By JASON PUGH, Written for the LSWA
NATCHITOCHES – For the 50th anniversary of its arrival in this small town located on Cane River Lake, the 2022 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony took time to celebrate the villages.
Those villages – whether it was Crowley or Bunkie or Mamou or Thibodaux or Opelousas — as well as the villages who helped nurture and produce the 12-member Class of 2022 that officially entered the state’s sports shrine were on display at the event inside the Natchitoches Events Center.
“I always tell people, like the saying, it takes a village,” said Garland Forman, the longtime journalist in Avoyelles and Evangeline parishes in central Louisiana. “Well, I had a lot of villages.”
Forman’s statement held true across the board Saturday night whether the inductees came from the more rural areas of Louisiana or if they plied their trades in Shreveport, Baton Rouge or New Orleans. Five inductees are former LSU athletes, and another (Claney Duplechin) graduated from LSU but didn’t compete there.
Rodeo great Steve Duhon, an Opelousas native who played one season of football at LSU, praised his parents for making the sacrifices necessary for him to chase his dreams and his brother for being his constant companion in the practice pen.
“God blessed me with a lot of abilities, but the best deal was him blessing me with my parents,” Duhon said. “They supplied me with whatever I needed. My brother took my hand and drove me to a lot of rodeos. All of my children rodeoed and now my grandkids are starting to ride. It’s one big family deal, and now I get to do it all over again on the other side.”
Few athletes in LSU history have been as successful as gymnast Susan Jackson.
A 12-time All-American (11 first-team honors) and three-time national champion, Jackson became a standout at a place she committed to sight-unseen and helped turn into a powerhouse program.
“Very early in the process, I knew LSU was for me,” said Jackson, who started the night by cartwheeling onto the stage during the Walk of Legends. “I bonded quickly with the coaches. I loved the fact they cared for me as Susan the person, not just the gymnast. I Googled LSU in typing class my junior year. The fact it was a one-hour drive from New Orleans didn’t hurt their chances either.”
The potential for a no-hitter always existed when Britni Sneed Newman stood in the circle for LSU.
A dominating right-hander who set a gaggle of Southeastern Conference softball records in her two-time All-American career, Sneed Newman tossed 10 no-hitters at LSU – six in her senior season – and helped lead the Lady Tigers to their first Women’s College World Series appearance.
That – not the 10 no-hitters – is what mattered most to Sneed Newman, now an assistant coach at Baylor.
“I don’t remember one of them,” Sneed Newman said. “I wish I did. It would be really cool to talk about. I do remember our team finally getting to the Women’s College World Series. We kept saying, ‘We’ve got to get past Courtney Blades so we can win the Women’s College World Series.’ That was my ultimate moment at LSU.”
Behind Sneed Newman, LSU laid the foundation for continued success.
“She put LSU softball on the map,” said Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer Yvette Girouard, Sneed Newman’s coach her final two seasons. “She mowed down the SEC competition. She was truly as dominating a pitcher as there was. How easy was my job? As good as she was as a pitcher, she was even better off the field. She did a magnificent job as a player and now as a coach.”
The linchpin of a New Orleans Saints offensive line that helped Drew Brees set league passing records, Jahri Evans’ 11-year career produced a Super Bowl championship that forever endeared himself and his teammates to the city and state.
Evans felt the love – almost physically – from Who Dat Nation throughout his career.
“I was coming from Bloomsburg (University) where I probably played in front of 5,000 people,” he said. “In the Superdome, we fed off the crowd. We really fed off the crowd going to the hotel the night before. New Orleans knows how to party.”
Ruston’s Kyle Williams’ career took an inverse path from his NFL contemporary Evans.
A standout for the Bearcats, Williams became a starter midway through LSU’s 2003 national championship season and parlayed that into a 13-year NFL career with Buffalo – one of the NFL’s most passionate markets.
“I’m super happy for you and your family,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott said. “Jill, I hope you don’t cry that crying face you did when Kyle retired. Kyle, I hope you smile a little bit and enjoy the moment you earned.”
Williams smiled plenty during his speech, but when it came time to acknowledge his village, it was the thought of his wife that nearly made the high-motor defensive tackle come to tears.
“Probably the greatest moment of my career is making a victory lap in Buffalo and getting to go into a secluded room and tell my family the reason I was able to do that was I made a commitment to be my best every day and do my best,” Williams said. “That’s why we get to experience this weekend. Last but not least – and maybe the shortest – I like to call her the Little General.
“Jill, when I hitched my wagon to your star, it took off. You’re the toughest person I know. You’re a monster. You’re the best. I appreciate you.”
Photo by CHRIS REICH, LSWA