. Competition was interrupted in mid-afternoon by a pop-up storm due to the chance of lightning, then just as it resumed a half-hour later, a hard downpour briefly extended the delay before racing resumed in the rain.

The meet wrapped up in cool temperatures as dusk approached, but there were bright smiles shining, especially among the Airline contingent.

The Airline boys were second in the team standings. Ruston defended its regional championship with 91 points, 18 more than the Vikings. Parkway was fourth (38) and Benton 10th (27.3).

The Lady Vikings were also tops among local teams in the girls’ division, fourth overall with 64 points, just ahead of fifth-place Benton (58). Parkway was seventh (32) and Byrd eighth (29). Alexandria won going away with 114.

Airline coach Schirra Fields was fielding congratulations from his peers after the impressive performance.

“You always want to come out on top, but going in, we knew (the boys’ team race) would be between us and Ruston. We needed a great day and they needed to stumble in a few areas, and it didn’t work out for us. Proud of the kids, boys and girls, proud of the way they competed and we set a lot of PRs today. We’re peaking at the right time.”

Airline will have eight boys and seven girls entries at next Saturday’s state meet in Baton Rouge, the largest contingent in Fields’ four years as head coach.

Parkway’s throwers had a big day, winning three times in tough conditions for their events. Lady Panthers Jayla Jones (37-0 1/2 in the shot put) and Mikaylah Williams (119-8 in the discus) were gold medalists along with Devon Oliver’s 164-5 boys’ discus triumph.

Benton senior Jamie Willis swept the girls’ hurdles, racing 100 meters in 14.71 and coming back to claim the 300 in 46.51.                                                                                                          

“That 100 was just what I was looking for,” she said. “I wanted to break 15 before I went to state this time. The 300? Could’ve been a little better, but I’m still happy.”

She broke through in last year’s regional meet and was the hurdler to beat. Nobody could do it, although Willis credited a little luck playing a role in the 300 race.

“I still get as nervous as anybody else, because anything can happen,” she said. “That girl in Lane 5 probably woulda whooped my butt, had she not messed up a little bit. It was a tight race, so I was happy I prevailed. I did good.”

Other local winners: the Airline boys’ 4×200 meter relay (1:27.93), Airline’s Jeremiah Boudreaux in the boys’ 110 hurdles (14.77), Evan Johnson of Captain Shreve in the boys’ 3200 (9:34.39), and Jenna Key of Byrd in the girls’ 3200.

Boudreaux scored 24 ½ points, second among all male competitors. In the girls’ individual standings, Airline sprinter Kezyriah Sykes put up 26 points while Benton’s Willis notched 20 with her pair of firsts.

Trying to shake off the flu is difficult, especially when preparing to run two distance races aiming for a top three finish and a state meet berth. Key was able to overcome the obstacles, taking third in the 1600 (5:18.31) and coming back later to win a three-way battle in the 3200.

Key won in 11:27.39, stretching her lead in the final 200 meters over Raegan Monroe of Alexandria (11:29.55) and Ruston’s Parker Nations (11:35.61).

“I really didn’t get better until 2-3 days ago, so I think I did pretty good for having a down week. Running both races is tough. But I had a lot of people that pushed me, and it was definitely challenging,” she said. “I really wanted to give up (in the 3200). I thought, ‘technically, I only have to get third (to make the state meet),’ but I pushed it to another gear. I was tired.”

Soaked, too. But very happy. 

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April, when hope springs eternal, and you’re not sure what to wear

It’s a glorious month, April, when the heater and the air conditioning are both in use, sometimes on the same day, yet are also often idle.

Just when you think you’ll not wear that sweater again until about Halloween, you find out otherwise.

It’s NFL Draft month. I’m not into mock drafts or draft guides or anything related to the draft except when it is actually happening and after it ends. I like when former players, favored fans, cute kids and heroic humans get the call to announce their favorite team’s pick. I like when an overjoyed pick messes up Roger Goodell’s helmet hair. I love when some family member, girlfriend, pal or pet does something bizarre while the man of the moment is in camera focus.

It’s spring game month. Not long ago, that was a big deal. Now there’s this transfer portal. Ask Coach Prime about that. When I last checked, over 40 Colorado players were in a snow-dusted game Saturday and in the portal a couple of days later. While 40-plus is extreme (so is Deion), the reality is some players who looked good in your team’s game are now looking elsewhere, and the coaches were already looking at their shopping lists, hoping to plug gaps they knew they had – before the surprise departures.

It’s the first month of MLB, of NBA and NHL postseason. Other than our Shreveport Mudbugs, I don’t closely follow hockey, which has been too bad for a fan of all things Pittsburgh – until this April, when the Penguins failed to reach the playoffs for the first time in 16 seasons, despite a winning record (40-31-10). Reaction: clean sweep of the coach and front office leaders. Meanwhile, the Pirates, who I have faithfully followed since their last decade in Forbes Field, have stolen the good karma along the Allegheny and shockingly have one of best starts in baseball. I do not want April to end.

The NBA? I’m just glad I have Shaq and Sir Charles to entertain me after I watch the last 4-5 minutes (actual time, not game clock time). NBA players are some of the world’s top athletes, and I’ll keep an eye on North Caddo High alumnus Robert Williams III. He does some really nice things quietly around his old stomping grounds, and like another former Celtics center from here, he has a really great nickname (“Time Lord”).

It’s Masters’ month. Four days of golf lore, wrapped in a botanical fireworks show, with a soundtrack of Ray Charles crooning “Georgia on My Mind.” And in these parts, we can hammer some boiled crawfish and watch. And cheer for future Masters’ champ Sam Burns.

It’s the grand finale of the greatest extended spectacle in American sports, March Madness. The Final Four almost always wraps up in April. This year we had a strong rooting interest with Benton’s Emily Ward as captain of Kim Mulkey’s LSU women, and Shreveporter Jennifer Roberts on the basketball staff as “Director of Player Personnel and Influence.” Translated:  she helps players maximize NIL opportunities. Don’t believe she advised Angel Reese to chide Caitlin Clark in the closing moments, but that’s worked out well for Reese’s bank account.

It’s when they run the Boston Marathon, the world’s most epic distance race. Not even the Olympic marathon can captivate a city like the Boston Marathon. The world’s best run there, and so do some of the most remarkable competitors in our community, like the incomparable Frank Bright. The 80-year-old retired Shreveport attorney ran in his 20th Boston race last Monday, and finished third in his age group. This nice guy never finishes last.

It’s postseason for high school spring sports. The LHSAA website does a fine job providing timely final score updates – except in golf. Regional boys championships were Monday. Tuesday night, still not Result One to be found at Golf doesn’t continue after sundown. Tennis does, and Monday night every match at the state championships in Monroe was posted. 

It’s the peak of college commitments for winter and spring sports. For example, after sweeping the LSWA and LABC Class 4A boys’ Outstanding Player awards, Bossier’s Tahj Roots has decided to cross the Red River and play for the strong LSUS Pilots’ program guided by Kyle Blankenship. It’s great to see local talent stay home, or nearby, if it makes sense for them.

Speaking of LSUS, how about that Pilot baseball team? Peaking at the right time is an understatement. That winning streak is now 19, the longest streak anywhere in NAIA baseball. LSUS has thrown six straight shutouts in Red River Athletic Conference “competition,” outscoring those foes 84-0.  The Pilots are 37-6, RRAC champs (with solid 2-3 chasers in Louisiana College and LSUA) and primed to make back-to-back runs at the national championship after last year’s surge to the NAIA World Series semis.

Give me April ahead of nearly any month. And another round of crawfish, please.

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Airline turns back the clock to name new girls’ basketball coach

DIFFERENT ROLE:   Tucker Cox (left), sitting next to Parkway principal and former Bossier boys’ state champion coach Jeremiah Williams, is the new girls’ basketball coach at his alma mater, Airline. (Courtesy photo)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

Starting a little after 1 o’clock today, the Airline girls’ basketball program is going “Back to the Future.”

Forty years after his father Richard took over as the Lady Vikings coach, Tucker Cox is taking charge of the program, and he is eager to get going on a path hoping to match what his dad did.

That would be winning the state championship, the only one in Airline’s hoops’ history, in 1991-92, with a team led by Mary Ward – now the longtime Benton coach.

“What young athlete doesn’t look up to their dad as a coach,” he said, “and just admire every move they make. It’s what you dream of – you want to be like your dad, and now I’m following in his footsteps.”

The younger Cox knows something about taking state, though. He’s been an assistant to Gloria Williams at crosstown rival Parkway, which won the Non-Select Division I crown a month ago after a bitter double-overtime loss in the 2022 LHSAA championship game.

Cox, who will be 31 in July, is a proud 2011 Airline graduate who was a standout player for Chris White’s Vikings. He walked on for a year at Northwestern State under Mike McConathy, then came home to play for Joe St. Andre at Bossier Parish Community College before a knee injury stopped his bid to make the Louisiana Tech team as a walk-on.

Airline principal Justin James and athletics director Toby Todd announced the hiring of Cox Monday, replacing Lyndzee McConathy, who led the Lady Vikings for six seasons and developed a consistent playoff program. She stepped away to focus on parenting her young children and will be an assistant at Benton.

Cox was an assistant at Parkway for seven seasons after graduating from Tech, beginning as a student teacher. He had no intention of coaching girls’ basketball, but Williams had to take some time off due to illness and in the interim, Cox was persuaded to help the Lady Panthers in 2016-17.

“It’s been all girls’ basketball ever since,” he said.

Cox was buying new coaching whistles late Monday afternoon, then pulling up at his dad’s house.

“I’ve been so lucky to be around people who have been tremendous influences, people who love on kids, not only win ballgames but win at life, and teach kids how to act and do the right thing. That’s the same kind of standard I plan to bring as coach.

“My first two years at Parkway, we didn’t win 10 games combined. Since, it’s been special. You kind of forget how to lose. We’ve been on an incredible run at Parkway and more success is ahead there. It’s bittersweet to leave,” he said.

“But the way those girls worked, it’s not by accident. (Parkway superstar) Mikaylah Williams is very talented, but she’s up at 5 a.m. to work out,” he said. “You need girls who will work on their own, not wake up and expect to be great.”

The process starts today for Cox and his Lady Vikings.

“I think it’s as good a job as there is in the state,” he said. “There’s everything you need here – great support, a great administration, a program on sound footing. I’m just so blessed.”

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Super Derby at Louisiana Downs seems back on track despite reduction in racing days

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

When the Louisiana Racing Commission meets today at Delta Downs in Vinton, another step to returning the Super Derby to Bossier City’s Louisiana Downs is expected.

The commission will consider LaDowns’ stakes race schedule, which does include a Sept. 2 Super Derby, a $200,000 event for 3-year-olds going 1 1/8 miles, without a graded designation. That has been listed at Bloodhorse via the National Stakes Conditions Book, a precursor to alert the nation’s horsemen.

It will be the first time the Super Derby has been run since 2019. After taking over last winter, Louisiana Downs Racetrack and Casino owner Kevin Preston last spring announced a commitment to return the race as a $300,000 event last Sept. 10, but a reduction in purses late in last year’s meet was among factors that quashed the renewal.

The Super Derby has been the highest-profile race run at the local track since the first one was staged in 1980. However, steep attendance declines and other factors, including the 2020 pandemic, have stalled the race’s renewal.

However, the 2023 Super Derby seems to be on better footing, said Mike McHalffey, who represents Bossier Parish on the state racing commission. The Louisiana Downs stakes schedule will be discussed in today’s meeting.

McHalffey also confirmed the reduction of thoroughbred race days at Louisiana Downs and Evangeline Downs in Opelousas by 23 days, from 84 to 61. The commission already has approved this reduction, he said, in an emergency meeting and is working with the state attorney general’s office to draft legislation to set a lower, uniform number for all four tracks in Louisiana, a topic that has not been addressed in decades.

“We’ve made some suggestions, and we’ll see how it works through the legislative process,” he said. “It was an economic disaster about to occur, because the Louisiana HBPA (Horsemans’ Benevolent and Protective Association, which handles accounting for races in the state) overpaid the purse account at Louisiana Downs $600,000 for last year. So they were short $600,000 at Louisiana Downs for this (upcoming) meet and $800,000 at Evangeline Downs, and we were in a pickle. That’s what we did on a temporary basis for just these two meets until the legislation can get worked out.

“The people in the industry couldn’t have made a living running 84 days this year,” he said. “Basically they would have been running for $85,000 a day and that’s not living wages in the horse business.

“We used force majeure, which removes liability for anything that causes a disaster that we have no control over,” he said. “We had to get all the lawyers to agree, and they did, which is a good thing. All the horsemen are happy. We didn’t really cut the time period they’re running, we just stretched it out a bit, so there wouldn’t be much dead time between meets. When they’re not running, they’re not making money.”

Louisiana Downs will be running on Saturday, Sunday and Monday to open the thoroughbred meet May 7. When Evangeline closes later this summer, Louisiana Downs will add a racing day, McHalffey said.

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Addressing the unthinkable isn’t impossible, just overdue

I’d like to write about The Masters, but like you (unless our hero Sam Burns is reading this), I watched on TV. Unlike Roy Lang III, I’ve never played the course, or visited it, unless I can count Google Earth. Unlike Journal colleagues Roy, J.J. Marshall and Teddy Allen, I’ve never been at Augusta National covering it.

I’d like to write about Benton’s Emily Ward, captain of the LSU women’s basketball team, and the Tigers  winning the national championship, and how it’s absurd for us to expect more of those (even though Mikaylah Williams arrives next season), except that Kim Mulkey is the coach and she does have quite a collection of championship rings, so many she might need to consider a natty necklace with matching earrings before she’s done. Kim’s running out of fingers.

I’d like to write about the curious case of Fair Grounds Field, its possible rehabilitation or the other extreme, REV-driven replacement, and how we won’t see an MLB-affiliated minor league team here, which brings into question whether there’s any merit to doing anything other than safely and efficiently eliminating the eyesore along I-20.

But I can’t. Not today.

Not after the latest sicko walked into Old National Bank in Louisville Monday morning and destroyed lives. Not long after substitute teacher Cynthia Broyles Peak, Captain Shreve graduate, class of 1979, was one of the victims at the Covenant School in Nashville. Not after ….

I’m fortunate that I don’t know anyone involved in these latest shootings. But when I lived in Lafayette many years ago, I caught plenty of movies at the Grand 16 Theatre about a half-mile from my house. A 59-year-old whack job took two lives and wounded nine more there in a few horrible minutes one July night in 2015. Too close to home.

I know Tommy McClelland, the former Louisiana Tech athletics director, a deep snapper on Northwestern State’s 2004 Southland Conference champion football team. Tommy and Jessica are incredible parents. They live in Nashville and have two adorable pre-teen sons. Tommy felt compelled to use his Twitter account quickly after the March 27 shooting to let friends know their kids don’t attend the Covenant School. Then he shared heart-breaking tributes to those who were lost.

I know Patrick Turner. He was a rugged center for the Demons’ 1984 conference champion team and  became an FBI agent. He was living in Las Vegas when his teenage daughter and a friend were at the 91 Harvest music festival Oct. 1, 2017, on the Vegas Strip to enjoy Jason Aldean’s show. Her dad had long since shared what to do in a nightmare situation.  The girls evaded the hundreds of rounds fired at innocents – 60 people died, 413 were wounded — and made it to a nearby building as Patrick sped toward the scene.

Sadly, you probably know of people like them. God forbid, you may know people traumatized, or scarred by these recurring tragedies, or worse.

I don’t know what we should do. What we can do. But we can’t continue to do nothing except hearing  politicians argue.

After the Nashville shooting, I admired Georgia Tech football coach Brent Key for his impassioned plea that afternoon, begging our leaders to do SOMETHING, anything, to try to end this madness. He’s not the first sports figure, just the latest, to do what we all can do. That’s demand change from those empowered to create it.

I’m not here to say ban guns, or any type of gun. I don’t own a gun, haven’t fired one since I was a teenager. It’s hard to argue taking away guns is the route when we know the criminal elements have mind-blowing arsenals, and there are black market pathways just around the block to obtain whatever the malevolent desires. But our nation can, and must, develop much more effective gun control.

I am for much tougher scrutiny on who can legally obtain guns. It’s obvious that every shooter has some deep-seated issues that rarely cropped up recently. Buying a gun should be the culmination of a multi-step review, not a relatively quick transaction after a visit to a shop or a same-day deal at a gun show.

Especially for those who have mental and emotional issues. There’s screening for that now, but it is unreliable. This is irrefutable: when we commit the level of resources to addressing mental health needs that our American society requires, from terrified children to confused young adults to frustrated retirees, then we’ll have our best chance to regain some semblance of the calm that our country once had.

When I was a toddler, the most jarring event in the post-World War II era took place in Dallas on a November afternoon. My first memory of television isn’t cartoons; it’s watching Walter Cronkite and some experts discussing JFK’s assassination, and I was later told, the creation of the Warren Commission.

Doesn’t matter if you admire, or abhor, President Biden. It’s time for him to stop railing about Republican opposition and be presidential. Start with Chief Justice Roberts, add an NRA representative and his counterpart, build a presidential panel balanced with all perspectives, and charge that group with swiftly developing a pathway back from the abyss. This year. Rapidly. Piece by piece is fine.

There are a lot of layers, and no commission will come up with all the answers. But it’s way past time we create some change to alter this insane course of action. It doesn’t happen anywhere else on Earth.

You know the definition of insanity. It’s doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results.

I still want to believe America is better than that. I know most Americans are.

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With lawsuit dropped, Friends of Fair Grounds Field hoping to meet with city officials

POINT OF CONTENTION:  The Friends of Fair Grounds Field hope the City of Shreveport will address health concerns about bat guano in the dormant facility, and accept the group’s offer for a no-cost expert evaluation of the potential for rehabilitating it. (Journal file photo)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Services

Through a mayoral transition, the City of Shreveport has sustained a proposal to develop a new baseball-centric stadium and entertainment district on the Louisiana State Fairgrounds along Interstate 20.

What hasn’t been seriously considered, say advocates, is the possibility of preserving the core of the dilapidated Fair Grounds Field baseball stadium built in 1986. City officials have been unwilling to have dialog with a group that believes there’s merit to rehabilitating it, because of litigation filed last fall by the group that halted demolition based on health concerns. The city has since cancelled the demo contract.

As of last week, that litigation no longer exists and the Friends of Fair Ground Field are eager to discuss what they consider a prudent, much less expensive pathway to bringing a baseball franchise and other quality of life activities to the abandoned site.

They do not want demolition to resume, first and foremost to prevent a health risk, they say, rather than simply preserving what remains of the structure. The group’s most pressing concern, said spokesman Jay Bowen, is to assure that its significant health concerns about removal of abundant bat guano in the stadium are quickly addressed.

Bats living in the stadium were removed late last summer. A count of 1,232 was provided to the Journal by contractor David Perault, who said he and associates also removed 3,000 pounds of bat waste, but more remains. That poses health risks to nearby residents and visitors to the site, says the Friends of Fair Grounds Field.

The suit, filed Oct. 3, was dropped last Wednesday “without prejudice” which allows the Friends group to revive it.

“They dropped their (demolition) contract so we have dropped our case, because they’re (apparently) not going to tear the facility down until they clean up the place. Now if they start to tear it down without cleaning it up, we’re going to bring back the case,” Bowen said. “We’re just trying to assure the city does the right thing.

“It’s a huge health risk. That’s why first and foremost why we put this case in play. We want to be sure they clean up that facility. It’s a health hazard for those who live and work nearby.

“We’re hoping that by dropping the case, we can at least sit down at the table with the city, press for responsible cleanup, and also make the case for a proper evaluation of Fair Grounds Field,” said Bowen.

“We don’t want anything but what’s best for the city. Our suggestion is to go in and do a feasibility study on our own dime. We have engineers who can tell us if it is structurally unsound as the city contended. We have architects. These people are willing to donate their time and skill.

“The city never gave us access to go in and look, and never produced anything that documents that Fair Grounds Field is beyond repair,” Bowen said. “Once we get in there to see what can be kept, and what needs to go, then we’ll know exactly. We’re proposing allowing our experts to look at no cost to the city, and from there, spending the city’s money responsibly.”

Friends of FGF believe there’s a good chance the current structure can be rehabilitated into a multi-use facility with baseball included. Soccer, lacrosse, youth sports, concerts and rodeos are potential events that could be hosted in a renovated stadium, at much less cost than building a brand-new venue, they say.

Mayor Tom Arceneaux told the Journal last month that he wanted to gather information on a proposal announced last fall by former Mayor Adrian Perkins, who entered into a consulting agreement with the Arlington, Texas-based REV Entertainment (a subsidiary of Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers) to shape a proposal for an expansive development between Hirsch Coliseum and the old ballpark, abandoned for nearly a decade.

Nearly a month ago, Arceneaux was awaiting information on financing options for building a new stadium and related development. He said it would be some time before the city was positioned to decide whether to move forward with the REV proposal.

“It doesn’t have to look like what has been there, blue tin and concrete, to serve the same purpose, at much less than the $70 million than what REV has outlined,” said Bowen.

The Friends group hopes city officials will welcome discussions soon. 

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LSU’s Reese, Iowa’s Clark give us much to consider

The spotlight on women’s basketball is far bigger than ever before. That’s good.

But in that One Shining Moment Sunday afternoon, when ABC and ESPN2 combined for 9.9 million viewers, LSU’s awesome 102-85 national championship victory over Iowa has become almost secondary to the sharp debate on social issues raised by taunting from the superstar players, LSU’s Angel Reese and Iowa’s Caitlin Clark.

That’s bad. And it’s good. Not ideal, but necessary.

As for the 9.9 million, college football writer Stewart Mandel of The Athletic provided context that we can understand. He wrote,

“That’s more than last season’s:

  • Sugar, Orange and Cotton Bowls
  • Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC title games
  • Notre Dame-USC
  • LSU-Alabama
  • Ohio State-Penn State
  • Bama-Texas A&M primetime on CBS”

If you want to venture outside college football ratings, there’s this:

“Sunday’s audience exceeded every game of last year’s NBA Playoffs except for the NBA Finals, every game of last year’s Major League Baseball Postseason except for the World Series, every NASCAR race since 2017 (including the Daytona 500), and every NHL game in more than 50 years (including the Stanley Cup Final),” reported Sports Media Watch, which noted it nearly matched the 10.2 million who watched January’s Rose Bowl.

Take that and blend in social media and the 24-hour news cycle, and the inconvenient truth is that the biggest story in the history of women’s college basketball is not anything that happened while the ball was in play.

Why? A lot of it comes back to gender and race, or traditional vs. contemporary culture. Discussing those topics isn’t easy.

Trash talk in sports has been around forever, whether or not it was noticed. Now there are cameras and microphones around not only pro and college sports, but high school and youth competition. If it doesn’t rear up on mainstream media, it’s there on social accounts.

It hasn’t flared up to very noticeable levels in women’s sports although it’s forever been typical fare for male competitors. Many basketball fans know Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan were not only among the game’s all-time greats but they were equally good at talking trash.

Women have always done the same, but with those games getting a fraction of media attention, it wasn’t apparent to anyone other than the closest observers. That has changed, and if you hadn’t noticed, you probably have in the last day or two.

It’s absurd to celebrate Bird, Magic and MJ’s “competitive” behavior while criticizing today’s female stars for doing much the same thing.

Sadly, since Reese is black and Clark is white, there are racial overtones for too many observers. Charles Barkley noted that harsh reality on CBS before the men’s national championship game last night, while he and colleagues bemoaned how Reese taunting Clark overshadowed a tremendous showcase for the women’s game and slighted an incredible performance by the Tigers.

The mere fact that the LSU-Iowa game got a block of coverage in Monday’s CBS pregame show reflected the surging interest in the women’s game — and its sudden controversy.

“I don’t fit in the box that you all want me to be in. I’m too hood, I’m too ghetto. You told me that all year. But when other people do it, y’all don’t say nothing,” Reese said Sunday night in the postgame press conference. “So this is for the girls that look like me, that want to speak up on what they believe in. It’s unapologetically you. It was bigger than me tonight.”

Point taken, and well made.

“If you celebrated Clark for doing this but not Angel Reese you gotta take a long, long look in the mirror,” tweeted The Athletic writer Meg Linehan.

Yet, while Reese stood firmly behind her taunts, nobody asked Clark about hers against South Carolina, Louisville and others. They did ask for her reaction to Reese’s antics. Clark said she didn’t notice. By now, she has. 

Lots of the more old-school people decried all of the taunting by Reese, especially when she pointedly sought out Clark in the final seconds and immediate aftermath of the game. Some said her in-game activity was tolerable, but pressing it seconds past 40 minutes was “classless.” I’d say overzealous, and over-emotional. Did not like it one bit. But I think I understand it, and I’m willing to give her a pass.

I think Clark is, too. There was mutual respect expressed in postgame comments by the 20-year-old Tiger and the 21-year-old Hawkeye.

Both stars will be back next season. We will probably enjoy the closest thing college hoops has seen since Bird was at Indiana State and Magic at Michigan State. Big difference? There’s NIL now.

Incredibly, Clark’s NIL valuation is under $200,000, half of Reese’s. But there’s no denying that Clark’s spectacular season and sensational NCAA performances have made her the game’s focal figure, and drew fans to the game like nobody else has.

Reese earned the “Bayou Barbie” nickname this year, her first at LSU after transferring from Maryland. Her sense of style extends to the court, blending there with her often-dominating brand of basketball.

They have forced us to contemplate some tough issues, producing some uncomfortable discussion. No question, their NIL values are soaring, and they’ll be better off for it.

Hopefully we will, too.

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Wondering if there’s a little magic left in the shrewdly-managed Mulkey Miracle

Watching the Ohio State-Virginia Tech women’s basketball regional final, where the halftime score is 48-45, and remembering LSU’s 54-42 victory over Miami the night before.

Didn’t watch Iowa’s 97-83 regional championship win Sunday night over Louisville, but our lunch bunch women’s basketball expert, Steve Graf, reported Monday that Hawkeyes’ guard Caitlin Clark is the best college player in America, male or female. Her 41-point, 10-rebound, 12-assist performance supports Graf’s assessment, which was drawn from his eyeballs, not analytics.

Tuned in last night at the end of South Carolina’s 86-75 cruise past Maryland, only to get the final score. We all knew the Gamecocks would roll, because Kim Mulkey told us so in LSU’s postgame press conference Sunday night.

You gonna argue with Kim? I’m not gonna argue with Kim. NCAA Tournament officials don’t. They endure her histrionics and don’t dare to hit her with a technical foul, when any other coach grimacing and grousing at that level would be served an unsweet T. She’s earned the right with her resume’.

I am gonna disagree with Kim, while I praise her (and her wardrobe). She’s shrewdly developed her second Tiger team – that nobody, nowhere thought would still be playing this week – and a vital part of that was patience. Patience was possible because Mulkey made it so.

Referring you back to the Nov. 16 Journal:

While she fits new pieces together with her second Tigers’ team, and awaits the arrival next season of Parkway’s extraordinary student-athlete Mikaylah Williams, Mulkey’s non-conference schedule is softer than your pillow.  Her team will face tougher tests during fall semester final exams.

Sunday night, Mulkey made reference to critics of the pliable part of the 2022-23 slate. Obviously the attention paid to the layup drill schedule prior to Southeastern Conference competition is a burr in the Tigers’ saddle.

LSU’s strength of schedule in the NCAA’s ratings? Try 315, of roughly 350 Division I teams. Question that? Bellarmine, Mississippi Valley, Western Carolina, Houston Christian, Northwestern State, all at home to begin. George Mason and UAB in the Bahamas, then back to the PMAC for Southeastern Louisiana, down to Tulane (the toughest test before SEC play), home for Lamar, then to Hawaii for Montana State and Oregon State. The only NCAA Tournament team: the Lady Lions of Southeastern.

So what did LSU get out of that cakewalk? There were points of contention. SLU remarkably played LSU to 63-55 on Nov. 29, making former Lady Lion star Robin Roberts (who played with a ponytail, compared to Mulkey’s pigtails) proud. In the next outing, just off St. Charles Avenue in cozy Fogelman Arena, Tulane stayed in range at 85-73.

Here’s what that not-very-competitive cruise through November and December did for LSU. There was steady development without any crisis of confidence in an unproven group. Of course the toughest times were in practice with the masterful Mulkey bringing along her refurbished roster to prepare for the SEC, and March.

All of this makes me wonder if LSU can keep up Friday night in Dallas at the Women’s Final Four.

Doesn’t look like the Tigers can score with Virginia Tech, who hung 87 on Ohio State.

Until you mention one of Mulkey’s favorite words: defense. None of the three other Final Four teams D-up as well. South Carolina, with Philly street-tough coach Dawn Staley, is the only one comparable.

LSU will have a decided homecourt advantage with DFW-area alumni.

I’ll take the Tigers in the semis, to gobble up VaTech. Bet the under.

It’s hard to forecast a South Carolina loss, especially glancing back at the Gamecocks’ 88-64 victory over LSU Feb. 12 – at Columbia, S.C.  However, it was not a 40-minute mangling – the spread was just five late in the third quarter.

If the two square off Sunday night for the natty, I’d take LSU and the points. If there are not too many points on the scoreboard, Mulkey might just pull off the biggest surprise in Women’s Final Four history.

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NCAA’s revised transfer rules cramp Coleman, outbound Demon duo

PATIENTLY LOOKING:  Captain Shreve product Kendal Coleman (4) intends to find a new basketball home after leaving Northwestern State last spring and entering the transfer portal last week following a season at LSU. (Photo by PETER FOREST, Journal Sports)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

The NCAA transfer portal has gotten speed bumps installed.

That will stall plans for Shreveport’s Kendal Coleman and a couple of prominent departing Northwestern State players to be on the court at their new schools next season.

Coleman, who played a reserve role in 21 games this winter at LSU, announced last week that he was looking for a new hoops home, with more playing time as the obvious objective. Last March, the Captain Shreve product ended his days as a Northwestern State Demon, where he had emerged as an All-Southland Conference forward under Mike McConathy.

Meanwhile, among eight Demons departing NSU following Corey Gipson’s one-and-done, 22-win turn as head coach, at least six are joining Gipson at Austin Peay. But two, starting guard Isaac Haney and 7-foot-3 inside presence Jordan Wilmore, will  have to sit out next season to regain eligibility.

In a development not widely known until a recent social media push, the NCAA has tightened transfer rules, especially as they apply to second-time transfers from four-year schools. Since Coleman left NSU for LSU, and is now relocating again, he’ll have to sit out a year. Same for Haney and Wilmore going from their previous schools to Northwestern and now to Austin Peay.

Fortunately for all three players, each has a redshirt season remaining. But for Haney and Wilmore, there’s some sting since the Demons’ dynamic duo of Southland Conference Player of the Year DeMarcus Sharp and second-team All-SLC guard Ja’Monte Black will exhaust their college eligibility next season at Austin Peay.

Sharp and Black will have to graduate from Northwestern this spring or summer to be eligible as graduate transfers, but are said to be on track to do so.

The adjusted portal rules changed without fanfare but to significant impact, said NSU assistant athletics director for compliance Dustin Eubanks, who noted nothing is set in stone.

“They didn’t like the transfer landscape and this is what they’ve come up with; but remember, this is what we have right now. It could change next year, or even in the next couple of months,” he said. “For the kids transferring for 2023-24, these are the rules we have to follow now.”

There are some extreme cases that can result in a waiver for second-time transfers, including instances of assault or other violence, mental health, injury or illness. It’s no longer simply about a better opportunity to play or a desire to follow a coach to a new school.

“That’s the doors they’ve closed. There’s nothing there for kids who are undergraduates, unless there’s a pretty egregious situation they encountered at their current school,” said Eubanks.

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All-Star Game reveals why Mikaylah Williams shines so brightly

STRATEGY SESSION:  Parkway High’s Mikaylah Williams (12) listens to Airline coach Lyndzee McConathy (foreground, blonde hair) during a timeout last Saturday at the Louisiana High School Coaches’ Association Girls Basketball All-Star Game in Pineville. (Photo by BRET MCCORMICK)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

For all of the memories repeat Shreveport-Bossier Journal All-Metro Outstanding Player Mikaylah Williams created in her incredible basketball career at Parkway High School, what she did before the Louisiana High School Coaches Association’s All-Star Game last Saturday was particularly remarkable to Airline High coach Lyndzee McConathy.

McConathy was the head coach of the West team that included prep All-American Williams, an LSU signee ranked by many analysts as the cream of the crop in the country’s 2023 recruiting class.

It wasn’t Williams’ pregame workout routine that left an indelible impression. It was her pregame work ethic – using a broom.

When the team entered ancient H.O. West Fieldhouse on the Louisiana Christian University campus in Pineville on game day, the court was dusty. Williams didn’t wait for someone else to remedy that. She found a broom leaning against a wall and resolutely, cheerfully cleaned the floor.

“When you walk into a facility as a player, you’re ready to go. You have things you need to do, a routine,” said McConathy, an All-State player for her parents, 33-year coaching veterans, at South Beauregard High before playing in the 2006 All-Star Game and then for four years at Northwestern State. There, she met her husband, Logan McConathy, who played for his dad, Mike McConathy, for the Demons.

Watching Williams handle a broom as effortlessly as she does a basketball, sweeping the court like she sweeps through defenders, gave McConathy some déjà vu. Her father-in-law often did the same thing before NSU workouts and games, home and away.

“It was just natural to her. The floor was dirty. She found a broom and made it better,” the Lady Vikings coach said. “That’s something Coach Mike used to do, and something he taught me: ‘Do something without being asked, for somebody else, and that goes a long way.’”

When your best player sets that kind of example, success follows, she said. It did last Saturday in Pineville. In an 88-63 victory that saw 15-point scorer Williams win Co-MVP honors, the West held off a late push by the East team – coached by another former NSU player, Ruston coach Meredith Graf, who happens to be best friends with the Airline coach.

“When you’re roommates, teammates and best friends, as long as we’ve been, there had been trash talk this whole time leading up to the weekend. Our former Lady Demon teammates were all texting and messaging us, getting in on the deal,” said McConathy. “But how cool is it to experience this honor with your bestie?”

It was also cool to get to coach arguably the nation’s No. 1 girls’ player. McConathy has known Williams for years but got unique insight last weekend, and is supremely confident that Kim Mulkey’s Tigers are going to soar in the next four years with the Parkway alumnus in purple and gold.

“Her mom was a Lady Demon before me, so I’ve always known the kid, but never had the privilege of coaching her. It’s so much better to have her on your team. She just makes everything easier, because of her high-level IQ, her respect for the game, and her enthusiasm for her teammates,” said McConathy. “She was leading cheers on the bench, and she made the entire weekend a celebration. She’s an all-around, all-star kid, and that’s a reflection of the amazing parents (Pat and LaTonya Williams) she has.”

She was not alone. You might think that in an all-star game, players want their shining moments, some with little regard for anyone else. But that was far from what McConathy experienced.

“We did a lot of team-building exercises, but I think the beauty of it is the fact they’re all all-stars. They have all-star personalities, all-star commitment levels, and the basketball IQ of all-stars.

“The girls were super respectful. You could just tell they were college-level players. Everything they did, they did at a high level. They practiced hard, they played hard. It was the epitome of why it’s called the All-Star Game. We had top-of-the-line girls,” she said.

One was Benton’s Marissa Schoth, who started alongside Williams.

“Marissa plays HARD. We put her defending one of the best players on the East and she got after it,” said McConathy. “She was a lot of fun to coach.”

Another special element of the weekend was having her father-in-law, Louisiana’s winningest all-time college basketball coach, as the keynote speaker for the Friday night All-Star Dinner with both 15-girl teams, LHSCA officials and others.

“He’s so modest, I didn’t know he was speaking until the week of the event. It was really cool to see the respect people have for him, and that he always lives up to that and then some,” she said. “How lucky were we to have him speak on the 17th anniversary of the win over Iowa in the NCAA Tournament? That made it even more special for everyone at the dinner.”

The All-Star experience created indelible memories for all involved. For McConathy, as she coaches javelin throwers for the Airline track team this spring and looks forward to building her basketball team for next season and years to come, she saw one trait that she hopes to share with players for the rest of her career.

“The biggest thing that I walked away with was the understanding that the skill level of the player does not matter as much as the heart does,” she said. “When the player loves the game, it magnifies her abilities. I saw so many levels of abilities, but I saw every girl have the love of the game.”

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Saint Rick? New NSU basketball coach has glowing testimonials

NEXT UP AT NSU:  Rick Cabrera, announced Wednesday as the new Northwestern State basketball coach, has made strongly positive impact at prior stops. (Photo courtesy Tallahassee Community College)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

NATCHITOCHES — “I find it a little ironic that the Demons hired a saint.”

That from Ryan Kelly, sports director at Tallahassee’s WCTV Channel 6, talking about new Northwestern State basketball coach Rick Cabrera, who leads his Tallahassee Community College Eagles into the Elite Eight of the National Junior College Athletic Association championships today.

Cabrera, 47, a veteran of 13 seasons as a Division I assistant coach and with a 151-44 record in six years as a junior college head coach, was announced Wednesday as the Demons’ replacement for one-year wonder (22 wins) Corey Gipson.

“Through the two years I’ve covered him, Rick Cabrera has been so gracious, so kind,” said Kelly. “That intensity that he brings on the floor is obvious. You know how animated he is, how invested he is, and it’s because he’s invested in his players. You can see by the way they perform on the floor that they feed off that.”

It’s happening in Hutchinson, Kan., at the NJCAA Tournament. TCC (30-5) entered as the 12th seed, scored a three-point win Tuesday (for Cabrera’s 150th career coaching victory), then shocked No. 5 Salt Lake 94-93 in overtime Wednesday.

“This team is playing without arguably its best player, and it doesn’t mean anything. He has a point guard drop 48 (Wednesday) like it’s no big deal,” said Kelly. “That’s what these guys do. They play hard for him. They hustle for him, because he’s done the same for them. He’s willing to take chances on them, to fight for them.

“A players’ coach, yes, and I get that in some corners that’s not always well received because people assume he’s not disciplined. He runs a tight ship, and TCC is better for it. It’s very clear that everything he does, it’s with his players in mind, and he’s inclusive. People love the sense of community he’s built around that Eagles’ program,” said Kelly.

Even more compelling:  rave reviews from two former NSU coaches who worked with Cabrera in a couple of his previous Division I stops. One is former Tennessee Tech head coach Steve Payne, his boss with the Golden Eagles as Cabrera worked first as an assistant coach, then associate head coach from 2012-17.

“I adore the guy, and he’s just a fantastic fit in Natchitoches and at Northwestern,” said Payne, who has known Cabrera since 2004. “The NSU family, and that community, will love him and his family. He’ll want people to come watch practice, to buy in, to be included.

“He’ll be great to work with. He’s just a good dude, a really fun, super solid guy,” said Payne, who got his Division I start on J.D. Barnett’s NSU staff from 1994-98.

“From a basketball perspective, he knows good players. He’s brought them into every program he’s been in. People in the profession like him. They’re going to try to help him succeed. His players will love him.”

Travis Janssen, who was Austin Peay’s baseball coach while Cabrera was an assistant on the Governors’ basketball staff from 2017-19, and Janssen’s wife Christy were overjoyed.

“He personifies class in every way. Be sure that’s in there,” said Janssen, a Demon baseball assistant under Mitch Gaspard from 2002-04. “He’s a stud, a family guy. He and his wife will embrace the town, with their four kids making great friends. They’ll be visible.  I think the world of Mike McConathy, one of the great people I’ll ever know. I think Coach Mike will love spending time with him. Rick is a purely good person.

“When I heard, I was shocked, in a good way. I told Christy, ‘How great is this?’  About every November we say, ‘wouldn’t it be great to come back to Natchitoches for the Christmas Festival,’ and with three kids and all we have going, we haven’t made it yet. Rick being there, that would make it even more special to get back.”

As to Cabrera’s coaching chops, what he’s accomplished in Tallahassee is winning as an under-resourced member of the Panhandle Conference, anchored by powerhouse programs Northwest Florida State and Chipola CC.

“There are so many obstacles because other programs have big legs up in this league, and he has been able to power TCC past all that,” said Kelly. “To see what some of the others have compared to what TCC has, and know his teams are not just competitive, but they’ve won the league, it’s really impressive and I commend him for it.”

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Demons near new basketball coach as roster empties

OUTBOUND:  DeMarcus Sharp, recently named Southland Conference Player of the Year in his first and only season at Northwestern State, is among seven Demons who entered the transfer portal Monday. (Photo by CHRIS REICH, Northwestern State)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

NATCHITOCHES – Northwestern State is moving toward announcing its new men’s basketball coach today or Wednesday, and he will apparently inherit little of the production from the Demons’ 22-win season under departed coach Corey Gipson.

Monday, all five players who started at the end of the regular season and in the Southland Conference Tournament championship game entered the NCAA’s transfer portal, along with at least two key reserves. While entering the portal does not require a player to leave, it indicates a strong interest in transferring.

Heading the list: Southland Conference Player of the Year DeMarcus Sharp, second-team all-conference pick Ja’Monta Black, and standout defender Isaac Haney – all who followed Gipson, a longtime assistant at Missouri State, to NSU last spring.

Also entering the portal from the starting lineup two weeks ago was the team’s leading rebounder, freshman forward Jalen Hampton, and freshman Hansel Enmanuel, whose exploits playing despite having only one arm have built a global social media audience over 4.2 million.

Key inside reserves Dayne Prim and Jordan Wilmore also went into the portal on Monday. Combined, the seven players apparently leaving Northwestern averaged 64.2 of the team’s 74.6 points per game and 25.3 of the Demons’ 33.8 rebounding average. The team’s top four scorers, the only ones averaging in double figures, are outbound as of Monday.

Gipson relied on transfers and recruits to build the roster for his first and only season at Northwestern. After posting a 22-11 record (13-5, good for second, in the Southland), Gipson was hired last weekend as head coach at his alma mater, Austin Peay, and reportedly is bringing his entire NSU coaching staff along – notably associate head coach Rodney Hamilton, reported to have been a candidate to replace Gipson.

Sources said anticipating Gipson’s exit, NSU president Dr. Marcus Jones and athletics director Kevin Bostian engaged a search consultant to identify coaching candidates, likely the same one — Kyle Bowlsby – who last year identified Gipson and Bostian as hires at Northwestern.

The announcement of a new coach could come as early as today, barring late developments, sources said.

After averaging 19.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.9 steals for the Demons, Sharp told ESPN college basketball writer Jeff Borzello that he has interest from Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, Missouri, Mississippi State, Loyola of Chicago, Central Florida and St. Louis, along with Austin Peay, in the hours since entering the portal.

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It’s galling to be grumbling for Grambling

I’ve got a case of March Madness. I’ll treat it today with a load of boiled crawfish and total immersion in the NCAA Tournament. That’s worked every year except when I rode Mike McConathy’s Northwestern State bus into the Big Dance in 2001, 2006 and 2013, along with the time four years ago when my gall bladder entered the transfer portal.

That Friday night, I was on Oxycodone hours after surgery and so it had to be a hallucination when 16th-seeded Maryland-Baltimore County blasted No. 1 Virginia 74-54. Just like later in the evening when my bed was vertical and I could see Paul McCartney’s guitar and jacket below my feet, laid out neatly on the floor.

Four years to the day, I find myself grumbling for Grambling. 

Last night as I watched Texas Southern getting cracked in the First Four, I was sick for the Grambling Tigers, who would have been a much more accomplished Southwestern Athletic Conference representative.

Our Tigers were not only a SWAC regular-season co-champion, with a 24-9 record that included wins over a bad Colorado team and a Vanderbilt squad that finished tied for fourth in the SEC, but their brand would have added luster to the NCAA Tournament field.

For that matter, the Tigers would have added luster to the NCAA-run NIT and they should have been included there. That was discretionary and that was a bad blunder by that selection committee.

Grambling had every chance to be in the Big Dance. But the Tigers stumbled at the worst time, in the SWAC Tournament finals, losing for the first time in 12 games, 61-58 to Texas Southern. Coach Donte’ Jackson’s G-Men hit a painful 25 percent of their first-half shots, falling behind 22-5 in the first 10 minutes. Although they rallied back to a 43-all tie, they just couldn’t get control over a TSU squad they had beaten by 19 in Grambling on Feb. 11 and by 13 in Houston on Jan. 4.

Texas Southern entered the SWAC Tournament on a three-game skid. The Texas Tigers stunned regular-season co-champ Alcorn State to start a three-game winning streak – equaling two others during the SWAC slate as their best this season under coach Johnny Jones (yes, the former LSU point guard and head coach).

By getting hot at the right time, TSU gave Jones his sixth NCAA Tournament berth as a coach, and his third straight in five seasons in the SWAC. That should make the DeRidder native upwardly mobile in the job market in the coming days, if he wants a big raise and a step up on the mid-major pecking order.

Grambling was beaten fair and square. But it didn’t help that the SWAC’s postseason tournament format, with the eight qualifiers paired in four quarterfinal games, doesn’t reward the top teams over nine weeks of conference play.

For a one-bid league, the Southland Conference is superior with its bracket, which protects the top two teams until the semifinals. The four lowest seeds meet in an opening round, then the survivors meet the Nos. 3-4 seeds in quarterfinals, with the winners moving on to the semis.

Two more one-bid leagues of local interest, Conference USA and the Sun Belt, along with the SEC and the Big XII, also use tournament formats that place a premium on regular-season conference performance. Why doesn’t the SWAC? 

Instead, an eighth-place team got equal SWAC Tournament status with the co-champions, beat both, and surged into March Madness – where it got drubbed 84-61. 

Meanwhile, the SWAC’s best representative watched and winced last night in Lincoln Parish. I hope they had some crawfish.

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Good for Gipson, who gave NSU his best in his short stay

Don’t blame Corey Gipson one bit. Thank him for his remarkable season — no, that’s not plural — as Northwestern State’s men’s basketball coach.

Accept the new paradigm in college sports. You may detest the transfer portal, not to mention Name, Image and Likeness payments to athletes. But those are defining standards these days.

Coaching moves after brief stays were happening before the portal or NIL. They felt like the portal, and resulted from the motivation behind the NIL. There’s lots of money in reach climbing the ladder in college sports. Now the players can access it, too.

Sources indicate by moving to Austin Peay, Gipson will nearly double his $160,000 base salary at NSU as the Governors open a new arena. Those are undeniable and understandable incentives. It’s his alma mater, where he played in Austin Peay’s glory days. Can’t deny that appeal, although it’s a nice sidebar, not the primary motivation.

Also nice for Northwestern: a contract buyout, said to be at least $100,000 and maybe almost twice that,  a tab his new employer will have to pay the Demons. APSU’s $178 million university budget would rank third in Louisiana higher education, behind only LSU and UL Lafayette, nearly $100 million higher than Northwestern’s, so the Govs can do such things.

Speculation that has swirled for weeks about Gipson’s upward mobility crystalized over the weekend, with reputable national basketball observers and others reporting he was heading to Austin Peay after one 22-win season in Natchitoches. APSU made it official with a Tweet posting its announcement Sunday night.

Gipson spent 356 days as the Demons’ coach. Don’t let that upset you.

He accomplished a bunch, built around a core of three outstanding players – DeMarcus Sharp, Ja’Monta Black and Isaac Haney – who loyally followed him to Natchitoches from Missouri State, where Gipson was an assistant coach for seven seasons. He boldly signed Hansel Enmanuel, whose journey from the amputation of his left arm when he was six had already earned global notice and a huge social media following.

The patient development of Enmanuel into a player able to start and play some significant minutes as the season ended is a fabulous achievement for all involved, especially Gipson. The mind-blowing exposure Northwestern got in conventional and social media pathways was justifiably phenomenal, and the young man proved he was not a “dog and pony show,” Gipson said after the Southland Conference Tournament championship loss on Wednesday.

Gipson continued the long tradition of community service established by his predecessor, Mike McConathy, who received a prestigious National Association of Basketball Coaches’ “Guardians of the Game” award in 2012 for community outreach through educational initiatives off campus.  Gipson, staff and coaches did a wonderful job coming in blind and quickly getting involved across the community with good causes, and making new inroads. They were quite justified in talking about it, although the impression of some that it was beyond comparison to anything prior with the program was way off-base.

Northwestern president Dr. Marcus Jones and athletics director Kevin Bostian surely knew Gipson’s departure became inevitable in the last 2-4 days as the coach visited Austin Peay and contract terms were wrapping. There were plenty of rumors floating about a hefty pay hike Jones supposedly proposed for Gipson, but it seemed implausible. Adding tens of thousands of dollars would have shattered the salary structure not only in the athletic department, but across campus, at a time when the university is laying off employees and making brutal budget decisions in the wake of an enrollment free-fall hardly unique to NSU – although it’s not just because of COVID, despite what the party line has been.

You can bank on it that Bostian and Kyle Bowlsby, who is the one-man search firm that identified both Bostian and Gipson for NSU last year, already have a list of potential successors and those are being vetted, at least.

There probably have been some conditional conversations with a handful of candidates in case the job opened. Don’t expect there to be much of a gap in hiring the new guy. It’s the way the business gets done nowadays, and that’s necessary, because every competitor is already building next year’s team.

Speaking of that – don’t be surprised if there’s a total roster rebuild. It’s as likely as the Academy Awards running way too long that Black, Enmanuel, Haney, Sharp and some other 2022-23 Demons will be at Austin Peay in the fall.

Fair, and feasible with the portal. The mindset that players choose a school primarily because of the institution and its community is secondary to recruits or transfers being totally invested in their coach – and available dollars from scholarships and financial aid and if any exists (there’s only a trickle at NSU), NIL money.

Bottom line: the landscape is very different than what St. Denis saw in 1714. It’s not much like what Demon fans enjoyed under McConathy when north Louisiana prep stars Chris Thompson, Clifton Lee and Jermaine Wallace, then Will Mosley, James Hulbin, Jalan West and Zeek Woodley wowed with their feats in the best of times for modern-day Demon basketball, featuring three trips and two wins in March Madness .

Perhaps Bostian, Bowlsby and Jones can pick another winner, and this time, he’ll stay a little longer — not 23 years, but maybe 3-4? It’s happened before at Northwestern.

After five years at his alma mater in Natchitoches, baseball coach Jim Wells got the Alabama job in 1994. Athletic director Tynes Hildbrand hired Dave Van Horn, who has become one of the game’s icons at Arkansas. When Van Horn left in December 1997, young NSU AD Greg Burke picked John Cohen, who is now Auburn’s AD after a long, highly successful coaching career at Mississippi State and Kentucky. Cohen left NSU in 2001, and Burke brought back Wells’ assistant Mitch Gaspard, who also became head coach at Alabama.

Demon fans are hoping for some of that magic.

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Surging Bearkats take another shot at a fifth state title

(Photo by JOHN PENROD, Journal Sports)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

LAKE CHARLES — It’s something earned, not given, playing for a state championship.

When his first Bossier High School boys’ basketball team was 11-9, coach Justin Collins wasn’t visualizing this day. But the Bearkats have earned the opportunity, which comes this evening at 6 in Burton Coliseum when they square off against Carroll from Monroe for the LHSAA’s Division II Non-Select crown at Marsh Madness.

Today’s contest will be live-streamed on, a pay-per-view or subscription service, and can be heard for free on KSYR 92.1 FM “The Light” with Travis Shurling calling the game.

Bossier (23-10), seeded fourth, upset top-seeded Wossman on Tuesday, 48-42, in the semifinals. Later that evening, Carroll (25-11), seeded third, surprised local favorite and No. 2 seed Iowa 63-57.

The finalists collided in a tournament on Nov. 23 with Bossier posting a last-minute 59-56 win.

“We made a 3-pointer with about 10-12 seconds left, and they missed their last shot,” says Collins.

The Bearkats and Bulldogs have matched up in the last three seasons, and Bossier’s won the last two. Carroll was the district runner-up to its arch-rival, Wossman.

“They’re the same type of team as Wossman: tough, physical, and they play hard. Everybody on the court can shoot the 3. They’re going to guard you,” says Collins. “Just like Tuesday, we’ve got to bring our hard hats, and our shoulder pads. You’re going to have to fight.”

The Bearkats have displayed that trait in a big way this season, coming together to add to the program’s tradition.

Considering Bossier’s track record, Bearkats supporters have high expectations. If the team doesn’t make the state tournament, it’s a down year.

Bossier is in its seventh state final in a superb run beginning in 2009. The Bearkats are aiming for their fifth state crown, with championship trophies in 2011, 2016 and 2020 sitting alongside one from 1960. They’ve been state runner-ups four times in the last 14 years and reached the semis two more times, including last year.

“The tradition here is second to none. Our community support is second to none,” says Collins. “This year was kinda up in the air. You didn’t know. New players, a new coach, but the support has always been there, and it’s like our sixth man.”

Things seemed grim from the outside in midseason with that 11-9 record. Since, the Bearkats have been nearly perfect.

“We were like the stock market, up and down. We’d win 3-4 in a row, lose 2-3, win 3-4, lose 2-3. But we kept fighting, and we’ve won all but one since,” says Collins. “A tough schedule and tough, coachable kids, that has paid off.”

In a big way, and for all the right reasons, he says.

“We have a good group of kids. Nobody was expecting much from this group, but they’re hard-working, disciplined, and they do everything you ask on the court, off the court and in the classroom. They never say anything to the ref, they never argue with each other. They are coachable, and they want to be coached.”

They’re also “versatile,” says Collins. “We can adjust to the opponent. We can play any style, whatever we come up against.

“I’d say we’re a defensive team, but we do whatever we need to do. If we need to score to win, this group can do it, though. It’s hard to prepare for us.”

With a win this evening, it will be impossible to forget them.

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Down to the wire for Tigers, Demons in conference title chases

SHARP POINT:  A prime contender for Southland Conference Player of the Year, point guard DeMarcus Sharp leads Northwestern State into its regular-season finale tonight at 8 in Prather Coliseum. (Photo by CHRIS REICH, Northwestern State)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

The next 48 hours are vital to conference championship hopes for the men’s basketball teams at Grambling and Northwestern State.

Grambling (20-8, 13-3) controls its destiny in the Southwestern Athletic Conference race. The Tigers got the break they needed and held up their end of the deal to move into a first-place tie with Alcorn with two games left. The Braves faltered at home last week, 75-71 to Prairie View.

Grambling is home to wrap up the regular season Thursday and Saturday, hosting fifth-place Alabama A&M (9-7 in the SWAC) before finishing with a visit from also-ran Alabama State.

Northwestern (20-10, 12-5) missed its chance to control its fate atop the Southland Conference, falling 83-75 Saturday night at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. But tonight, as the second-place Demons try to finish with a home win over Incarnate Word, NSU fans will be tracking A&M-CC’s visit to Texas A&M-Commerce, which shocked the Islanders last Thursday on the Gulf Coast. If Commerce can defend its homecourt tonight, and NSU prevails over UIW, the Islanders will have to share the crown with the Demons.


GRAMBLING:  Not since 1979-80 has Grambling recorded a 20-win season. That landmark was matched with Monday’s 66-54 win at Bethune-Cookman. Now the Tigers aim for a SWAC title, last claimed in 2017-18, but before that, not since 1988-89. As for eyes on the big prize, an NCAA Tournament berth with a SWAC Tournament win? This would be a first for Grambling. 

NORTHWESTERN STATE:  The Demons’ DeMarcus Sharp netted his fourth Southland Player of the Week award Monday after pouring in 40 points at Corpus Christi Saturday. It was the most scored by a Demon since 1977 (Billy Reynolds). Regardless of Wednesday’s outcomes in the regular-season finales, NSU will be the No. 2 seed in next week’s Southland Tournament at Lake Charles, and has a double bye into the second semifinal game next Tuesday night. The championship game tips at 4 o’clock next Wednesday afternoon. 

LOUISIANA TECH:  At home Thursday night, the Bulldogs have a real shot to snap their six-game losing streak. Tech (13-16, 6-12) hosts Florida International (13-16, 7-11). Saturday’s finale brings Conference USA champion Florida Atlantic (26-3, 16-2) to the Thomas Assembly Center. Tech took FAU to overtime last month on the road.


LOUISIANA TECH:  The Lady Techsters’ five-game win streak ended Saturday but just barely to nationally-ranked Middle Tennessee, who got the game-winner with four seconds left to prevail 61-59. Tech (17-11, 10-8) is looking like the team nobody wants to face in the CUSA Tournament March 8-11. Tech travels to FIU and FAU to wrap up the regular season. 

NORTHWESTERN STATE: The Lady Demons (11-16, 7-10) aren’t assured of a Southland Conference Tournament berth as they tip off at home this evening at 5:30 against one of the league’s hotter teams, UIW (14-13, 9-8) — which is on a five-game win streak including last Thursday’s meeting in San Antonio. Edge for NSU: the Lady Demons are 10-3 at home.  A loss doesn’t necessarily end the season for the Lady Demons, depending on results involving the three other teams shooting for the last three slots in the eight-team tournament field. 

GRAMBLING:  The Lady Tigers (9-18, 8-8) won their games at FAMU and Bethune-Cookman to bolster their bid to make the eight-team SWAC Tournament bracket. Good thing since they face two of the three best teams in the league, second-place Alabama Sate and third-place Alabama A&M, at home this week.

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Mulkey’s state tournament experience was infinitely better than this

If you’re trying to follow the LHSAA’s 2023 Oschner Girls Marsh Madness event – formerly known as the Sweet 16 when my hair was dark – this week in Hammond, here’s wishing you patience and good luck.

The information flow was infinitely better when Kim Mulkey was playing for Hammond High, way before coaching the country’s No. 4 college women’s basketball team 40 miles west of her hometown.

In those days (1977-80), Mulkey was known as “The Hammond Honey” (that wouldn’t fly today, would it?), averaging 35 points in her trademark pigtails as she led her school to four straight state championships. Daily newspapers (remember those?) from every city in the state had writers courtside, some reporting on every game whether or not local teams were involved. There was no streaming video (suddenly we are caught in a Bayou State Back to the Future episode; details to follow), but plenty of radio broadcasts, and crowds included people from around the state, a considerable number who came just to watch, not necessarily to cheer their own teams.

Now nobody, not the Associated Press, not the state’s “paper of record” in Baton Rouge, and certainly not any of the Gannett products, covers every game, even with a cursory 4-5 paragraph story and box score. That’s not progress. Not ripping the people who cover sports, just wincing at those whose budget decisions have decimated so much of what the sports fans took for granted when Mulkey was in uniform, instead of in wardrobe.

Not to criticize the LHSAA. So many of the shortcomings are beyond its control, starting with the train wreck that ensues in the year of our Lord 2023 when the internet service collapses.

That happened at the end of last week across the internet platform at Southeastern Louisiana University, which includes the University Center arena where Marsh Madness is being staged. The public was alerted quickly that ticket sales would revert back to cash only – no cards. Admission for adults, $18, is cash.

Word is that the internet problems may be rooted in a malware attack that has forced a shutdown of SLU’s access to the worldwide web. There’s also some shaky service over at LSU, but not a total collapse there, yet.

Looking at the smaller picture, no internet at Southeastern meant at least erratic, if not non-existent, live streaming game coverage of state semifinal games Monday through the provider. You couldn’t see Oakdale winning its battle with Arcadia 47-46 on a buzzer-beating, banked-in 3-pointer. You couldn’t watch the final game in the incredible coaching career of Florien’s Dewain Strother, who finished with well over 1,200 wins, but not one more with his granddaughter on the team. It ended with a 46-41 loss to another perennial small-school girls’ powerhouse, Hathaway (whose five starters all played every second, all 32 minutes). Woulda been fun to watch.

Parkway fans, be warned. If you want to watch the Lady Panthers (seeded No. 2, but, c’mon) in their Thursday 4:45 semifinal against No. 3 Barbe, you very likely need to be in the gym in Hammond. We’ll have postgame coverage in the Journal, of course, and when the Lady Panthers play at 8 Saturday night for the state championship (and they will), you’ll get that story right here – but maybe not via, through no fault of its own.

Don’t expect to follow scores via Twitter. There’s no special provision of internet access for media at the University Center. Even using their own hot spots has proven fruitless more often than not so far. Give the LSHAA credit for finding a way to post halftime and final box scores on its @LHSAASports Twitter account.

I’m not being sentimental when I suggest the good ole days were better. I am being prudent giving Parkway people a heads up.

BTW, next week the boys’ version of Marsh Madness moves to Lake Charles, where presumably there will be internet. But the Southland Conference Tournament runs through Wednesday night at McNeese’s Legacy Center, so the support staff from the hometown university’s athletic department (absent entirely at Southeastern, oddly, which used to not be the case) won’t be involved in staging the event at aging Burton Coliseum.

This is progress, 40-plus years later? Whatever it is, the teams that win won’t mind, even if the experience won’t be what it once was.

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Area college hoop scoop: Crucial weekend for Grambling’s SWAC championship hopes

MAKING HIS MOVE:  Grambling guard Virshon Cotton attacks the basket last Saturday against Southern in the NBA HBCU Classic during All-Star Game Weekend in Salt Lake City. (Photo courtesy Grambling State University Athletics)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

The Grambling Tigers are one game back of Alcorn State with two weeks (four games) left in the Southwestern Athletic Conference men’s basketball race, and their hopes of winning the championship probably come down to this weekend’s Saturday-Monday games.

Grambling and Alcorn have had their only meeting, a 63-60 Alcorn win at Grambling on Jan. 30, in the league schedule. They’ll probably be the top two seeds in the March 8-11 SWAC Tournament. But for Grambling to share the SWAC regular-season championship, the Tigers need help and there’s not a lot of reason to expect it.

This weekend is the best hope. Alcorn (12-2 in league play) meets two middle-of-the-pack foes, Prairie View and Texas Southern (both 7-8), on its homecourt. The last week sends the Braves to two bottom-feeders, UAPB and Mississippi Valley.

Grambling cleared its toughest remaining hurdle last Saturday with its 69-64 overtime win over third-place Southern in the NBA’s HBCU Classic during All-Star Game weekend in Salt Lake City.

The Tigers visit also-rans Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman this weekend, then finish at home against Alabama A&M (at 8-7 in the SWAC, the only foe above .500 left for Grambling) and Alabama State next week. 


GRAMBLING:  Along with national TV exposure on TNT and ESPN2 for the NBA HBCU Classic, the Tigers (18-8, 11-3) collected a $100,000 donation from AT&T toward “academics, athletics and wellness services,” a press release said. Grambling and NBA legend Willis Reed served as honorary captain for both teams. The Tigers are up to No. 4 nationally in field goal percentage defense (38.5 percent allowed), topped only by Tennessee, Houston and Alabama. 

Next games: Saturday at FAMU, Monday night at Bethune-Cookman. 

NORTHWESTERN STATE:  The Demons (19-9, 11-4) were upset by New Orleans at home Saturday 68-65, ending a nine-game win streak, but can still claim at least a share of the Southland title by sweeping their three remaining games, notably Saturday night’s visit to first-place Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Two wins guarantees NSU the valuable double-bye into the semifinal round of the conference tournament. Impressive stat: point guard DeMarcus Sharp has drained 60 percent (28-47) on 3-pointers while averaging 18.2 points per game. Three teammates have tried at least twice as many treys. 

Next games:  Tonight at Incarnate Word, Saturday at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

LOUISIANA TECH:  The sudden departure of leading scorer Cobe Williams (18.8 per game) for “personal reasons” with (then) only six games left in the season raised eyebrows last week, and left the Bulldogs with only 11 players. It’s been a frustrating run for first-year head coach Talvin Hester, whose team needs to win three of its last four to avoid Tech’s first losing record in 13 seasons. Tough assignment: the Bulldogs (13-14, 6-10) meet three teams ahead of them in the CUSA standings, including league leader Florida Atlantic and fourth-place Middle Tennessee. If you were curious: this season’s been much rougher on last year’s Tech coach, Eric Konkol, whose first Tulsa team is 5-22. 

Next games: Thursday at Western Kentucky, Saturday at MTSU. 


LOUISIANA TECH: Riding a season-long four-game win streak, the Lady Techsters (16-10, 9-7) are in a fourth-place tie in the 10-team Conference USA standings.  Senior guard Keiunna Walker earned her second C-USA Player of the Week award, posting her second career double-double with 27 points and 14 rebounds with five assists and four drawn charges in a double overtime 83-79 triumph at Charlotte. Walker sits at No. 9 in all-time scoring with 1,860 points. She has reached double figures in 24 of 26 games, including 20 straight. Her 17.6 PPG is No. 2 in C-USA. 

Next games: At home this week, playing uphill against the top two teams in CUSA, Thursday at 6 vs. Western Kentucky (14-11, 11-5), then Saturday at 1 against Middle Tennessee (22-4, 15-2). They’ll be on the road next week at two teams (FIU, Florida Atlantic) under .500 in league play to wrap up the regular season. 

NORTHWESTERN STATE:  The Lady Demons (11-14, 7-8) have two matchups with their closest Southland Conference competition, Incarnate Word (12-15, 7-8), the first tonight in San Antonio. NSU is 1-11 on the road, and UIW is 9-4 at home. With the other remaining game at second-place Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Saturday, NSU could tumble into danger of not being one of the eight conference tournament qualifiers if it ends on a three-game skid. 

Next games: Tonight at UIW, Saturday at A&M-CC (16-10, 11-4). 

GRAMBLING: The Lady Tigers (7-18, 6-8) are tied for the last qualifying slot (eighth) for the SWAC Tournament. They’re still shooting poorly – 35 percent overall, 25 percent from distance. 

Next games: Grambling needs to win on the road Saturday at Florida A&M (5-21, 3-12), then Monday at Bethune-Cookman (10-15, 9-6). The regular season finale is next Wednesday at home against Alabama A&M (13-12, 11-4). 

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How Bayou State basketball is bouncing toward March Madness

ICYMI, around Division I college basketball in the piney woods and bayous, as March Madness approaches, here is my version of Cliff’s Notes. Let’s call this Duggie Nuggets. On second thought, let’s don’t. How about Bayou Basketball Bites?

Just like most of our state’s basketball teams, we can do better.

Now that college baseball and softball is underway, with spring football right behind, it’s fair to say the generally tepid interest level in college hoops is fading fast in all but a few locales. But the Big Dance and its brackets are inevitably captivating, and you may find yourself with a rooting (or at least betting) interest.

At LSU, the extremes are mind-blowing. Nobody saw Kim Mulkey’s (Lady) Tigers with only one loss this season, but it’s likely they’ll sail into the SEC Tournament with just that. Nobody saw Matt McMahon’s men with no wins since the opener in conference competition, although anyone who expected close to a .500 SEC record was also holding out hope for a Saints playoff run.

Going anything less than unbeaten against a cupcake non-conference schedule would have been disappointing for Mulkey’s squad. They did not disappoint. They haven’t since, either. They’re not quite Final Four caliber, but that will change when Parkway’s Mikayla Williams and her signing class saddle up in Baton Rouge.

As for the LSU men, they’re a recruiting class away, in the new age of the transfer portal, from merely treading water in the SEC. McMahon is a good human and a solid coach, but can he recruit on a Power 5 level? That was the question when he was brought in to clean up the Will Wade cesspool. He’s done that much. Now, to upgrade the talent level and begin notching some Dale Brown-style upsets to make his program relevant.

From off the 318 radar, Tulane requires attention. It’s not just a football school (insert chortle). Be advised, the following may shock you. The men are 17-7, second behind Houston in the American Athletic Conference, and NCAA Tournament-bound. On the women’s side, Greenies coach Lisa Stockton just surpassed legendary Leon Barmore, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Lady Techsters’ coach, as the state’s winningest women’s college coach.

In her 29th Tulane campaign, Stockton has averaged 20 wins and at 16-11 this winter, is near that pace. She notched her 577th victory last Saturday, is trending toward her 21st postseason appearance and hoping for a 12th NCAA Tournament trip. None of that or her commendable career winning percentage scratches the surface of Barmore’s resume’, but it’s pretty salty in its own right. I’m not tuned into Tulane, but while the court-naming talk is still buzzing ….

Speaking of under the radar, UL-Lafayette’s men are 21-7, tied for third in the Sun Belt, headed to unscheduled action in March.

Wish it was a Bayou Blast Tournament. That would be fun and moderately interesting. Tulane, ULL, Grambling (18-8) and Northwestern State (19-9) all have postseason legs, but lack statewide appeal. Any of them could win their conference tournaments. All may have consolation opportunities if they don’t.

There’s the NIT, fit for regular-season champs that don’t cash in at conference tourneys (Grambling and NSU still might fit that description). Then trickle down to the pay-to-play alternatives, the College Basketball Invitational and (maybe) The Basketball Classic (it’s hard to tell online if it survived to 2023).

On the women’s side, there’s a slim chance of extra play for anyone other than LSU and Tulane. Best longshot: Louisiana Tech (16-10), which has battled injuries and inconsistencies, but Brooke Stoehr has an excellent conference tournament track record. Give her the squad that started the season and the Lady Techsters could threaten in the Conference USA Tournament.

That’s Bayou Bracketology, hopefully more useful than beads on Ash Wednesday.

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Local college hoop scoop: LSUS men notch another RRAC crown

CHAMPS:  The LSUS Pilots, led by coach Kyle Blankenship (middle, with net draped around his neck) clinched at least a share of the Red River Athletic Conference title last Thursday and won it outright Saturday. (Photo courtesy LSUS Athletics)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

The LSUS Pilots didn’t falter, but Texas A&M-Texarkana did in the last week of the Red River Athletic Conference men’s basketball race.

LSUS swept its two home games while A&M-Texarkana fell at Xavier and Louisiana College, giving the Pilots outright possession of the conference championship.

It’s the fourth under 11th-year coach Kyle Blankenship, who is an odds-on favorite to win his seventh RRAC Coach of the Year award, and fourth straight. He is now 211-76 at LSUS after the 22-6 regular season.

Last year’s Pilots didn’t win the outright conference crown, but were East Division champions. More importantly, they won the RRAC Tournament title for a third straight time and advanced into the NAIA Tournament – something the program has done each year since 2013.

The LSUS women also are 22-6 heading into the RRAC Tournament beginning Friday, but A&M-Texarkana was a perfect 20-0 in the conference. The Lady Pilots will be the No. 2 seed as quarterfinals unfold Friday at Rapides Coliseum in Alexandria. 


LSUS:  He did it again. Woodlawn product Jalen Brooks won the RRAC Player of the Week award for the eighth time in 16 weeks, averaging 24 points and 11 rebounds as the Pilots topped Texas College 91-75 last Thursday to clinch at least a share of the league title, then handled Jarvis Christian 88-78 on Saturday. Brooks was also included in the Bevo Francis Watch List Top 50, drawn from top players at every level except NCAA Division I. He’s had 18 double-doubles this season. 

Ahead: The Pilots rematch with Jarvis Christian Friday at 1:15 in Alexandria. A win moves LSUS into a 3 p.m. Saturday semifinal. The championship game, won last year by the Pilots, is Sunday at 2.

CENTENARY:  The Gents (17-8) dropped a pair on the road last week to end the regular season, and are the No. 3 seed in the six-team Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament beginning Friday in San Antonio. Centenary fell 68-55 Friday at St. Thomas, then 66-55 Sunday at Colorado College. 

Ahead:  Centenary meets sixth-seeded Southwestern (10-15) Friday at 7, hoping to go 3-0 on the series this season. The Gents won 58-49 on the road Dec. 11 and 71-52 at the Gold Dome on Jan. 27. Awaiting in the semifinal round is second-seeded Trinity, which split regular-season contests with Centenary, losing 69-65 in Shreveport in December but rolling 80-59 Jan. 20 in Texas. St. Thomas is the top seed. 

BOSSIER PARISH CC:  The Cavaliers (12-14, 4-12) dropped an 83-76 decision last Saturday to Trinity Valley CC despite having four players in double digits, led by 16 points apiece from Elijah Beard and Kendrick Delahoussaye. 

Ahead:  Bossier Parish is home Wednesday night at 7 against Navarro, hoping to turn around a 100-85 loss on the road last month. The Cavs go to Kilgore on Saturday. 


LSUS:  The Lady Pilots (22-6) dominated their games last week, blasting Texas College 65-39 Thursday and Jarvis Christian 70-51 Saturday afternoon on Senior Day. Appropriately, seniors Chelsey White and Tatym Barnes led the scoring with 11 on Saturday. 

Ahead:  LSUS is the No. 2 seed and will face the No. 7 seed, still to be determined in a three-way logjam for the last two tournament spots. That quarterfinal tips at 6:30 at Rapides Coliseum, with Saturday’s semifinal at 5:30 and the Sunday championship game starting at 4:30 after the men’s final. 

CENTENARY:  The Ladies finished 3-22 overall, 3-13 in the SCAC following losses on Friday at St. Thomas (68-57) and Sunday at Colorado College (81-47). With two-thirds of the team freshmen, the only direction to go is up for Centenary. One highlight – Alana Jones, who was named Centenary’s SCAC Character and Community Award winner earlier this month, finished the regular season second in the league with her 8.2 rebounding rate. 

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Local college hoop scoop: LSUS men playing for RRAC title at home

CAN’T STOP THIS:  Woodlawn product Jalen Brooks has been unstoppable all season for LSUS, which can clinch at least a share of a conference title with two home wins this week, beginning tonight. (Photo courtesy of LSUS Athletics)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

The Red River Athletic Conference men’s basketball championship will be settled in Shreveport this week, beginning tonight.

The 19th-ranked LSUS Pilots (20-6, 14-4) play tonight and Saturday afternoon at The Dock, and will finish in no worse than a first-place tie by sweeping Texas College (7:30 tonight) and Jarvis Christian (4 p.m. Saturday) – two of the worst teams in the league.

However, LSUS didn’t cruise past either last month on the road. The Pilots edged Texas College, now last in the RRAC, 81-79 and lost 93-86 at eighth-place Jarvis Christian.

LSUS is tied for the league lead with Texas A&M-Texarkana, forging the deadlock Feb. 2 with a homecourt 66-63 victory. A&M-Texarkana has a tougher path to holding serve if LSUS sweeps this week, visiting third-place Xavier tonight and ending against a tough Louisiana Christian team in Pineville on Saturday.


LSUS:  The Pilots have the no-doubt RRAC Player of the Year, Woodlawn High product Jalen Brooks. The 6-5 senior leads the conference with averages of 23.9 points and 11.2 rebounds. Brooks is among three seniors to be honored before Saturday’s tipoff. Others are McNeese transfer Trey Johnson and Louisiana Tech transfer Stacey Thomas, who has started all but two of the Pilots’ games and is averaging 7.5 points.

Looking ahead:  After wrapping up the regular season tonight and Saturday at home, LSUS goes to Alexandria’s Rapides Parish Coliseum to defend its 2022 RRAC Tournament championship beginning Feb. 24. The NAIA postseason begins March 7.

BOSSIER PARISH COMMUNITY COLLEGE: The Cavaliers (12-13, 4-11) snapped a five-game skid Wednesday night at home, topping Paris JC 87-78 at Billy Montgomery Gym. BPCC drained 30 of 33 at the line as Elijah Beard scored 22 and Kendrick Delahoussaye had 21 (sinking all 13 of his free throws).

Next game: The Cavaliers have four games remaining, two at home next Wednesday and March 1. They visit Trinity Valley CC Saturday at 4. 

CENTENARY:  The Gentlemen (17-7, 10-5) have won six of their last nine despite falling at Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference leader St. Thomas Tuesday night, 68-55. The Celts (22-2, 15-0) have clinched the league crown and are ranked 13th in Division III. Centenary is a half-game back of Trinity in the final week of the regular season, and split the regular-season series with the Tigers. The Gents, assured of being in the six-team field for the SCAC Tournament, can top their Division III (since 2012) high-water mark of 18 victories with two more.

Next game: Centenary finishes the regular season Sunday at Colorado College, aiming for a season sweep after a 63-58 homecourt win last month. The SCAC Tournament is Feb. 24-26 in San Antonio. 


LSUS: The Lady Pilots (20-6, 14-4) have the same record as the LSUS men, but Texas A&M-Texarkana is unbeaten in the RRAC and has clinched the regular-season crown. The Lady Pilots have a two-game lead on third-place Louisiana Christian as they try to sweep season series with Texas College and Jarvis Christian. LSUS prevailed 66-58 on the road at TC and 71-65 in OT at Jarvis Christian last month. 

Next games:  LSUS is home this evening at 5:30 against Texas Christian, then at 2 Saturday afternoon at The Dock facing Jarvis Christian. On Senior Day, the Lady Pilots will honor five teammates: Tatum Barnes, Kiara Collins, Angel Reese, De’Azhia Smith and Chelsey White. 

CENTENARY: The Ladies (3-21, 3-12) beat Austin College Feb. 4, 62-58, but were bounced 68-57 Tuesday at St. Thomas. Centenary is hitting only 31 percent overall and just 20 percent on 3-pointers. Two-thirds of the Ladies’ roster is made up of freshmen. 

Last game: Sunday at Colorado College, which pounded Centenary 85-51 in the Gold Dome last month. The Ladies won’t make the SCAC Tournament. 

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Area college hoop scoop: Grambling, NSU men chasing championships

SHARP SHOOTING:  Senior point guard DeMarcus Sharp is on a tear, making him a leading Southland Conference Player of the Year candidate and leading the NSU Demons to the top of the league standings. (Photo by CHRIS REICH, Northwestern State)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

The stretch run of regular-season college basketball is underway, and two of the bigger surprises in mid-major men’s basketball are an hour’s drive from Shreveport-Bossier.

The men’s teams at Grambling and Northwestern State are very much in contention for their league crowns with a handful of games left before conference tournaments.

Grambling was picked sixth among 12 teams in the preseason Southwestern Athletic Conference coaches’ poll. NSU was also sixth in the 10-team Southland coaches’ predictions.

The Tigers (17-8 overall, 10-3 in the SWAC) stand one game behind league-leading Alcorn State with five games to go, two at home and one at a neutral site, Salt Lake City this Saturday against Southern in the NBA HBCU Classic.

Northwestern (18-8, 10-3) is tied for first with preseason favorite and 2022 NCAA Tournament entry Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and must visit the Islanders next Saturday. But the Demons have three of their final five games in Prather Coliseum, two this week.

No other area college Division I teams are in position to chase a regular-season title, but all seem destined to have spots in conference tournaments. Only the tournament champions will reach the NCAA Tournament as Conference USA, the Southland and the SWAC are all one-bid leagues, but other postseason options might be on the table for the Demons and Tigers, especially if they top the 20-win plateau.


LOUISIANA TECH:  Best win so far for the Bulldogs (13-12, 6-8, seventh in the 10-team CUSA standings)? Sweeping fourth-place Rice. But Tech just took league-leading Florida Atlantic into overtime on the road last Saturday and could be a threat in the CUSA Tournament next month. The Bulldogs also played second-place North Texas to a two-point game last month. Isaiah Crawford scored a career-best 25 for Tech at FAU as the Bulldogs shot 52 percent from the field.

Next game: North Texas, in Ruston, at 6 p.m. Thursday. The Mean Green escaped 67-65 in the first meeting. 

NORTHWESTERN STATE: DeMarcus Sharp is making his case for Southland Player of the Year. In NSU’s eight-game win streak, its longest since a nine-game run from Jan. 19-Feb. 19, 2013, Sharp has averaged a team-best 23.8 points per game while adding six assists, 5.4 rebounds, 2.4 steals and nearly a block per contest. A 6-foot-3 point guard, Sharp has a 4.36 assist-to-turnover ratio (48:11) in the run and is shooting 54.8 percent from the floor, including a 9-for-11 stretch from 3-point range.

Next game: Thursday at home, 8 p.m. against Southeastern Louisiana, who the Demons topped in OT last month in Hammond. 

GRAMBLING:  The Tigers have won four in a row behind their consistently stout defense. Monday night at home, Grambling shot 53 percent while holding Prairie View to 37 percent aim in a 68-64 victory. The G-Men have held opponents to 39 percent aim this season, and continue to rank among the top 10 in the nation in field goal percentage defense.

Next game:  Saturday in Salt Lake City against arch-rival Southern, who handled the G-Men last month in Baton Rouge.


NORTHWESTERN STATE:  The Lady Demons (10-13, 6-7 for a three-way tie for fifth in the 10-team Southland) notched their most impressive win of the season at home last Saturday. It wasn’t just that NSU knocked off third-place Texas A&M-Commerce, but the Lady Demons recovered from a 67-47 smothering at Commerce less than 48 hours earlier. The turnaround came despite 36 percent shooting aim, but senior Candice Parramore poured in 26 points to set the pace for NSU. 

Next game: Thursday at home, 5:30 against second-place Southeastern Louisiana, which dominated NSU in Hammond last month. 

LOUISIANA TECH:  The Lady Techsters (14-10, 7-7, fifth in the 10-team CUSA race) put their best foot forward early in the league race by winning at fourth-place Rice. But down the stretch, they’ll be tested with four road games in the last six outings. 

Next game:  At North Texas, Thursday at 6:30. 

GRAMBLING:  The most impressive win for the Lady Tigers (7-17, 6-7 for eighth in the 12-team SWAC) is a 52-51 triumph a couple of weeks ago at second-place Alabama A&M. They have three home games in their last five contests. Last Saturday, the program retired the No. 14 jersey of the late Mary Currie, who set the program’s career scoring standard with 2,256 points from 1983-87. 

Next game: Saturday at home, 1 p.m. against Southern. 

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One last run for ‘The Thundering Bull,’ Sidney Thornton

A BITTERSWEET REUNION:  Northwestern State football teammates of Sidney Thornton gathered last Friday night at Winnfield Funeral Home in Shreveport. (Photo courtesy of Jack Brittain Jr.)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

It’s Valentine’s Day, which is all about love, which makes this a perfect day to remember Sidney “The Thundering Bull” Thornton.

He was buried Saturday afternoon at Forest Park Cemetery West in his second hometown, Shreveport. He came north from Baton Rouge to play college football at Northwestern State, and changed lives the way he did it, and the way he was.

From 1973-76 in Natchitoches, and then for seven years in pro ball, he made impressions. On defenders, and people who met him. Eyes sparkle as memories flow.

Teammates gathered Friday evening, and more came Saturday to send off Sidney and support his beloved family. It was a tough end to a terrific beginning. Thornton arrived at Northwestern unheralded but awesomely gifted with ability and an Adonis physique.

“He was 5-foot-11, 245 pounds, could run a 4.5 40 in a day when that was really fast, and looked unlike anyone else I ever saw,” said teammate Jack “Britt” Brittain Jr. “He was chiseled. He was so fluid, so athletic, so powerful. We had several high NFL Draft picks at NSU in those days. Nobody took your breath away like Sidney Thornton. He looked the part and lived up to what he looked like, and everybody loved him – his coaches, teammates, people in town.”

He broke Charlie Tolar’s 19-year-old career rushing yardage record with 2,662 yards in just two years as a starter. In the Blue-Gray All-Star Classic, then played every Christmas Day in Montgomery, Ala., drawing many stars from major powers, Thornton was the game’s Offensive MVP.

He was drafted 48th overall, in the second round, by the Pittsburgh Steelers, to fit into a backfield featuring Pro Football Hall of Fame halfback Franco Harris, 1,000-yard rusher Rocky Bleier, and led by Terry Bradshaw.

Although he was Pittsburgh’s third-leading scorer (60 points) in 1979, when the Steelers won their fourth Super Bowl (second for Thornton), his top salary was just $100,000.

He played in 74 NFL games, starting 21, scoring 24 times and totaling 2,121 yards. The Steelers were at their peak, winning back-to-back Super Bowls and going 58-29 in his career.

But Thornton’s legacy isn’t measured in stats. He is remembered as a joyful, gentle, fun-loving teammate, an awesome sight to behold on campus or on the field, a mentor to younger players and to many Demons after he reached the NFL. To his wife Beverly and his children, he is missed as a doting father and grandfather, who battled fiercely as long as he could after suffering a massive stroke in September 2005 that greatly restricted his movement and speech, but not his heart, until he passed late last month at 68.

The young Thornton, recalled by old Demons:

Willie B. Mosley, cornerback: “I played with Sidney for three years. Whenever he smiled, he had that gold tooth and he lit up the room. Any time you had to hit this guy, you never hit him in the chest. You went for his ankles. He was a courageous guy who always knew where he was going and what he wanted. He was a friend, and I’m going to miss him.”

Sonny Louis, cornerback: “I remember him coming back (from the NFL) to practice and helping us out – a lot. He was a great guy. He helped Joe Delaney with his success – how to carry the ball and run the ball, things like that. One of his favorite sayings was, ‘You can’t make the team in the tub.’ He was a great guy who left a great legacy.”

Robert Brown, defensive end: “My freshman year, Sidney always said, ‘Brown, you got a lot to learn.’ I was determined to get to the quarterback. He would not let me. He said, ‘Brown, I’m going to teach you how to play defensive end,’ and he really did. He taught me how to take on a running back and drop ’em. He was a great leader, with a great smile, a very encouraging person.”

John Dilworth, defensive back: “One of my vivid memories was (in practice) when they ran a quick pitch, and I was known as a hitter – I went up and hit Sidney. Most people I hit, they fell back 3-4 feet. Sidney put me on the ground that day. I got drafted by the Dolphins, and they had a fullback named Norm Bulaich. I hit him on the goalline and knocked him out. Before that, I had told Sidney, ‘You’re going to be good up there.’ Sure enough, he was one of the toughest backs to play in the NFL.”

He was. But as pro ball’s pounding took its toll, Thornton developed substance abuse issues that dogged him for two decades, although he was a high school football coach at six schools, notably from 1985-90 in charge of rebuilding a downtrodden Coushatta High program. His Super Bowl rings were lost as collateral in a loan gone awry. Once he finally cleaned up his lifestyle, he had only a few years before the stroke put him in third-and-very long.

He did not shrink from the challenge, recalled Demon teammate Ken Meeks, who helped Thornton through rehab and his waning years.

Said Meeks: “If Sidney worked as hard at football as he did trying to recoup his life, he would have had one of those Pro Football Hall of Fame gold jackets. He had such a great heart.”

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NFL REUNION:  Pittsburgh Steelers running back Sidney Thornton (38) posed with Kansas City’s Joe Delaney (37) , the Haughton native who broke Thornton’s career rushing record at Northwestern State.