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Class of 2022 took a village to build to success

By Jason Pugh

For The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame

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 at the Bunkie Record. “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 Baton Rouge or New Orleans.

On a night that started with “The Father of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame,” Northwestern State’s Jerry Pierce, being honored for helping bring the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame to Natchitoches in 1972, there was, fittingly, an Olympic gold medalist in the class.

A boxer-turned-dentist, Dr. Eddie Flynn posted a 144-0 amateur record and captured the gold medal in the 147-pound welterweight division in the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

As one of three posthumous inductees in the 2022 class, Flynn’s story helped lead his great-grandson, Cory Martin, on a deeper dive into his family history, linking together generations.

“This has been very unique,” Martin said. “That video got me emotional. I was joking with my wife, my mom’s a bit of a hippie, so she doesn’t travel. When we told her about it, she’s tearing up on the phone. When you’re growing up and your great grandfather is an Olympic gold medalist, you hear about it. To div in and really talk to my family on that side – my uncle and aunts – it’s who he was as a man that’s what impacted me most. Look at his athletic career, his service to his country (in World Ward II), it’s unbelievable.”

The oxymoronic turn of a boxer turning into a dentist was a fitting one for Flynn, whose boxing scholarship to Loyola University in New Orleans turned profitable for the school as Flynn’s bouts became huge ticket draws.

“He once said he became an oral surgeon because he didn’t like hurting people and inflicting pain,” said Les East, a longtime New Orleans-area journalist. “He went into a career where he could relieve other people’s pain.”

Flynn’s remarkable 144-0 record was driven by part of his village, arguably the most influential part.

“He hid the fact he was boxing from his father,” East said. “His father didn’t think there was much of a future in it. In fact, he boxed under an alias. His father eventually found out about it and told him, ‘OK, you can keep boxing, but if you lose, that’s it.’ He never lost, so he never had to hang up his gloves before he was ready.”

While Flynn had to hide his athletic pursuits from his family’s patriarch, three-time world champion steer roper Steve Duhon had no such issues.

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 rodoes. 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.”

As the next generation of Duhons enter the arena, they have a lot to live up to, including a record run of 3.0 seconds Steve Duhon set at the National Finals Rodeo in 1986.

That effort shocked neither Duhon nor those who befriended and competed against him.

“Steve had ice water in his veins,” fellow cowboy and competitor Tody Roach said. “The more pressure, the better he likes it. He made most his fame and fortune in the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association as a steer wrestler, but there are a lot of people, like calf ropers and team ropers, who are glad he didn’t hone in on those events.”

There are plenty of high school cross-country coaches and runners in Louisiana who probably wished Claney Duplechin had honed in on his first loves of baseball and football.

After graduating from LSU, the former Mamou High School first baseman hoped to coach football and baseball at Catholic High in Baton Rouge. The first sport worked out fine, but Catholic’s baseball staff was full.

Baseball’s loss was eventually the Episcopal High School cross-country program’s ultimate gain. In 47 years at the school, Duplechin has been the architect of a state championship-winning juggernaut, capturing 25 straight boys state cross-country crowns in a streak that ended in November.

Duplechin thanked his crosstown friend and foe, Catholic’s Pete Boudreaux (also a Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer), for his guidance, which continues today.

“After I talked to Barrett Murphy and he told me their baseball staff was full and I’d be coaching track, I went to work with Pete and, again, my heart was still with baseball,” Duplechin said. “He changed my mind. He basically made me start loving the sport of track and field. I learned so much from him on how to coach people, not how to coach the sport. If you coach people first, you’re going to be successful.”

The respect between the two now Hall of Fame fraternity brothers is a two-way street – one that has run for more than four decades.

“We go way back and we’ve developed over that time, a mutual admiration society,” Boudreaux said. “He was always a go-getter, a fireball. He had good ideas – really good ideas. From there, whenever he moved on, I knew he’d be successful wherever he’d go. I hated losing him. To this day, I regret him leaving.”

While Duplechin continues to impart life lessons to the next generation, former McNeese and UL Lafayette baseball coach Tony Robichaux did so across a state-record 1,177 college baseball wins before succumbing to the effects of a heart attack in July 2019.

The “Robe-isms” the butcher’s son from Crowley left for reporters and fans and coaches alike have weaved their way into the lives of plenty of villagers in and around Acadiana and well beyond.

“He had a way of taking very difficult information and putting it in a poetic, philosophical way,” his oldest son, Justin, said. “Robeisms. My brother and sister and myself knew that as how he communicated with us. It was fun and interesting at times. You could see how much it meant to him, the effort he went through to make an impact on someone.”

Beyond the nearly 1,200 on-field victories, Robichaux scored countless others away from the field based on his life’s philosophy and his commitment to his principles and values.

Cajun fans need to look no further than the statue that sits out front of M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field at Russo Park to see that. Driven by financial contributions from former players, the statue was unveiled ahead of the 2020 season, just months after Robichaux’s death.

“What he stood for needs to be felt for all time by every player who runs on that field,” said left-handed pitcher Phil Devey, who left as the Cajuns’ all-time strikeout leader after his career ended in 1999. “They need to learn about him and listen to his message. We felt compelled to put something together that will stand the test of time and be here forever. It would be selfish for us to keep the lessons he taught us within us. We need to let everyone know who this man was.”

The third posthumous inductee in the Class of 2022, former LSU and Thibodaux High School offensive lineman Eric Andolsek, left quite a legacy as well.

An All-SEC and third-team All-American as a Tiger, Andolsek died 30 years ago Thursday and was inducted on the anniversary of his funeral, which came at age 25.

His brother, Andy, recalled Eric’s college choices coming down to Alabama and LSU and what his younger brother’s decision to stay closer to home meant, especially in light of the accident that took his life.

“I lived next door to my parents, and every afternoon you had a college coach sitting in the living room talking or eating boiled crawfish,” Andy Andolsek said. “He was torn between LSU and Alabama. He made the right choice. He stayed home where everybody could follow him. That made his legacy in Thibodaux. If he had gone somewhere else, he wouldn’t have been who he was. Even now, going to the grocery store, someone always has an Eric story, and it usually doesn’t deal with football. It could be as simple as changing a flat tire. Everyone in Thibodaux still remembers him.”

In addition to his prowess and nasty streak on the field, Andolsek’s high school coach has another idea why people remember the man who was a “gentle giant” away from the field.

“When the Detroit Lions came to town for his funeral, one of the coaches said Eric was a special person – a giver,” Laury Dupont said. “When you give, it grows. When you save, it dies. Eric was a giver. He touched everybody’s life.”

Forman touched his share of lives in rural Louisiana.

A “country journalist,” Forman handled not only sports but news in Bunkie for more than three decades and has served the past four-plus years as the publisher for a number of community newspapers.

“I always felt that community news was the big thing, and not just news but sports,” said Forman, the only person to serve as the president of both the Louisiana Press Association and the Louisiana Sports Writers Association. “I think I fell in love with Bunkie over the years. It was a great thing, and we did very good there.”

Forman helped make the Bunkie Record the LPA’s Newspaper of the Year three times with a very limited staff.

“Garland Forman was the news,” former DSA winner Glenn Quebedeaux said. “If something happened, people looked to Garland to find out what happened in Bunkie or the surrounding area. You don’t see many people like that. He’s a saint in Bunkie. He’s so well thought of and well respected, not just in Bunkie but the LSWA as a whole.”

Forman left his mark on one of the smaller parts of Louisiana, but Jay Cicero, a Shreveport native, made his impression on the state’s largest city.

As the president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, Cicero and his team are responsible for bringing a litany of events to New Orleans and its surrounding area. While a behemoth in the state, New Orleans faces challenges from much larger metropolitan areas in the country.

Cicero, for his efforts, was named the Dave Dixon Sports Leadership Award recipient. The son of a longtime high school baseball coach in Shreveport, Cicero credited his time growing up around the game with instilling in him a career path and a philosophy of success.

“It’s the right place, the right time and being around some great people,” he said. “I try to explain that to our staff, younger people, my kids and friends. Surround yourself with great people. Find somebody who is great and handles their business in the right way. You need to be around those people and absorb that.”

Cicero has absorbed plenty of New Orleans culture and ingrained himself in it as well.

“One of the greatest attributes is a mantra we say a lot around here – it’s amazing what we can accomplish when no one cares who gets the credit,” said Dennis Lauscha, president of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans. “That’s Jay. He’s always in the back trying to make sure the event is successful, to make sure his organization is successful, to make sure his team is successful.”

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 lay the foundation for 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. “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.”

Kidding aside, Jackson’s natural talent made fellow Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer D-D Breaux’s coaching job much easier.

Honing that natural talent into a champion was the job of Breaux and assistant coach Bob Moore, who echoed his former boss’ thoughts on Jackson.

“She and I worked at this coaching thing as more of a partnership than a traditional athlete and coach,” Moore said. “We worked together. We were honest with each other. I can’t take credit for anything. The greatness was already there. I had the good fortune to help her relax and reach out and get her potential.”

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.”

Current Baylor coach Glenn Moore recruited Sneed to LSU and coached her for her first two seasons before taking the Baylor job.

Moore was impressed early by his ace right-hander’s demeanor even as a high schooler.

“She separated herself in the recruiting world because of her demeanor,” he said. “She didn’t get rattled. She didn’t get hit often, so there was not a lot of opportunities for her to get rattled.”

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.”

Jahri Evans built quite a foundation although his village started in north Philadelphia, far away from where he became a statewide hero as a New Orleans Saint.

The linchpin of a Saints offensive line that helped Drew Brees set league passing records, 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.”

The city has hardly ever partied harder than after the Saints’ Super Bowl victory, which was assisted by an All-Pro offensive lineman whose college tape was so hard to find, head coach Sean Payton likened it to being “delivered by horse and buggy.”

“There was one copy of it,” Payton said. “We wanted to hold onto it and keep anyone else from seeing it because we saw how good he was.”

Good enough to earn induction into the Saints Hall of Fame and now the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.

“I’ve been involved now in two hall of fame inductions for Jah,” teammate Zach Strief said. “I fully expect to be in the big one as well. He’s that good of a player and that impactful to the Saints organization.”

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.”

No one in the Natchitoches Events Center appreciates a good turn of a phrase or a laugh more than the second Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism winner – Teddy Allen.

A statewide sports writer and columnist, the loquacious everyman took time from his master of ceremonies gig to be honored in his first year on the ballot.

“It helps to write like you talk,” said J.J. Marshall, Allen’s longtime friend and co-worker. “If you listen to Teddy and you read Teddy, it’s almost the way he talks. He doesn’t try to overwrite. Teddy opens up and types it. Here it is. It sounds simple, but a lot of people don’t do that.”

The son of a South Carolina preacher who famously bestowed “The Mailman” nickname on Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer Karl Malone, Allen had one simple way to sum up his journey to the Hall of Fame.

“I’ve led a Forrest Gump-like existence,” he said. “I was working at Beacon Gas in Claiborne Parish, and literally the parish sheriff too me to Ruston and said this is where you’re going to school. I told him no. He said, ‘Yeah, this is gonna happen.’ There have been a lot of people help me get from Point A to B to C. Such dear friends. I just like to laugh and love to hear you laugh.”

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