By Juanice Gray, jgray@natchitochestimes.com

Did you know you do not have to be a sports fan to become a fan of the person that is the athlete? That is the lesson I’ll learned as I met the La. Sports Hall of Fame inductees Thursday afternoon. As I heard their stories of their lives and their passions for education, passions for living life, passions for their teammates and players, I learned that although I do not follow their sport as a fan, I will now follow them as a fan of them as a person.

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Being inducted into the Hall of Fame is the first rodeo cowboy, who at 92 had to be called in from his tractor in the field where he was cutting hay to be given the news. That is the caliber of person we’re dealing with here. I also heard from an educator who said his greatest accomplishment would be the Education Hall of Fame because there is where he had the opportunity to touch more lives.

Then there is the mom who encourages her young daughter to participate in a variety of things from individual sports to team sports and the arts from piano to dance to not make her a better athlete, but to make her a better person.

How about the All-American football player who got misty eyed because he felt his whole team should’ve been inducted. He and one other player from his team were named All-Americans, but in his mind he and the other guy did not make the team, they were simply a part of it.

The eight athletes, writers and sportscasters being inducted were chosen from among 145 nominees.

Marie Gagnard with emcee Doug Ireland

Marie Gagnard-world class tennis judge

Gagnard got into tennis because one summer she and her sister were bored. Her mother wrote to The Town Talk and found out about a tennis camp. Emcee Doug Ireland, SIC at Northwestern State University, asked Gagnard if she ever was intimidated while calling a tennis match. “I taught public elementary school P.E., I did a stint in the army, not much intimidates me,” she quipped. She likened dealing with schoolchildren and professional athletes saying, “They had similar issues.”

Philip Timothy – sports and outdoors writer

Philip Timothy

Timothy has done everything in journalism from graphic design to team sports to outdoor sports. He said is first love is prep football but when he was “volun-told” at the Advertiser to write about the outdoors, his immediate reply was “yes. Who wouldn’t love to get paid to hunt and fish?” Timothy had an integral part in establishing the Hall of Fame Museum. He was in a serious car crash that had him immobile for three months. During that time he began talking and planning. “I nudged it along. It became a part of my therapy,” he said.

 

Dave Nitz – 45 years as sportscaster for LSU

Dave Nitz

Nitz said never say never in sports. After all his years, one would think he had seen it all, but at a game in Nebraska a play at home plate was a new experience. He said the play was called a “balk on the catcher” and the run counted. Nitz said he began looking through the rule book and learned a balk is “…delivers a pitch during a squeeze play or a steal of home, if the catcher or some other player steps on or in front of home plate without possession of the ball, or touches the batter or his bat. The ball is dead, the batter is awarded first base, the pitcher is charged with a balk, and the run scores.”

“I’ve never seen it before or after,” Nitz said. He said he doesn’t know how his trademark phrase, “You gotta love it” got its start. “I just must have said it once and it stuck.”

Teaberry Porter – rodeo cowboy

Teaberry Porter

At 92, he is the oldest athlete ever inducted into the La. SHOF. He said he went to LSU for a quarter and “got smart and quit.” “I’m proud of being a cowboy,” Porter said. “I’ve never been drunk, never drank a beer…I drove a school bus for 30 years and had a 450 John Deere run over me and lost my arm. I’ve had a life and have lived to see a cowboy in a sports hall of fame.” Porter should be familiar, his face was on all the tags on Wrangler jeans for years. Ireland asked Porter what he thought of that publicity. “I’m proud of it and proud of what I got!” Porter said of being a lifelong cowboy, “I hope I leave more here than I take away.”

Roger Cador – coach

Roger Cador

When Roger Cador walked in as coach of Southern, the baseball equipment would all fit in a shopping cart. “I called Baker, who I played with at the Braves and he said meet me in Atlanta. My wife and I drove there and when we came back it was with a U-Haul full of equipment. Sometimes you just have to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask,” he said. When he started, he had a $3,000 recruiting budget. When he left the program, there was still a $3,000 budget, but the program had vastly expanded. He said his philosophy is first, tell a true story and second, make good choices.

 

Max Fugler – football

Max Fugler

“My teammates are on that wall (of the museum),” he said as he became misty eyed. “To be associated with them, that is an honor. We were not a team, we were friends taking care of one another.” Fugler was on the Ferriday team that won 54 consecutive games. Of 11 players, nine received college scholarships and two, including Fugler, were named All-Americans. He recalled one pro gam when he faced off with Heisman Trophy winner Texas A&M halfback John David Crow. “I tackled him and in one play he gained 14 yards – 10 of them were in my chest!” he laughed.

Danielle Scott – 5 time Olympian – volleyball

Danielle Scott

“The Hall of Fame is never something you work for, but it’s great to be recognized for your work,” she said. An athlete in volleyball, track and field and basketball, she said she landed in volleyball because of her respect for the teamwork atmosphere. “You can be powerful, yet graceful,” she said. “In my first Olympics in ’96, it was about getting into something bigger than you. When you are there and you’re dressed in red, white and blue, it’s about representing your team and your country.” She credits her longevity in the sport to playing a variety of sports. “I never burned out because I love it.”

Les Miles – coach

Les Miles

“When the guy on the field is willing to give everything he has for you at the risk of injury, I’m in their debt,” he said. Miles has had an extensive career that included coaching at LSU but has also expanded into acting. He was treated to a party at home June 5, which also happened to be his wedding anniversary, with hundreds of family, friends, players and former players. “My wife said we’d be serving hamburgers and hot dogs. Always the planner I said, ‘We made enough money to provide a decent meal!’ ” he laughed. “The men I coached really touched me last night.” Ireland asked if he ever decided to stop coaching. “I never got out of coaching,” Miles said. “It was very politely said that once you’re on the other side of those doors, they’ll be locked.”

Matt Dunigan – football

Matt Dunnigan

“I learned to do the right thing, and sometimes the right thing isn’t the easy thing. That is what football means to me,” he said. He related how his football career began. “I was in the seventh grade and the ball went over my head. I picked it up and slung it back. The coach made me quarterback.”

 

 

 

Charles Smith – basketball coach

Charles Smith

 

“The teaching profession has changed since 1971, the kids have changed and the parents have really changed,” he said. “I went about coaching like I did teaching trigonometry and calculus. On day one, students said it was too hard. On day two, I had to have figured out a way for them to get it and to help them learn. He said he will never forget being told once that “…the high school level is where you develop young men.” He said that is one of the reasons he never moved to the college level, although he was approached to do so.

 

LaCapitol has been a sponsor of the Hall of Fame for 14 years. At left is Mary Ann Nowlin.