We’re lucky to have world-class events

Too many people were unaware, but Shreveport-Bossier hosted two world-class sporting events last week. Unfortunately, local coverage of both events was sparse (there were stories every day on both in The Journal).

When the U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team played on U.S. soil for the first time since winning its first gold medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, that soil just happened to be under the Brookshire Grocery Arena in Bossier City. The 2022 FIVB Volleyball Nations League (VNL) preliminary round was held last week in just two sites in the world – Ankara, Turkey, and Bossier City.

Two sites in the whole wide world.

And how many people came out to support this event – that included a rematch of the USA-Brazil gold medal game on Saturday night? I’ll tell you exactly how many (and the world ranking of each team):

Tuesday:

No. 11 Germany vs. No. 2 Brazil: attendance 250

No. 1 USA vs. No. 7 Dominican Republic: 394

Wednesday:

No. 12 Poland vs. No. No. 18 Canada: 111

No. 14 Korea vs. No. 9 Japan: 201

Thursday:

No. 2 Brazil vs. No. 12 Poland: 105

No. 11 Germany vs. No. 9 Japan: 206

No. 18 Canada vs. No. 7 Dominican Republic: 235

Friday:

No. 11 Germany vs. No. 14 Korea: 311

No. 7 Dominican Republic vs. No. 2 Brazil: 625

No. 1 USA vs. No. 18 Canada: 1,002

Saturday:

No. 14 Korea vs. No. 12 Poland: 625

No. 7 Dominican Republic vs. No. 9 Japan: 985

No. 1 USA vs. No. 2 Brazil: 1,545

Sunday:

No. 12 Poland vs. No. 11 Germany: 355

No. 1 USA vs. No. 9 Japan: 702

No. 14 Korea vs. No. 18 Canada: 680

If you do the math, that’s 8,332 spectators at 16 games, which averages to 521 fans per game.

That’s how many people showed up to see the world’s best women volleyball players (excluding the ones competing in Ankara at the same time). And the U.S. Women’s team is coached by the best to ever play men’s volleyball: Karch Kiraly.

“This place brings back great memories,” Kiraly said following the Americans’ first match Tuesday night. “There are so many nice people here. We got great support here before (in 2019) and we enjoy playing in front of the people in Shreveport and Bossier.”

That’s right – this is the second time the FIVB VNL has held its preliminary tournament in Bossier City.

If USA Volleyball decides to host this event in our area again, two things must happen: more people need to come out to support the tournament, and local media has to do a better job of covering it.

Although tournament officials were encouraged by the number of people who came out to Querbes Park Golf Course to watch the American Junior Golf Association’s Shreveport Open Tournament, there should have been many more spectators at the event on what is considered the premier tour for the top junior golfers in the world.

“This (the AJGA) is the PGA Tour for junior golf,” said Querbes pro Nathan Barrow. “To have this tournament here is a testament to this area.”

Golfers between the ages of 12-19 are eligible to play on the junior tour, which “is dedicated to the overall growth and development of young men and women who aspire to earn college golf scholarships through competitive golf.”

Members from around the United States and nearly 70 world countries compete on the tour that is considered by many in the golf industry to be the premier junior golf association in the world.

In addition to winning multiple NCAA championships, AJGA alumni have also found success on the PGA and LPGA Tours. Just a few of those include Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, David Toms, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Paula Creamer, Stacy Lewis, Morgan Pressel, Jessica Korda, Cristie Kerr, and Lorena Ochoa.

This week’s event, which marked the seventh year the AJGA has held its tournament in Shreveport, included 78 players representing two countries and 13 states. If you got out to watch last week’s competition, you probably saw some juniors whose names will be included with those in the previous paragraph. If you didn’t, you missed out.




SPOTLIGHT: Positive attitude key in Moss’ path to success

SMOOTH SWINGIN’ SYDNEY:  Byrd High School Class of 2022 graduate Sydney Moss relied on her steady swing and calm demeanor to finish second in the AJGA Shreveport Junior Open. 

By HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD, Journal Sports

When Sydney Moss stepped up to the 17th tee in the final round of the AJGA Shreveport Junior Open Tournament at Querbes Park Golf Course on Friday, the recent Byrd graduate was in sole possession of second place – and one shot ahead of Nikki Iniakov of Prunedale, Calif.

On the par-3 17th, Moss hit her tee shot short of the green while Iniakov and tournament leader Anna Kate Nichols of Little Rock, Ark., both put their tee shots within 16 feet of the back left pin. Moss’s putt off the green came up 12 feet short and her par putt ran three feet past the hole. Moss’s bogey, along with Iniakov’s birdie from 16 feet, put the two in a tie for second place behind Nichols, whose par gave her a four-stroke advantage over the twosome.

As Moss, the only local girl to compete in the event, made her way to the 18th tee, she was approached by a couple of fans riding up in a cart.

“How’s it going?” asked the passenger.

Moss smiled and said, “Could be better.”

There are a number of things to notice about this exchange. First, Moss was not bothered at all to be asked a question during the round, let alone after just bogeying the 17th hole of the final round of a golf tournament. Next, this wasn’t just any tournament – it was an event on the nation’s top junior tour in which she is near the top of the leaderboard.

And finally, there was the smile. There always seems to be a smile on Sydney Moss’s face, no matter what is happening on the golf course. That attitude, combined with a fierce determination, has led Moss to incredible success – the 2021 Division I state individual title, a runner-up finish in the 2022 Division I state championship, and the 2020 Louisiana Girls’ Junior Amateur Championship.

About her positive attitude, Moss says, “I know this game does not define who I am. I just try to stay positive.”

Perhaps that is something she learned from her father, Perry, who was a two-time All-American at LSU, a PGA Tour professional, and the 1985 Louisiana Junior Amateur champion. When Sydney won the amateur title in 2020, they became the only father-daughter in state history to accomplish that feat.

“I never saw him play competitively,” she said, “but it’s safe to say he had the same attitude. It’s all a mindset – not letting things affect you. There is so much that you cannot control so, with that in mind, I try to focus on what I can control and be content with myself.”

Moss had to rely on that calm attitude when she reached the final hole of the AJGA tournament.

All three girls missed the green on their approach shots to the 18th green – Nichols ended up just off the green to the right, Iniakov’s was pin high left, and Moss was short and right. While Iniakov chipped to within two feet and made her par and Nichols almost chipped in and tapped in for par, Moss’s chip went 22 feet past the hole.

While Moss knew her par putt was important to the outcome of the tournament, she later said she “wasn’t aware” exactly where she stood at that point.

“I just knew that if I relaxed and let it happen, it could drop,” she said. “I just tried to let it go in.”

The 22-footer fell in to assure Moss of a tie for second place, as she and Iniakov finished four shots back of Nichols.

Moss’s 2-under 69 on Thursday put her in a tie for second with Iniakov going into the final round — just two shots back of Nichols, whose even-par 71 on Friday gave her a four-shot victory.

Moss (70-69-73-212) and Iniakov (68-71-73-212) finished at -1 while Nichols took the title at -5 (70-67-71-208).

“In all honesty, (Thursday) was the hardest,” said Moss. “It should have been easier, based on the weather, but it wasn’t. I just had to manage my game and the course today.”

Moss started the final round with a bogey on the par-4 first, a birdie on the par-4 second, and a bogey on the par-3 third before closing out the front with a bogey on the par-3 ninth to go out in 2-over 37. A birdie on the par-5 11th and the bogey on 17 gave her even-par 36 on the back.

“Overall, I had a great tournament,” said Moss, who will play at the University of Memphis next year. “I was able to hold my own.”

Photo by JOHN JAMES MARSHALL




SPOTLIGHT: Volleyball’s G.O.A.T. is surprising himself as USA coach

RETURN TRIP — U.S. Women’s National Team coach Karch Kiraly (left) enjoys a laugh with team physiotherapist and athletic trainer Kara Kessans before Tuesday night’s game against Dominican Republic in Bossier City.

By HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD, Journal Sports

If you had asked Karch Kiraly when he retired from volleyball in 2007 as the greatest to ever play the game where he would be 15 years later, chances are he wouldn’t say, “At the Brookshire Grocery Arena in Bossier City, Louisiana.”

But that’s just where he is this week, coaching the U.S. Women’s National Team at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Nations League. Don’t misunderstand: it’s not where Kiraly is that surprises him; it’s why he is here.

That volleyball has remained such as important part of his life after he enjoyed the greatest playing career in the history of the sport is no surprise. It’s the fact that he is coaching the sport that wasn’t really in his plans.

“For most of my playing career, I didn’t think I had the patience to coach the sport,” Kiraly said Tuesday night after his U.S. Women’s team defeated Dominican Republic 25-21, 25-17, 25-18 in its first game of this week’s tournament. “Our boys (Kristian and Kory) were playing volleyball in high school and one of them had a rough season.”

At that point, Kiraly stepped in to help coach his sons and, as he says, “They roped me into it.”

It’s a good thing for USA women’s volleyball that Karch and Janna’s sons got their father into coaching. In 2012, Kiraly took over as head coach of the U.S. team and began what he calls “an Olympics cycle.”

Unlike his playing days, Kiraly didn’t enjoy immediate (gold medal) success as a coach. There was success – a silver medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the FIVB World Grand Champions Cup and NORCECA Continental Championship in 2013; Pan American Games in 2015, Pan American Cup from 2017-2019, the first-ever World Championship title in 2014, and a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

With all of that success, there was still something missing – an Olympic gold medal, which seemed to come easy to him as a player.

After becoming a four-time All-American at UCLA and leading the Bruins to three national titles (1979, 1980, and 1981), he joined the U.S. national volleyball team. As the squad’s outside hitter, he helped the United States win Olympic gold medals at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles and at the 1988 Games in Seoul, where he was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

Gold medals followed at the 1982 and 1986 world championships and at the 1987 Pan American Games. Twice (1986 and 1988) Kiraly was named the best player in the world by the Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB).

In addition to being the winningest player in beach volleyball history with 148 career wins, Kiraly has the title of being the only person to win gold medals in both indoor and beach volleyball.

Surely that success would follow him into his coaching career. At least, that’s what he – and everyone – thought.

Then came the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Or, there went the games. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, history would have to wait one year. Then it happened.

In August 2021, the U.S. Women made history when they swept longtime rival Brazil for their first Olympic gold medal (25-21, 25-20, 25-14) in Ariake Arena in Tokyo.

Before that Sunday in Tokyo, the U.S. Women had won three Olympic silver medals and two bronze.

In his interview after winning the gold medal, Kiraly was asked why he cried after the match.

“Five medals out of the 11 Olympics, but no gold,” he answered. “It was a very powerful emotion that overcame me to help this program in this 12th Olympics finally become the Olympic champion.”

That was more emotion than Kiraly had shown after, as a player, he had won two Olympic gold medals as a men’s indoor player and one more playing on the beach. It seemed to mean more than all of what he had accomplished as a player.

“I think it was more powerful for me than when I was a player because the first Olympics I played in, we won. We didn’t come close and lose. It makes it taste and feel much more special when you go through the hard times.”

Back in 2019, Kiraly found himself at the Brookshire Arena for the Volleyball Nations League preliminary-round competition, which just happened to be the U.S. Women’s last competition in the United States.

Three years later, here he is again.

“This place brings back great memories,” Kiraly said after Tuesday night’s match.

Hopefully, this week will bring even more.

Photo by JOHN PENROD




Pro athletes relish the great outdoors

When you think of well-known sports personalities who have made a name for themselves in the outdoors, it’s easy to gravitate rather quickly to names like Ray Scott, Bill Dance, Will Primos, Harold Knight, David Hale, et al.

During my 40-plus years as an outdoor writer, I have been privileged to cross paths with and wrangle interviews with a few of these fellows and I always come away impressed with just how good they are at what they do, be it the ability to catch big bass or bag big bucks.

There is another group of guys I have gotten to know over the years who are passionate about the outdoors while making their living in the professional sports arena. Here are seven of these fellows who have sat down with me to talk outdoors.

GEORGE STONE – The first professional athlete I interviewed was Ruston’s George Stone who at the time was still an active major league pitcher. He and I shared a day of fishing on Lake Claiborne and I picked up a common thread that runs through practically all these guys I’ve been privileged to interview – they were introduced to hunting and fishing by someone at home. In Stone’s case, it was his dad.

BERT JONES – Although Jones, the 1976 NFL MVP as quarterback of the Baltimore Colts, and I never shared a boat or a hunting blind together, we have visited several times and there is no doubt in talking with him that spending time in the outdoors has been a major part of his becoming who he is today. He and his dad, Dub, who also had a record-breaking career in the National Football League, used to spend hours together in the outdoors

JACKIE SMITH – For years, Smith held the record for most yards gained by a tight end in the National Football League as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. I got to spend a day with this Pro Football Hall of Fame athlete while fishing and paddling Hobie kayaks on the Cane River near Natchitoches. 

PATRICK RAMSEY – Selected in the first round of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins, quarterback Patrick Ramsey is a die-hard outdoorsman. He and I have shared a bass boat as well as a duck blind on several occasions.

KARL MALONE – One of the highlights of my writing career was watching Basketball Hall of Fame member Karl Malone put his prized squirrel dog through its paces in his back yard in Ruston. Malone credits his mother, a single mom, for getting him involved in the outdoors as a youngster, a pursuit that he actively follows today.

WILLIS REED – Reed, another Basketball Hall of Fame icon, enjoyed a stellar career at Grambling and in the NBA with the New York Knicks. Born and reared in Bernice, Reed’s father started him early in life chasing squirrels. His exploits after big game took him all across the country.

KYLE WILLIAMS – While Stone, Jones, Smith, Ramsey, Malone and Reed have all long since retired from professional sports, Kyle Williams, a six-time Pro Bowl star, is the most recent NFL retiree of this group, after a 13-year career the Buffalo Bills. Following outstanding careers at Ruston High School and LSU, Williams — known for his blue-collar work ethic – established quite a name for himself in Buffalo. As much as he enjoyed playing football, he headed home to north Louisiana once season ended to chase deer and ducks, activities he was introduced to as a youngster by his dad.

Williams is being inducted in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches June 25, when he will join Bert and Dub Jones, Malone, Reed and Smith as members. There are many other outdoors enthusiasts among the Hall’s 455 members inducted since 1958.

Your son or daughter may never make it to the “bigs” but you can do them a huge favor by introducing them to the Great Outdoors, that area of life that will give them direction to whatever profession they choose to pursue. 




SPOTLIGHT: In love with his glove

FLASHIN’ LEATHER: Logan McLeod, Tech’s always cheerful third baseman and CUSA’s Defensive Player of the Year, is also fourth on his team in batting average and second in on-base percentage.

By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports

Conference USA Baseball’s Defensive Player of the Year drives a Marucci, custom made last year.

He used to drive a Wilson A2000. Favored it bigtime. But a friend broke in the Marucci over the summer. All summer.

True friend.

“I like it pretty good,” said Logan McLeod, third baseman for Louisiana Tech’s CUSA Tournament Champion Bulldogs and the proud owner of three or four gloves. “Always been a big glove guy. Just always loved gloves.

“My defense has always been pretty consistent. I know I can do that every time,” he said. “But hitting, that’s pretty hard. I’d rather see ground balls. Love those.”

He’s made just four errors in 138 chances (.971), been a part of eight double plays, robbed a bunch of batters of a bunch of base hits.

But he almost didn’t play this year.

“Honestly, I didn’t know if I really wanted to,” said McLeod, who started one game as a freshman and two last year as he played behind a couple of All-Americans in Hunter Wells and Taylor Young. “But the coaches told me that ‘if we’re going to be good this year, we need you in the lineup and to be consistent every day.’”

He’s started all 61 games this spring for the 42-19 Bulldogs. Number 62 comes Friday against Dallas Baptist in the NCAA’s Austin Regional.

He was at shortstop in the fall; transfer Wade Elliott was at third and Young at second. But late in the fall, coach Lane Burroughs made the change to Young at short, Elliott at second and McLeod at third “and when we made that move,” Burroughs said, “it’s almost like our whole team clicked.”

“I was upset at first,” said McLeod, the oldest of three baseball-playing brothers from Sour Lake, Texas. “I’d played shortstop since I was 13. But now I like it, probably more than short. It’s all reaction at third; everything happens really fast.”

“He’s 5-10, 180 or so, and way back, never did I think he’d be playing third base at a high level,” Burroughs said. “But he’s a great example of a guy who just kept showing up. He didn’t quit. It didn’t work out at shortstop but he found his job at third base; I don’t know if there’s a better one in our league.

“And,” Burroughs said, “he’s gotten some huge hits for us.”

The ‘huge-est’ was an infield single to lead off the bottom of the ninth in Sunday’s league title game. Riggs Easterling pinch-ran and scored the deciding run in the 9-8 win.

As McLeod walked to the plate with the game tied at 8, his thoughts were on, of all things, hitting coach Mitch Gaspard.

“I didn’t want Coach G to be mad at me,” he said. “I was going up there swinging. I had to get on.”

He hit a 1-1 fastball to the shortstop’s backhand and beat it out, something he’s done routinely. His on-base percentage (.418) is second best on the team to Young’s (.505). He and Young are tied at 42 strikeouts, the least on the team for any player with at least 200 at-bats. He’s third on the team in walks (32) and leads a team in HBP’s with 18, which is saying something on a team that leads its opponents, 99-63, in that bruising category.

Batting eighth, he’s given pitchers plenty to think about.

But it’s him and that souped-up Marucci that made the league pay attention. The Defensive Player of the Year award left him a bit “in shock, really,” he said. It was something he found out in the most modern of ways; the team was on the bus to the league tournament in Hattiesburg, Miss., last Tuesday when he saw the announcement … on Twitter.

“That’s something,” McLeod said to himself.

A surprise? Maybe. But it fits him. Fits him like a glove.

Photo courtesy of Louisiana Tech Athletics




Back to the good ole days

For a few hours on Sunday afternoon, I took a trip back to the good old days of my childhood. People were packed under canopies all around the tennis courts. Fans had filled the chairs, were sitting on blankets, and standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the patio.

Matches weren’t taking place just on the two championship courts. Tennis courts all around the facility were occupied with people watching every court.

That’s the way tennis was back when I was growing up. The biggest difference was that this was taking place at The North Bossier Tennis Center. Yes, most of the names and faces have changed but the spirit of the sport shone just as brightly as it did back in the day at Querbes Park Tennis Center.

What really made the afternoon special was seeing some of those familiar faces from long ago and hearing some of the names from the past that will always take me back to the glory days of local tennis.

Franklin, Helene, and Karen McCarter; Andy Lloyd; Ann, Bill, and Bob Borders; Pat and Dan Sandifer; Lance Dreyer; Reese Baker; Phillip Campbell; Carol Weyman; Kay McDaniel; Karen and John Cotter. These are just the first names that come to mind when I think of hanging around Querbes watching matches long before I actually got on the court with hundreds of more names than I could list. (You can now see many of those on the mural wall at Querbes today.)

I can recall a Friday evening when my brother and Reese Baker were on the rubico courts at Querbes playing in a Captain Shreve match while bleachers full of their high school friends decked out in their finest clothes came by to watch before heading to a school dance. Those were the days when the Shreve-Byrd battles on the tennis courts meant just as much (or more) than the ones that took place on the football field.

Sadly, those days are gone. But the spirit of those days came back to me while watching The City Championships at The (beautiful) North Bossier Tennis Center over the weekend. It’s been a while since I’ve seen so many people enjoying playing and watching tennis. Hats off to NBTC head pro Todd Killen, his staff, and all the volunteers for putting on another incredible event.

The tournament, voted the “Adult Tournament of the Year” for the entire Southern Section and the state of Louisiana in 2020, included 274 players competing in 23 events — that included father/son, grandfather/grandson, mother/daughter, father/daughter and mother/son, among others — over seven days. Prize money was awarded for first, second, and third place in men’s open singles and doubles as well as women’s open singles and doubles.

And, just like the old days at Querbes, I was sitting there watching the best junior and adult players that Shreveport and Bossier has to offer.

That in itself would have been enough. The absolute best part, however, was seeing some of the familiar faces from the past.

What made me tear up, however, was hearing the remarks read aloud to the crowd that legendary coach Lee Hedges had written to show his appreciation for being a 2022 inductee into The City Hall of Fame along with Lance Dreyer, a fixture on the local tennis scene for more than 50 years.

While neither Hedges nor Dreyer were able to attend the induction ceremony, their presence was felt in the audience.

If you didn’t make it out to this year’s tournament, you missed one of the best tennis events this area has to offer. Go ahead and plan to attend the 2023 City Championships or take a trip to Querbes Tennis Center in the meantime. There’s no telling who you might see.




SPOTLIGHT: Mudbugs’ roster set for massive overhaul

BAND OF BROTHERS: The Shreveport Mudbugs developed close bonds during a torrid second-half surge in 2021-22, and are losing veteran players hard to replace.

By ROY LANG III, Journal Sports

As the page turns to the 2022-23 season, Jason Campbell and the Shreveport Mudbugs’ hockey operations department have some work to do.

The Mudbugs will likely have to replenish more than half their roster as 12 players born in 2001 will be ineligible due to the North American Hockey League’s age limitations.

The Mudbugs are looking for some size. They need some skill. They must add a host of defenseman and a goaltender.

And that’s not the biggest challenge.

“We had some true competitors that really epitomized and tried to execute to the best of their abilities what it means to be a Mudbug and what it means to put the time and effort in to be a champion,” Campbell said.

In addition to championship experience (Shreveport won the Robertson Cup in 2021), big bodies — with plenty of skill — are moving on to the next level, such as Tim Khokhlachev (6-foot-4, 215) and Austin Brimmer (6-3, 205).

Shreveport will need to replace its top-five point-getters (Brimmer, Connor Gatto, Burke Simpson, Khokhlachev, Lukas Sedlacek) from the 2021-22 campaign in addition to its No. 1 goaltender, Devon Bobak.

“Hopefully (all those leaving) left an impression on the guys who are still here regarding what they need to do if they want to be a champion again,” Campbell said. “We’re definitely going to miss these guys – their personalities, their work ethic, what they brought to the team and the community. But, at the same time, there is always rollover and there is always somebody ready and hungry for an opportunity.

“There are going to be a lot of opportunities next season.”

Team captain Garrett Steele is the top scorer eligible to return to the Mudbugs. The Chelsea, Mich., product scored 11 goals in this third season in Shreveport. With 146 regular-season games played in teal and purple, the forward will have an opportunity to break the NAHL franchise record of games played – Davis Goukler, 164.

The Mudbugs’ rebuilding process will begin when Main Camp opens Aug. 12 on George’s Pond at Hirsch Coliseum.

“We’ll bring in enough players to build four teams,” Campbell said. “It will be a good mix of players.”

Mudbugs’ departures

The following players on the Shreveport Mudbugs’ 2022 playoff roster will not return due to the NAHL’s age limitations:

Devon Bobak (G)
Austin Brimmer (F)
Connor Gatto (F)
Davis Goukler (D)
Carter Green (D)
John Hallard (D)
Trenten Heyde (D)
Gunner Moore (D)
Timofei Khokhlachev (F)
Jacob Onstott (F)
Lukas Sedlacek (F)
Burke Simpson (F)

Former Mudbug Feczko gets another ring

Billy Feczko, traded from Shreveport to New Jersey at the deadline this season, helped the New Jersey Titans win a Robertson Cup championship Tuesday night in Blaine, Minnesota. The Titans’ 3-0 victory over Anchorage, a first-year NAHL franchise, came 11 months after Feczko lifted the Robertson Cup in a Mudbugs sweater.

Feczko played 148 games over four seasons in Shreveport. He scored four goals and compiled 15 points in 20 regular-season games with the Titans and tallied twice in the postseason.

Photo by CHRISTI LANG




SPOTLIGHT: Alan Carter can’t just settle into retirement

COMEBACK KID:  Alan Carter started coaching high school football locally in 1977. He’s tried to kick the habit twice, but can’t, and his love for the game has him back in the business at Red River HS.

By JERRY BYRD JR., Journal Sports

Welcome back, Carter…again! And for the Bulldogs on the Red River High School football team’s defense, that’s Coach Carter as in longtime, hall of fame coach Alan Carter, who will — once again — be on the sidelines (or in press boxes) this fall as the new defensive coordinator in Coushatta.

“He was the first call I made when I was hired,” Red River head coach Jeff Harper said. 

The two had become friends working on the Loyola staff in 2015 and had stayed in touch ever since, even after Carter retired in 2017. Harper took over at Red River about this time last year.

“When I talked to him the first time he said he had too many plans for the summer and spending time with the grandkids,” Harper said.

But Harper didn’t take ‘no’ for a final answer. He wanted his friend, who is in the C.E. Byrd High School Hall of Fame for his successful tenure (51-33 from 1990-97) as head coach of the Yellow Jackets, coaching alongside him in Coushatta.

“I talked to him again in December,” Harper said. “He is so humble. He said, ‘The first thing I want to tell you is there are better people out there.’ I told him our schedule, and told him to give me a (salary) number.”

It is the first time Carter, who started his coaching career at Jesuit as an assistant to Anthony Catanese in 1977, is back in the game since he was the defensive coordinator for Loyola College Prep. 

“I didn’t do good with retirement,” Carter admitted. “I’ve been blessed with good health, and I knew that if I was ever going to do it again that now is the time. You never know when you’re going to get another opportunity.”

Carter didn’t have to meet with Harper. They had spent enough time together during two years in the press box coaching for LCP. He did meet with Red River superintendent Alison Hughes and Red River principal J.C. Dickey.

“The administration cares about athletics,” Carter said. “That makes a huge difference. The facilities are incredible.”

But the biggest draw for Carter wasn’t his coaching buddy, the administration, or the facilities.

“All that other stuff is great, but the kids are the main reason,” Carter said. “I had the opportunity to meet a few of them. They love to play the game.” 

“I told Alan when he came that our kids are faster than any defense he has ever coached, they play violently, and they’re coachable,” Harper said.

 After eight practices and a spring game against Cedar Creek, Carter has gone from retired to revitalized. 

With the speed Red River has, Carter installed the 3-4 defense. Carter called Scott Abernathy, who retired in January from his defensive coordinator position at Huntington High School.

“He really helped me a lot,” Carter said. 

Carter, who was then the head coach at Byrd, gave Abernathy his first coaching job in the summer of 1993. Carter retired from Byrd, then was drawn back to coaching several years later.

He’s 92-75 overall as a head coach at Loyola (11-9, 1982-83), Parkway (20-13, 1987-89), Byrd and Loyola again (10-20, 2013-15, then two more years as the Flyers’ DC). He’s also been influential in the careers of many coaching colleagues, not to overlook those of kids he’s coached.

While he learned a new defense this spring, he said not much has changed since he last coached in 2017.

“When I came out of retirement the first time, I remember the spread offense – and playing fast – had really become commonplace across the board,” Carter said. “That was a big change, but not much has changed in the last five years.”

Another thing that hasn’t changed is the support Carter has received from his wife, Cindy.

“She has always been a great coach’s wife,” Carter said. “She told me if this is what I wanted to do, she supported me. I think she was more excited than I was.”

Nobody has been more excited to have Carter in Coushatta than his new boss.

“The first thing he asked me for was more individual time with his players,” Harper said. “We usually have one – maybe two – periods for that. Coach Carter wanted three, so I gave him three. Seeing him teach our guys about keys and reads and the importance of their eyes, it’s been great to see the players soaking up the knowledge. We value his attention to detail.” 

With the spring honeymoon period in the books, it’s now time for the real work of contending for district championships to begin for the Bulldogs — as well as for their new defensive coordinator.




Dedicated to the one I love, the Class of 2022

Some people say they have “skin in the game” when they are invested in something. With the Class of 2022, I had kin in the game.

My daughter, Caitlin Byrd, marches in cap and gown tonight at Independence Stadium in the 97th graduation class of The City of Byrd, aka C.E. Byrd High School. As an assistant principal at Byrd High, I will have a front row seat, but then again, I’ve had a front row seat watching this graduating class through every step of their education. 

The Class of 2022 had a taste of normal before COVID-19 turned formal education upside down near the ides of March during their sophomore year. 

Graduates, I guess I’ll start there — on Friday, March 13th of your sophomore year. Remember that day? I do. With one tweet from Gov. Jon Bel Edwards, you and your classmates went home, many for a spring break which extended into summer. I saw you get on buses and head home. I saw teachers scrambling around in an emergency faculty meeting trying to find out if they would be able to communicate with all of their students, or not. And then I walked across the street to Walgreens, thankful they still had some toilet paper on the shelves. Strange times, indeed.

And all of this just when many of you were getting your driver’s license! Bummer! In fact, at least one of you hurried to the Express DMV and obtained your vehicular freedom before the Louisiana Department of Transportation was closed due to the pandemic.

Most of you knew what Google Classroom was before that Friday the 13th, but most of you also had teachers who had no clue. They heroically had to learn on the run, and most you understood and helped them navigate – or Zoom – through those unchartered waters. COVID-19 definitely had its way with the education system in our state, and across the nation, and around the world.

When school started back in the fall of your junior year, it didn’t look like school at all. It looked  -and felt – more like a prison. You had face masks. Your teachers had face masks or taught behind plexiglass. And many of you had to clean your desks, something that was usually the responsibility of the custodial staff. It was the first time I remember teachers complaining that they couldn’t get students to talk in class. Usually, it’s the other way around, trying to get you to be quiet.

And then there was the dreaded contact tracing. Many of you were quarantined, either because you tested positive for the virus or you sat beside someone who did.

Ask me how I know. (It suddenly fit my job description.)

Now, during this graduation season, some of you will sit and listen to graduation speakers tell you how to live the next part of your life. Some speakers will even talk to you about overcoming adversity.

They mean well, but, in all due respect, Adversity might as well be your middle name. It will be like telling Noah about the flood. You get it. You have lived it over these last four years. 

I simply want to say, thank you! Thank you for not giving up. Thank you for pushing through. Thank you for wearing the masks, Thank you for standing six feet behind your friends in lunch line, and Thank you for doing all of the hundreds of things which were asked of you during these (I cannot stand these words) unprecedented times. 

I’m going to take a page out of Green Day’s playbook, but switch it up just a bit. I hope you have the time of your lives. Not have had, but have.

I know that your high school experience was anything but normal, but as you have learned over these years, there is a reason God gave you eyes in the front of your head. It’s time to move on to the next chapter, whatever that looks like. Whether you go to college, begin a career, or take a gap year to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life, I hope it is nothing short of amazing. You definitely deserve it. There are so many who are proud not only of what you have accomplished, but – more importantly – the person you have become. I am in that number. 

Apologies to Carly Simon (ask your parents…or grandparents), but, as far as I’m concerned, Class of 2022…Nobody Did It Better!




Move over bass and crappie, it’s bream fishing time

When I was growing up out on the rural route, there were lots of activities to keep youngsters busy especially in summer when school was over for three months. 

High on the list of things to do was to go out behind the cow barn with a shovel and empty Prince Albert tobacco can and dig among the dried cow patties for earthworms. Cane poles that spent the winter on the back wall of the cow barn were taken down, black-braided line tied onto a pole, then a bream hook, lead sinker and cork float were attached. It was time to head for the creek. 

Molido was a clear and sparkling little creek with several dark holes snaked through the oaks and beeches behind our house. This was not only where we swam but the darker holes were lairs for a variety of fish – we called them all “perch.”

There were the freckled little fish we called “red perch,” blue bills and goggle eyes, all of which offered kids lots of fun. Bringing a day’s catch home guaranteed a fish fry for supper that night.

Bream fishing today is quite a bit different than those cane pole/earthworm forays to the creek years ago. Last year, a bream tournament was held on Lake D’Arbonne, giving credence to the fact that catching big bream is pretty big business.

This time of year, the lakes are crowded with fishermen armed with fiberglass poles or ultra-light spinning rods tipped with tiny spinners. Instead of messing with gooey earthworms, gray crickets are the preferred live bait for serious bream fishermen.

It has been decades since I fished on a creek and today I concentrate my bream fishing excursions to the friendly confines of a farm pond, one I have fished for years. It couldn’t be easier. I settle down in a comfortable folding chair beneath the shade of a big oak and toss my cricket into an area where year after year, big bream congregate this time of year for spawning.

Watching the cork hovering over the cricket, it’s still exciting to me when I see it bobble and then go under. This means I’m hooked up with a bream. Most of the ones I catch are big bluegills but I can be assured that at least a couple will be red eared sunfish – around here we call them chinquapins.

Our part of the state doesn’t have a corner on good bream fishing. Every freshwater lake in the state of Louisiana has hefty populations of big bream that are there for the taking.

I am fortunate that where I sit on my favorite pond is within a short cast from the bream bed I know is there. On lakes, because of so much more water surface where to look for bream, it usually takes little effort to troll slowly around the lake until you catch a big one. You can usually drop anchor right there because you very likely are within casting distance of a bream bed that will keep you busy until you catch all you want to bring home.

There is no better eating fish than bream, especially when coated with yellow mustard, dumped in a bag of Louisiana Fish Fry product and dropped into hot peanut oil.

A big bluegill or chinquapin is easy to filet and if you catch enough, you have the makings of a fine fish fry. I usually save a few smaller ones that I scale, gut and fry whole. I’ll take one of these and first take a bite of the crispy tail; it’s like eating a potato chip. Then I “unzip” it by carefully removing the fin along the back and the smaller one on the underside and separate the fish into two parts. Remove the row of bones and you have a mouth-watering couple of bites that when dipped in tartar sauce or ketchup is flat-out hard to beat.

Now that I’ve made you hungry, there is no excuse for not heading out to a pond or lake and catch a mess of bream. This time of year, it’s happening big time.




SPOTLIGHT: Little things mean a lot

FLYING TIME AGAIN: Before junior college and Louisiana Tech, Riggs Easterling was a four-time baseball letterwinner at Loyola in Shreveport.

By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports

Louisiana Tech’s Riggs Easterling is a 5-9, 170-pound infielder who has one hit, two runs scored, eight putouts and four assists in two starts and nine games played for the 38-18 Bulldogs.

So while the sophomore isn’t a cornerstone, he’s a piece of the puzzle with a chance to be a bigger piece at any moment, depending on what mood the Baseball Gods are in as Tech heads into the Conference USA Tournament today at 12:30, weather permitting, against Charlotte in Hattiesburg, Miss.

After two years at Mississippi Delta Community College, the former Loyola College Prep star has “helped us become the team we are,” coach Lane Burroughs said of his Tech team that finished 20-10 in the league, second only to a record-setting Southern Miss team ranked 14th nationally by DI Baseball.

Even in the big things, it’s always the little things that get a player or a team there.

“Everybody’s played a role,” Burroughs said. “Each player is a piece of the puzzle, a link in the chain, and Riggs has earned his link.”

With no offers, Easterling went to juco for playing time and earned it as Mississippi Delta’s everyday shortstop. In the 2020 virus-shortened season, he hit .300, scored 12 runs and stole eight bases in 14 games. Last year he had 20 RBI, eight doubles and three homers in 31 games.

“Riggs can run,” Burroughs said. “One of the biggest games of the year, we may not win it if Riggs is not in the game at that moment.”

That was at LSU in late March when Easterling found himself with the ball on the third-base line, the Tigers’ best player, Dylan Crews, caught in no-man’s land after his teammate had failed to bunt on a suicide squeeze. Catcher Jorge Corona threw to Easterling to trap Crews.

Oh … and it was bottom of the 11th, one out, tie game.

“Should I throw it back to Jorge?” Easterling said, remembering “everything” about the play. “Do I try to get him with my speed?”

The race was on. “I thought, ‘I’ll chase him.’ Then he got almost to the plate and I dove.”

So did Crews. Easterling won.

The game continued, and Tech won in 12, 7-6, for a two-game home-and-home 2022 sweep of the Tigers.

“I had to get him,” Easterling said. “I wasn’t too amped emotionally on the outside, but in my head … well, things were different.”

Things started getting really different for Easterling when he came to a Showcase at Tech last summer.

“He’s a good defender, good with the bat, solid in the classroom, a hard worker and a great young man who pushes our starters at practice and never has a bad day,” Burroughs said. “Everybody on the team loves him. He just wanted a chance; we seem to have had some success with guys who’ve just wanted an opportunity.”

“Everything I wanted was here,” Easterling said. “Great program. Great new facility. Great teammates; I knew some already. Coach said I could walk on in the fall and compete for a spot. That’s all I wanted. He told me to stay on my toes, do your work, be ready.”

He’s had four fellow Shreveporters to talk shop with, all Byrd High grads: fifth-year guys Jonathan Fincher and Steele Netterville, and freshmen Jackson Walker and Slade Netterville, who he’ll play ball and share a host family with in Indianapolis this summer.

“It’s been a bit of a humbling year for him, but he told me it’s the most fun he’s had playing baseball,” said mom Stephanie. “It’s more about the friends he’s made than the innings he’s played. He’s with such a group of leaders; I think it says a lot about the type of players and coaches he’s with and the culture of the program.”

Easterling said the seniors have been “preparing us and guiding us the right way” with an “aura around them that rubs off on us and carries the team. The energy’s great.”

But even after last year’s 42-20 season and this spring’s success, Easterling feels his team is “still underdogs in everyone’s eyes,” he said. “I’m not sure we’re recognized for how much talent this team has. We still haven’t really ‘gone on a run,’ so to speak. We really haven’t gotten hot yet. To win this many games not playing our best, that’s the sign of a great team.

“I like where we are,” he said. “Now it’s ‘go’ time.”

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu




A lot of baseball, and a lot of heart

About the only thing missing was the 1 o’clock-in-the-morning starting game time and the hand-written bracket that looked like a step-ladder.

Otherwise, the Shreveport Regional of the 2022 NAIA baseball tournament had all the appearances of a 1980s weekend softball tournament. Double elimination, but if you lose early in the event, the deck is stacked against you. The only favorable option is to just keep playing and playing and playing.

And playing, which is what happened Thursday at Pilot Field, where LSUS finally got its collective head to sea level after threatening to drown all week.

Once it got to a game where there were no more options for either team, the Pilots felt like they were on even terms.

And they were actually on more even terms than many realize. This would be the fifth game in four days for LSUS, having to work its way through the loser’s bracket to get to the final matchup with Loyola (New Orleans).

But this was also Loyola’s fifth game in four days, since the Wolf Pack did not have the opening round bye that the Pilots did on Monday.

Just put it this way – it’s a lot of baseball for both teams.

You would have thought that the winner of this game would be the team less worn out than the other one. Sure, the pitching staffs were a little used up, but what was most impressive is how both teams took gut punches and responded.

LSUS coach Brad Neffendorf wasn’t about to go down without at least giving the ball to his two best pitchers – Kevin Miranda and Bobby Vath – who had combined for almost half of the team’s 50 wins.

“We just needed somebody to start it,” Nefferdorf said of Miranda. “And Vath kind of has a bullpen mentality on the mound.”

Loyola got ahead 4-0 but before the game could get away from them, the Pilots posted two runs with two outs on a bloop single to right and a wild pitch.

Not exactly a highlight video, but 4-2 was a whole lot better than 4-0.

The first of two home runs by Allbry Major tied it in the fourth, but Loyola came back to take the lead before LSUS came back again to tie it in the bottom of the sixth.

That led to two-run homers by both teams to keep it tied.

That’s responding with it all on the line. Neither team was going to lay down.

Neffendorf wasn’t surprised in the least because he’d seen it before.

On April 20, LSUS was down 5-3 to Southwestern Assemblies of God University going into the bottom of the ninth when pinch hitter Zyon Avery hit a two-out, two-run home run to send it into extra innings. The Pilots went on to win in 10 innings.

Thursday, a two-run home run by a pinch hitter (Jaylin Turner) with two outs won the game. Sound familiar?

And how about this? Turner was pinch hitting for … Zyon Avery.

“If we hadn’t gone through a game like that (in April), I don’t know,” Neffendorf said. “We’ve gone through a little bit of everything in the last few weeks. We just kept battling.”

Asked what won it for the Pilots, Neffendorf didn’t hesitate.

“It’s all about the players,” he added. “They’ve been resilient the whole year. What credit don’t they deserve?”




SPOTLIGHT: New football coach Scogin happy on Viking Drive

SETTING THE TONE: New Airline football coach Justin Scogin talks to the Vikings after spring practice ended this week with an intrasquad scrimmage.

By JERRY BYRD JR., Journal Sports

New Airline High School football coach Justin Scogin and LSU’s Brian Kelly have some things in common going into their first seasons. For starters, Scogin is taking a 1-0 record into year one on Viking Drive. The Vikings completed their spring practice on Tuesday night with an intrasquad scrimmage, like Kelly’s LSU team did.

For Scogin, it was nice to get on the turf and under the lights with his players and coaches for the first time. And it was a win, any way you measure it.

“It felt great,” Scogin said. “One, to be in the unbelievable stadium, one of the few places around with turf. Just to have the players and coaches out there playing football. It was good all the way around. Spring was a huge success for us.”

That is not where the comparisons between Kelly and Scogin end. Both will have some decisions to make during the fall when it’s time to decide on a starting quarterback.

Juniors Ladarius Epps and Preston Doerner, and sophomore Ben Taylor, have all impressed the head man when it comes to learning Scogin’s offense, especially considering there were only nine spring practices. 

“All three are really smart,” Scogin said. “All three are fun to be around. The quarterback position is wide open.”

But that is where the comparisons with LSU’s Kelly end, as far as Scogin is concerned. 

“Bo did a really good job establishing the culture here,” Scogin said of former Airline head coach Bo Meeks, who had been in the position for 11 years. “I’d hate to be a college coach and have to go in and establish the culture. You have to deal with the transfer portal and NIL. It’s a disaster.”

After Meeks stepped away, Scogin was hired on Friday, March 25 by Airline principal Justin James. And while he wanted the job that he calls “one of the best situations in the state,” he took a wait-and-see approach after his interview.

“In my experience, you never apply for a job and feel like without a shadow of doubt that you’re the guy,” Scogin said. “I thought with the situation Airline has here that Les Miles or Ed Orgeron may apply. I thought I had a 50/50 shot to get it. During the process, I didn’t hear any names of other candidates. After I was hired, I heard some names that applied and know they would have been good choices. I just feel lucky to be the guy who was selected.”

The skill of the athletes, the number of athletes in the school, and the facilities are the three reasons Scogin believes the Airline job is among the best in Louisiana.

“I was at Parkway for several years,” Scogin said. “I know the kind of athletes they have here. They also have 2,000 kids in the school. There aren’t many high schools in Louisiana that can say that. Finally, their commitment to improving athletic facilities here has been second to none.”

During Scogins’ time at Parkway, he met some Airline assistant coaches, who he held in high regard. He correctly believed taking the Vikings’ helm would be a tuneup, not a rebuild, and he would not have to clean house with an entirely new staff.

Scogin received the job offer from James at 3 on a Friday afternoon. In the next hour, his first as the Vikings’ head man, he reached out to the middle school coaches at Cope and Greenacres.

“It was that important to me,” Scogin said. “I have sat down with them (since). I want to be visible. I want those kids to come to our games on Friday nights. I want them to grow up wanting to wear the navy and columbia blue.” 

Scogin has brought in Zack Pourciau, who will serve as the defensive coordinator, and Logan Kreyenbuhl for his staff. Pourciau came from Pineville, where he served in the same position, and Kreyenbuhl came with Scogin from Leesville.

“(Pourciau) was good with taking lesser skilled guys at Pineville and making it tough for you to move the ball against them,” Scogin said. “He was a long shot for me to get. There were two that I wanted. Zack was 1A for me.

“(Kreyenbuhl) is a high energy guy and will assume the role that I had at Leesville,” Scogin said of Kreyenbuhl, who will coach wide receivers. “He brings a certain energy with him that will benefit our kids.” 

With his first spring finished, Scogin and the Vikings turn their attention to summer, when they will play as much 7-on-7 as they can.

“I think it’s important to build that team chemistry,” Scogin said. “We are going to compete every day. Of course, we’re going to lift and get on the track and run. We’re just going to continue to move in the direction we want on both sides of the ball.”

The only drawback in the first month and half?

“That’s easy,” Scogin said. “Being here with my family being in Leesville. That’s been brutal…on me.”

The Scogin family will soon be reunited for summer, while the Airline family has found their man to lead the football program.  

Photo by SETH STOWELL




SPOTLIGHT: Steele Netterville is double trouble

SWEET SWING: Byrd High alumnus Steele Netterville has refined his batting stroke, denting outfield walls and the Louisiana Tech record book.

By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports

Louisiana Tech rightfielder and three-hole hitter Steele Netterville is a bright dude.

For the third straight year, Netterville was last week named First Team Academic All-District by the College Sports Information Directors of America.

His GPA is 3.93. (In baseball terminology, that’s like hitting .995)

A fifth-year senior, he graduated with a degree in biology and is studying for his second degree in kinesiology and health sciences. He was accepted into medical school in May, but the school held the spot open so the Byrd High School product could return to Tech for his final year of baseball eligibility.

So grade-wise, he can’t even spell “B.”

But hitting a baseball? That’s a different kind of test.

Organic Chemistry was hard. But hey, he still made an A.

“Hitting is harder,” he said, “by a long, long, long shot.”

“I would never say I’ve figured it out,” said Netterville, who’s hitting .311 with 62 RBI, 13 homers and 13 doubles: his 60 career doubles is a program record. “As soon as you think you’ve got hitting figured out, you get your teeth kicked in.”

He hit only .253 as a sophomore — but he still led the Bulldogs with 26 extra base hits, tied for homers with seven, and was third on the team in RBI.

Not satisfied, he did what he does. He studied. And as the old saying goes, when the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear; former Northwestern State and Alabama head coach Mitch Gaspard became Tech’s hitting coach before Netterville’s third season.

Lots of pitching machine sliders in the dirt. Lots of film. Lots of just talking about hitting. About making pitchers get the ball up. Just those two and baseball. Time and practice.

“You’d think that, righty on righty, slider would be his weakness,” teammate and righthanded pitcher Greg Martinez said. “And it was. But after pitching against him the last couple years, I can say that it’s not anymore. He’s learned to stay away from those (sliders out of the zone). His timing’s better. And he was already pretty much geared for the fastball.”

Netterville and his teammates, 36-17 overall, 18-9 and two games out of first behind Southern Miss, head into a three-game series today to complete the regular season against Charlotte, 34-18, 16-11 and the hottest team in the league, 11-1 in its last four conference series.

The CUSA Tournament begins next Wednesday in Hattiesburg, Miss. And Netterville likes his team’s chances, for reasons no one but those on the team would fully understand.

“I like us because of how much this team has gone though, dating back to the tornado (in April 2019 that destroyed Tech’s home field),” he said. “The newer guys on the team have heard about it. And this year we’ve got the same number of wins as last year (when Tech hosted a NCAA Regional), but it seems like none of them have been easy. We’ve been super resilient. We’ve been knocked down on the mat, and every time we’ve gotten up.”




Tennis around the clock? 40 years ago, it happened here

Forty years ago, a couple of local tennis pros were kicking around an idea. Seems some guys in Oklahoma had set the Guinness Book of World Records for playing doubles for 87 hours in order to raise money for a worthy cause.

“Wanna try?” said Chris Brown.

Brown, then the head pro at Pierremont Tennis Club, was posing the question to assistant pro Jimmy Livesay, who already had the right cause in mind.

“This was back when Centenary (College) was getting ready to build the tennis courts,” says Livesay, now the head pro and owner of Indoors Racket Club. “My brother was playing at Centenary and so was Joe Prather. What a great cause. We could try to break the record and raise money for the Centenary tennis courts.”

And so the challenge was on. Brown and Livesay got in touch with fellow local pros Stuart Bunn (East Ridge Country Club) and Marvin Street (Shreveport Country Club) to find out if they were interested in the idea.

It wasn’t long before the four guys had come up with the idea – the Tennis Marathon would be held over Memorial Day weekend and consist of “3 Days and 18 Hours of Non-Stop Tennis.”

On May 27, 1982, at 6 p.m., the four pros started the marathon doubles match at Pierremont Oaks with the goal of breaking the record on May 31 at noon.

People pledged money for certain amounts of time with all proceeds to benefit the Shreveport Metropolitan Tennis Association and the Centenary Tennis Complex Project.

“We set the goal for 90 hours,” recalls Livesay, “and we did it. Three days of non-stop tennis.”

According to the rules set by Guinness, the foursome would get a five-minute break for every hour they played so they’d play for 12 straight hours and got to take an hour break. Cots were set up in the locker room but the pros were too amped up to sleep.

“At one point, Chris just stood there (on the court),” says Livesay. “He was just looking straight ahead and wasn’t saying anything. Then we figured out he had fallen asleep standing up.”

Sleep deprivation was a common consequence. At one point, local pro Lance Dreyer saw Marvin Street wandering in the parking lot and asked what he was doing. “I’ve got to play in the marathon,” answered Street.

Medical personnel were on standby for any emergencies, there was a masseuse on hand, and there were always people in the stands watching – sometimes more than others.

“The worst time was about two in the morning,” says Livesay, “and early mornings were tough.”

When it started raining, the foursome would run over to the indoor courts and keep playing until they could resume outside.

And so it went, on and on. “Even in those last hours, we played some pretty good tennis,” remembers Livesay. By the time Monday rolled around, Pierremont Oaks was packed with people. Radio stations and TV stations were on site to capture the world record.

“We felt like big celebrities,” says Livesay. “It was so cool.”

Not only had the local pros broken the record, they had also raised over $10,000 for local tennis to help in the construction of the Centenary Tennis Complex.

My, how times have changed. According to Livesay, those tennis courts for which they raised the money to build will soon be torn down. Brown and Bunn have retired from tennis and moved away. After serving as the pro at Querbes Tennis Center for years, Street has also retired.

So, no rematch? “No way,” says Livesay, who underwent his second knee surgery six weeks ago. “But we had a blast. It’s just hard to believe that was 40 years ago.”




Road trip to Tensas doesn’t disappoint

Two years ago when I visited the Tensas National Wildlife Refuge in Madison Parish for the first time, I hoped to see a bear. It didn’t happen but I saw enough and triggered the interest in my wife sufficiently that she wanted to go see this remarkable place.

A year later, it all came together when we were invited by my friend and regular Tensas visitor, Dr. Terry Jones, for the trip over to tour the refuge which touches parts of three parishes, Madison, Tensas and Franklin.

This special part of our state has a fascinating history. Founded in 1980 to preserve one of the largest privately owned tracts of bottomland hardwoods remaining in the Mississippi River delta, the refuge encompasses some 80,000 acres of pure swampy bottomland hardwood majesty. This type of habitat once covered 25 million acres, the majority of which over the years was cleared to make way for farmland, the rich soils being the major attraction.

Today, these same rich soils support some 400 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. The largest population of the threatened Louisiana black bears live here. Tantalizing too is the fact that the last verified sighting of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, now believed to be extinct, was in 1940 on the area that now makes up the Tensas National Wildlife Refuge.

With that bit of history laid out, now back to this past Monday when we drove over to see what Tensas would show us. She didn’t disappoint.

First, Jones led us to the check station where mandatory forms were completed so refuge managers can keep count of the number of visitors. Then we headed down Mill Road where Jones and I had seen alligators on our previous visit. While not as many as we had seen on our last visit, they were there; we watched five gators paddling easily over the waters of a borrow pit with the largest being maybe 10 feet long.

After photographing the alligators, we reversed course, drove back to the check station where Jones suggested I lead out on a slow drive down Quebec Road, telling us to keep an eye out for “critters.”

“We have sometimes seen bears along this drive,” Jones said as we motored away.

A mile or so down the road, something caught my eye. There was a bear in the roadside ditch maybe 10 feet from the car. She ascended the shallow bank and stopped next to a large tree. My wife and watched spellbound as two tiny bear cubs followed her up the bank. Our cameras and those of Jones, who had pulled to a stop behind me, were busy photographing the bear and her little ones.

They remained in the same spot as we drove off down the road talking about how fortunate we were to see such a sight. Turning around half an hour later and returning to the spot, lo and behold, the trio of bears was still there.

We got to watch one of the little guys climb a few yards up the tree for a better look, with our cameras snapping away and disrupting their afternoon of doing whatever they were doing when we spotted them.

Finally, mama bear had had enough of all the attention. She glared at us sitting in our vehicles 20 steps away from her, then rushed forward a few feet making a “huff, huff” sound.

We got the message. We had gotten to witness what we came to see and drove away leaving the bears to themselves but left with memories we won’t soon forget.




SPOTLIGHT: Haughton’s Anderson, Calvary’s Legg top SBJ All-Metro baseball team

JOURNAL STAFF

Haughton coach Glenn Maynor didn’t have to look far to find someone to fill the hole caused by graduation to his pitching staff. He had the perfect replacement ready to go in Austin Anderson.

“Last year he was strictly a reliever and he did a great job with that,” said Maynor. “This year, we needed him to start games and he accepted that challenge and did a great job.”

Anderson, a junior, was 9-2 with a 1.72 ERA for the Bucs with 77 strikeouts in 61 innings pitched. But he did more than that, which is why he is the Outstanding Player on The Journal’s 2022 All-Metro baseball team.

“Throughout district, he was our best hitter and best pitcher,” Maynor said. “Obviously, he meant a lot to our team. Especially in the second half of the year, he was crushing it.”

When he wasn’t pitching, Anderson played first base and batted .398 with 12 doubles, one home run and 30 RBI.

The Coach of the Year is Calvary’s Jason Legg, who led the Cavaliers to a Division IV state championship in his first year as head coach.

Legg put together a schedule for Calvary that had them prepared for the state championship run, playing 12 games against Class 5A teams (the Cavs were 6-6 in those games). In addition to tough competition, the Cavs overcame adversity: they lost two starters to injury during the season and had another starter knocked out of the state semifinal game.

“I thought when we started (the season) that we could do what we accomplished this year,” Legg said. “We signed up for rings in week one and that wasn’t just coachspeak. I really believed it.”

Also considered for Coach of the Year was Northwood’s Austin Alexander, who led the Falcons to their first quarterfinal appearance since 2005 with a team that featured three freshman pitchers.

Four Cavaliers join Legg on the All-Metro team – senior pitcher Blaine Rogers, senior designated hitter Cody VanNoppen, senior shortstop Caden Flowers and sophomore outfielder Aubrey Hermes.

Only half of the players on the 16-player team are seniors.

Eight Shreveport-Bossier coaches, along with two local baseball observers, were invited to nominate and participate in selecting the Journal All-Metro team. The team was limited to one player at each standard position, plus a pitching staff consisting of four starters and a relief pitcher. Two utility players were chosen, based on having split time as both a pitcher and a position player.

The “Best of the Rest” is for those who were given strong consideration for the first team. The 11 selections were not chosen by position.

2022 SBJ ALL-METRO BASEBALL TEAM

Catcher – Zach Schoenborn, Parkway (Jr.)

First Base – Patrick Snead, Byrd (Sr.)

Second Base – Blake Fant, Captain Shreve (Sr.)

Shortstop – Caden Flowers, Calvary (Sr.)

Third Base – Harrison Waxley, Airline (Sr.)

Outfield – Tucker McCabe, Northwood (So.)

Outfield – Aubrey Hermes, Calvary (So.)

Outfield – Colin Rains, Haughton (Jr.)

Designated Hitter – Cody VanNoppen, Calvary (Sr.)

Pitcher – Austin Anderson, Haughton (Jr.)

Pitcher – Sawyer Simmons, Benton (Jr.)

Pitcher – William Soignier, Loyola (Sr.)

Pitcher – Blaine Rogers, Calvary (Sr.)

Relief Pitcher – Cale Latimer, Benton (Jr.)

Utility – Cade Josting, Parkway (Sr.)

Utility – Jaxon Bentzler, Northwood (Fr.)

Outstanding Player – Austin Anderson, Haughton

Coach of the Year – Jason Legg, Calvary

BEST OF THE REST

Christian Blackmon, Northwood (Fr.)

Jack Carlisle, Northwood (Fr.)

Reagan Coyle, Loyola (Soph.)

David Favrot, Byrd (Sr.)

Peyton Fulghum, Evangel (So.)

Trenton Lape, Parkway (Jr.)

Kennon Lauterbach, Benton (Jr.)

Chan Lytle, Haughton (Sr.)

Mason Morgan, Airline (Jr.)

Davin Watkins, Southwood (Sr.)

Carter White, Airline (Soph.)




Grassroots hoops and Shreveport-Bossier should be the perfect couple

Before Bossier High’s rise and the Bearkats’ return to greatness, or Mikaylah Williams being justifiably heralded as the No. 1 girls’ prep player in the nation, Shreveport-Bossier was one of the pinnacles for high school hoops in the South.

Back in the days of the CNB Times Classic, teams from all over the state, and various parts of the country, came here to play. The competition here was some of the best anywhere. But hey, the high school historians in the area can tell you that.

The same thing should be said about grassroots or AAU or summer travel basketball. Whatever you call it, Shreveport-Bossier should be a hotbed for it.

There has been only one thing stopping Shreveport-Bossier from being a hub for grassroots hoops, however— a facility worthy of holding these contests.

Well, that was a problem. Last week’s report in The Journal about the renovation project to convert Expo Hall into a multi-sport, public facility is the game changer that Shreveport has needed for grassroots.

This indoor sports facility will bring teams, competition, and tourism dollars to the area. You want the high school basketball players to get better in the area and gain more exposure? Hosting regional and national grassroots tournaments for them to participate in has now become a tangible goal.

Those who believe the concept is far-fetched obviously do not know or have yet to see what Shreveport-Bossier can offer the grassroots basketball community. It’s not hard to see. Just open your eyes.

We have Interstate 20 which is one of the main interstate exchanges in America. Shreveport Regional Airport is highly serviceable and numerous teams can fly in from different areas. We actually have teen-friendly entertainment venues, if people are worried about something for the kids to do when they’re not on the court.

Mix all of these assets with the high number of quality basketball players and teams in the Ark-La-Tex, add the short distance that teams from Oklahoma and Mississippi would have to travel, and Shreveport-Bossier has the makings of one of the best places to play grassroots basketball, period.

I know, I know. We will always have pushback from the “too much crime” crowd. However, we find a way to host baseball and softball tournaments all summer, the largest slow-pitch softball event in the south, and even the nationally-televised Independence Bowl. So, you’d have to come up with a bigger argument than that.

In reality, I am aware that we will continue to send our teams and our money to Fort Worth, Dallas, Ruston, and other places. The athletes in the area need to be exposed to other areas and have other life experiences. However, there is no place like home! Getting to compete with other high profile basketball players from around the country, at home, would be a major plus for our local athletes.

Now, let’s welcome influential entities like Prep Hoops, the Under Armour circuit, Adidas, and even Nike to northwest Louisiana.

The recently restructured Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission should be making plans to gain the ear of these grassroots entities with target dates in tow. Once the renovated Expo Hall opens, the benefits to the athletes and the area will be boundless.

Grassroots basketball and Shreveport-Bossier are a couple made in hoops and economic heaven. Now we just need to see if it can be a marriage that can last a lifetime.

After $4.5 million renovation, Expo Hall will be indoor sports venue




SPOTLIGHT: Calvary’s state championship was hardly routine

POISED TO DELIVER: Junior catcher Cade Bedgood went 2-for-5 Saturday, driving in a run as Calvary Baptist captured another state baseball championship,

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

Watch enough high school baseball and you’ll quickly come to the realization that there is no such thing as a routine ground ball. It doesn’t matter if it is the third inning of the pre-season jamboree or the bottom of the seventh inning of the championship game. Too many things can happen, either physically or mentally.

So when Ouachita Christian had the winning run on third base in Saturday’s Division IV state championship game against Calvary and a routine ball was hit to second base, the Cavaliers’ Logan Fontenot had to make the play.

Couldn’t let it go between his legs. Couldn’t fumble it. Couldn’t short-arm the throw to first base. And this is a teenager we are talking about. These aren’t automatic plays even in the major leagues: Google “Chuck Knoblauch” or “Steve Sax” to find out why.

Calvary coach Jason Legg had plenty of things to worry about at that point, but his infield defense wasn’t one of them. “I’m telling you there were four guys there (in the infield) who wanted the ball hit to them,” he said.

Even though things had started going sideways for the Cavaliers in the previous 10 minutes — the Cavs had been one out away from hoisting the trophy before Eagles scored three runs to tie it in the bottom of the seventh, and had the bases loaded — Fontenot didn’t even blink.

He made a routine play look just that – routine. And because of that, Calvary would go on to win their fifth state title an extra-inning later with a 12-4 margin Saturday in Hammond on the campus of Southeastern Louisiana.

Think of all the things that could have happened to the Cavs in that situation without the ball even being hit. A curveball grazes the jersey of a batter. A balk. A wild pitch or a passed ball. Ball Four.

The state championship was on the line. Somebody had to make a play. And Fontenot did.

If he didn’t, what transpired next would have never happened. After the groundout, the Cavs got back in the dugout and realized the most important thing – they were still playing.

“When I went out to coach third in the top of the eighth, I told their coaches, ‘This is how a state championship game should be,’” Legg said.

Not for long.

The Cavs rattled off twice as many runs in the top of the eighth as they had in the previous seven innings combined. And guess who knocked in the go-ahead run in the eight-run inning? Of course it was Fontenot.

Guess who was in the middle of a game-ending, championship-winning double play to make it official? Fontenot.

Commence dogpile.

“I stood back and watched the previous two dogpiles (in the quarterfinals and the semifinals),” Legg said. “I was fine with them (the players) doing it, but there’s only one that matters. So I made sure I got in this one. That’s probably the most air I’ve gotten since high school.”

There was another play that happened that, like Fontenot’s, may seem routine but is one of those little things that win games.

With the score tied at 4-4 in the bottom of the seventh and a runner on second, a single to left-center field would have scored a lot of runs in most high school games. But with the championship on the line, Calvary centerfielder Aubrey Hermes got to the ball quickly, forcing OCS to put the stop sign out for the runner heading into third with the difference-maker.

“He did a great job of getting to that ball and getting it back to the infield,” Legg said of Hermes’ play. “But if he doesn’t get to it that fast or it eats him up with a bad hop, who knows? I was a little surprised that they held him, but I think he would have been a dead duck.”

Maybe. But when runner, catcher and baseball all meet at home plate, nothing is for certain.

What is for certain is that those little plays – Hermes in the outfield and Fontenot in the infield – prove that sometimes, championship plays are the routine ones.

And the Calvary Cavaliers made them.

Photo by ERIC LYDDY




SPOTLIGHT: This lefty is all right

NEVER LOSE FOCUS: At one time the biggest player on the First Baptist Shreveport Patriots machine pitch team, Jonathan Fincher has become a bigger reason for Tech’s baseball success.

By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports

He’s studying to be a surgeon, so Louisiana Tech scholar-athlete Jonathan Fincher will be in a life-or-death situation or two one day.

Baseball’s far from that. Even though, sometimes …

“In that moment of competition,” said Louisiana Tech’s junior lefthander, a nervous smile on his face, “it sure feels like life and death.”

Like for instance a couple of Sundays ago at Old Dominion when Fincher left the mound with two on and one out, in the deciding game of a three-game series, and his buddy Landon Tomkins came in and got a 6-4-3 double play on a 2-1 pitch to end the threat in a game Tech would win, 8-4, to move into second place in the Conference USA race. Biggest play of the game.

“I jumped about 18 feet high,” Fincher said, now all smiles in the players’ lounge of the Love Shack before a practice for this weekend’s crucial three-game set in Ruston against Western Kentucky. “I’m a big guy (6-3, 240), so 18 feet, that’s pretty high.”

Baseball life.

And then there’s baseball death, like Tech dropping two of three last weekend at home against Florida Atlantic to fall into a tie for third, a game behind UTSA, three behind league-leading Southern Miss, a team that took 2 of 3 from the visiting Bulldogs at the start of April.

And there’s Fincher, who, if you didn’t know him, might have been figured for life support a month ago.

Last spring he was first-team All C-USA. Led the Bulldog staff in strikeouts (85, walked only 23), innings pitched (100.1) and lowest opposing batting average against him (.219). Finished 8-3 for the West Division champs on a 42-20 Tech team that hosted an NCAA Regional, a first in program history.

But last month, Fincher found himself in the bullpen. His fastball wasn’t Fincher-fast and was finding too much of the plate, and his home runs allowed count was suspiciously high (six last year, nine in a little more than half as many innings this spring).

Teammate, close friend and lefty Cade Gibson was “putting together better innings,” Fincher said. The two swapped spots. Fincher’s heart didn’t even skip a beat.

“It was the logical move,” Fincher said. “Whatever the team needs. That’s the same attitude I’ve always had.”

He and pitching coach Cooper Fouts fixed a couple of mechanical things that have allowed him better command, and he’s gotten some velocity back by cutting his between-appearances workload.

Could be what the doctor ordered. If it’s not, it won’t be from lack of confidence or preparation. He’s book smart — Thursday he and teammate and Byrd High bestie Steele Netterville were named 2021-22 Baseball First Team Academic All-District — but he’s baseball smart too.

“Being able to deal with the pressure a situation puts on you,” he said, “whether it’s trying to save a person’s life or get a ground ball to second base … I think that’s the main thing baseball teaches you in life, to build that confidence in yourself to perform whatever task you’re trying to do at that point and time.

“Move on, pitch-to-pitch. Execute your plan. Lock in. Keep attacking.”

Those calling cards of focus and attack are the same reasons he feels no one should sleep on this year’s Bulldogs (33-17, 15-9), scheduled to play at 6 tonight, 2 Saturday (Senior Day) and 1 Sunday against WKU (17-30, 7-17).

“We’ve got a lot of guys who’ve been through the tornado and playing without a stadium and dealing with COVID,” Fincher said, “a bunch of grinders who go to work and don’t really care what the outside has to say about what the team is doing at that moment. We’re going to lock shields and rely on each other.

“We’ve got a great core group,” he said. “I can’t wait to get to the park every day, just to hang out. At this point, if you’re not having fun, you’re probably in the wrong place.”

Photo courtesy of Louisiana Tech




A time to appreciate, and times to anticipate

Saturday night in Sulphur – or maybe it will be Hammond – someone is going to catch a pop up or make a throw to first or get a strikeout. Or maybe it’ll be a walk-off hit, but it will happen.

The time, the place and the method really doesn’t matter. But when the last out is made (or last run is scored) in either the Class 5A state baseball finals (Sulphur) or the Division I finals (Hammond), that’s it. We’ll be done.

Another high school sports calendar will have run its course.

Seniors will graduate all across the state and those moments they have been pointing toward all their athletic life will officially be a memory. Another class steps up; another set of memories waiting to be made.

It starts in the heat of the late summer and ends in the heat of the late spring. It takes us for a ride throughout the calendar with the unexpected happening more often that you can count.

The stories within those nine months are what make high school sports so special. It’s not about the superstar who leaves for college early to get a jump on his next-level career. Those are the headliners and they certainly have their place.

Instead, focus on all the things that happen over the course of 40 weeks. Hopes. Dreams. Pain. Tears.

Life.

There’s a Class C basketball team in a town you’ve never heard of that just won its biggest game against the rival it could never beat. There’s a region, devastated by a natural disaster, that rallied just to field a high school football team because it was what they needed to do to feel normal.

There’s a girl who never played volleyball before and found a place on the team that did more for her self-esteem than anybody ever thought.

There’s the swimmer who missed being a state champion by .01 seconds or the softball player who took a called third strike with the bases loaded to end the game.

And there’s the kid who sat the bench at the Class 5A school, just waiting for his chance because his senior year was the only shot he was ever going to get. The kid who just wanted to play, even if it was a deep snapper or a courtesy runner.

They’ll hold trophies at the end of every sport’s season and everyone will smile as celebratory pictures and selfies are taken. Just a few feet away are the defeated opponents, who just knew it wasn’t going to be that way. It seems like that crushing pain will never go away. And then it does.

If you said high school sports are not like it used to be, you would be correct. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Athletic competition was never meant to be stagnant. We are always trying to run faster, throw harder and kick farther. That’s just athletics.

You have to look down into the core of high school athletics to see what’s going on now is what has always gone on. These are probably the greatest times and the greatest friends you’ll ever have. Tucked inside that calendar will be good memories and bad memories, but they will all be special.

And the best part of all? When it’s over, there’s another train coming.




SPOTLIGHT: Biggest home game ever? Calvary hosts state semis tonight

SET FOR SEMIS: The Calvary Baptist Cavaliers baseball team has a ‘super cool’ opportunity to play a state semifinal game at home this evening, and has weathered many challenges to reach this point.

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

For a school that’s won four baseball state championships, it might seem a little strange to hear that tonight’s LHSAA Division IV semifinal game might be the biggest ever played at Calvary’s home field.

But there’s an easy explanation for that: The Cavaliers have never played a home semifinal game before.

“Super cool,” is how head coach Jason Legg describes it.

In something of a tournament scheduling quirk, semifinal games in three of the Select divisions (II, III and IV) are being played at home sites. However, those winners will have very little time to celebrate; they’ll have to be in Hammond for the state finals on Saturday.

In previous years, the semifinals and finals were played at a predetermined location. In winning championships in 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2019, Calvary has played semifinal games in Alexandria, Monroe, Ruston and Sulphur.

Now you know why tonight’s 7 o’clock matchup with Covenant Christian (Houma) at Trademark Field is as big as it can get.

“I really don’t love it from the perspective of the logistics involved,” Legg said. “Whenever we’ve been before, the semifinals and finals were always at the same place. But I do love that we are going to host the game. It’s going to be an unbelievable crowd and atmosphere.”

Last weekend, the Cavaliers found themselves in quite a battle in the quarterfinals. Calvary traveled to Catholic-Pointe Coupee and got a masterful performance on the mound from Blaine Rodgers in Game 1. But Catholic turned the tables in Game 2 and things got interesting both on and off the field.

“It was one of the most uncomfortable situations our team has been in,” Legg said. “But pressure is a privilege for us. We have trained the entire year on being comfortable in the uncomfortable. I think we rose to the occasion. It was great to see everything come to fruition of what we’ve strived for all year.”

Part of that comes from the schedule Calvary has played, which Legg calls “the toughest in school history.” Try this on for size: the Cavs have played Sulphur (twice) and Dutchtown. Both are in the Class 5A semifinals and all three were one-run games.

They have played three Division II semifinalists, Parkview Baptist (twice) and St. Louis (twice) and University. They played the top seed in Class 5A (Barbe) and the No. 2 seed in Class 4A (Neville). They have played 12 Class 5A teams and are 6-6 in those games.

But battling adversity has been a constant for the Cavs this year with the death of outfielder Lane Mangum in a boating accident a year ago and season-ending injuries to two players (Hutch Grace, Drew Bickham) during the ’22 season.

“Our team has learned a lot about itself this year,” Legg said. “The grind we have been through has prepared us for what we have learned over the last two months. I knew what we had and the depth that we had. The job was to figure out what we could put in front of them that would be enough to prepare them for this moment. And these last two games are what that’s all about.”

Calvary is 24-15 while Covenant Christian comes in with a 24-13 record. The Lions have had to win a Game 3 in both of the previous playoff series, including an 8-7 win over Central Catholic in the deciding game.

Connor Matherne is the top pitcher for the Lions. The 6-foot-1 righthander is a Delgado JC commitment.

Legg said Rodgers (5-4) will get the start on the mound. “I don’t think that’s any kind of secret,” he said. “He’s pitched unbelievably well the last three games. He’s had a super senior year. Behind him is anybody and everybody.”

Photo by JOHN JAMES MARSHALL




Want a (longshot) bet?

At a party over the weekend, I overheard a woman saying she had put a bet on 80-1 longshot Rich Strike to win the Kentucky Derby. While she did collect about $150, she was just one horse away from winning the trifecta – and pocketing over $300,000.

Or something like that. I know less about betting than I know about social media (remember, I had to get someone to make those awful videos disappear from my Facebook screen).

Over/under? That was a game we played during P.E. in high school – the one where you stand in line and pass the ball to the next person, one under, next over, etc.

One of my fondest (translated funniest) memories from that game was when I passed the ball to Susan McClamroch, who reached down between her legs to get the ball, stepped on her hair and came up with a handful of her ponytail. I figure the odds of that happening had to be greater than 80-1.

At 80-1, Rich Strike became the second-longest odds winner in the history of the Kentucky Derby, behind 1913 winner Donerail at 91-1 odds. I’m sure that means some people really raked in the dough. Out of curiosity, I looked up just how much money was actually wagered at the Triple Crown race this year.

Turns out, Rich Strike wasn’t the only one who made history. According to ESPN, a record $179 million was wagered at Churchill Downs this year. Turns out, also, that’s not even close to what was wagered at the Super Bowl ($1 billion) and even further removed from this year’s March Madness ($3.1 billion).

I don’t know how much will be wagered on this year’s College World Series – either in softball or baseball, but I’ve got a couple of bets for you.

The first one is a sure bet (I think that’s what they call a “lock”): take Oklahoma in the Women’s CWS. Now that the conference championships are under way, it won’t be long until we get to one of my new favorite times of the year – the WCWS. When OU goes to Oklahoma City to defend its title beginning on June 2, the Sooners will have the advantage of fielding one of the greatest players in college softball history.

Utility infielder (and NFCA Player of the Year last season) Jocelyn Alo, who became the all-time home run leader when she smashed her 96th career homer on March 11, will be trying to close out her Sooners’ career with another national championship. The Sooners, who return almost their entire team, also have returning NFCA Freshman of the Year Tiare Jennings, who was second in the NCAA in home runs and led the nation in doubles.

If I were a betting person, that’s where my money would go.

I’m not sure who will be favored to win it all when the CWS begins June 16 in Omaha, Neb., but Tennessee has got to be the front-runner. If you’re looking for a dark horse, however, I’ve got one for you.

When Coastal Carolina won the national championship in 2016, it was the first time that a team won the title in its first CWS appearance since Minnesota in 1956. It was also the first national title for the Big South Conference. The Chanticleers joined the Sun Belt Conference shortly thereafter. Florida was the favorite going into the tournament that year.

While the Division I conference tournaments haven’t even gotten under way, I’ll give you an early long shot for this year’s CWS – Eastern Kentucky. The Colonels are currently leading the West Division of the Atlantic Sun Conference. Like the 2016 Chanticleers, the Colonels would be making their first-ever appearance in the national tournament.

If EKU makes it to the A-Sun Tournament (May 24-28), ends up winning the title, and makes it through the June 3-6 regional AND the Super Regional (June 10-13), the next stop would be Omaha. With closer Will Brian leading the nation in saves and left-fielder Kendal Ewell at No. 8 in the nation in batting average, the Colonels are primed for a Cinderella run.

Could the Colonels be the next Chanticleers? You can bet on it.




SPOTLIGHT: Consultant says Sports Commission’s posture threatened CVB’s culture

BACK FOR MORE: The U.S. Women’s National Team, which began its run to an Olympic Gold medal in Bossier City, will be back late this month for an international competition assisted by the Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission.

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

The Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission is segregated from the rest of the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau, which “is a point of great concern for the culture and stability of the entire organization.”

That is according to an eight-page organizational assessment conducted by a Washington State-based consulting firm.

The report by Fired-Up! Culture is part of a $34,500 contract with the Bureau, which includes other services and “multiple visits to the market for on-site training,” said Bureau President and CEO Stacy Brown.

“The leadership of the sports development team is not best served in segregation from the rest of the organization,” the assessment reads. “This has caused significant distance and lack of equity and understanding between the sports team and the rest of the organization.”

Brown agreed. The Commission is a division of the Bureau.

“In recent years, it (sports commission staff) has become more segmented, where other staff members were really not participating in that,” Brown said. “What we’re doing is realigning to be able to use all of the staff more efficiently. For instance, we’ve had basically just one person working on sports marketing, out of a team of people that work on marketing. They all need to be integrated together so that sports is a part of all the marketing that we do.”

March 31, almost a month before the assessment was complete, the Bureau eliminated the Commission’s executive director position. Kelly Wells had been in that role for 12 years. Sara Nelms now has the title Director of Sports, Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission.

“Somebody has to own it,” said a nationally-recognized sports tourism expert, referring to the need for a point person when it comes to sports-related events. The expert reviewed the assessment at the Journal’s request. The expert requested anonymity, so as not to jeopardize any current or future projects.

“Especially in a destination like Shreveport that has such a rich history in sports,” the expert said. “(Shreveport) has a lot of great assets and has been doing (sports) a long time. It would be really hard to have a hybrid person in the (Convention and Visitors Bureau) that says ‘Oh, I dabble in sports as a director, and I’m over here doing this other stuff.’”

The assessment includes 15 recommendations for the Bureau and Commission to implement.

The first is for the Bureau to do an analysis of the cost, and return on investment, for each segment of business development, including sports.

“Our cost per sports delegate is higher than the norm,” Brown said. “So, we’re spending more money to get a sports delegate here than a lot of other communities are. So, looking at how we make sure we maximize our return on investment is very important.”

The expert said spending more money on sports is not a negative.

“Whatever the sports commission is driving compared to the other markets — leisure, conventions, meetings, those type things — it should get that percentage back as far as in support. That’s a huge thing. We see that a lot in small markets, where sports drives the ship, but then they’re an afterthought as far as budgetary concerns.”

Other recommendations include conducting a professional study to determine if the Bureau is paying a fair and competitive salary. Brown said that work has already started.

“Part of what we’re looking at is how we are positioned within the market,” Brown said, “but also, how are we positioned within our competitive set—which is other bureaus that are likely to steal from us.”