by Jason Pugh
NATCHITOCHES – Whether in person or via video, the 11 members of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2021 expressed many of the same sentiments Saturday night.
First and foremost among them was gratitude – for teammates, for family and for each other.
“Obviously, I can’t remember every name,” said former LSU shooting guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, a two-time All-American who was inducted via video while continuing his professional career in the Big 3 playoffs in the Bahamas. “I want to thank my mother for raising me, for giving me what she’s given me. My family, my uncles and my aunts, all my teammates at Gulfport High. All you guys at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame who thought enough of me to induct me. I’m deeply in debt, humbled for this opportunity. Thank you for inducting me.”
Abdul-Rauf’s induction video played roughly midway through the 62nd annual induction ceremony, but the sweet-shooting, ageless walking bucket’s words both continued and extended a theme that permeated the Natchitoches Events Center.
Emotions flowed freely throughout, shaking the normally unflappable and almost bringing a 300-pound defensive tackle to tears.
New Orleans broadcasting icon Ro Brown was one of three Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism winners honored Saturday. Praised as a barrier-breaking, trustworthy broadcaster, Brown paused for at least 30 seconds before answering his first question.
“I’m on TV for a living, I’ll be able to do this,” Brown cracked when he finally gathered himself.
A product of New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward who praised that area’s “village” mentality to helping raise him, Brown’s career and personality meshes perfectly with the distinguished title of the award bestowed upon him.
“Ro disarms people,” said Ken Trahan, another New Orleans broadcasting institution. “Whatever preconceived notions you may have, he breaks down those barriers easily. He counts as his friends people from all walks of life. Ro transcends all party lines. He transcends racial lines.”
That good-natured personality stemmed from his upbringing, which formed the foundation of a career that made him the first on-air African-American sports broadcaster in New Orleans.
Instead of falling prey to job-related pressure, Brown built a career on lessons learned from his parents.
“I never felt any pressure in my job,” Brown said. “I always knew that if I worked hard enough at it and student enough at it, I would succeed. That came from my father. I never felt pressure because my father taught me so much about sports and life. There was not one day in my professional life where something my father or mother told me that I didn’t put to use.”
Family helped instill those lessons in Brown. For 36-time national champion track and field coach Pat Henry, those ties dictated his career.
The son and grandson of coaches, Henry rattled off 11 straight outdoor national championships as the head coach of the LSU women’s track and field program. Those came after capturing a national championship at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas.
The progeny of a coaching family handsomely rewarded the late Joe Dean’s decision to bring him to Baton Rouge.
“Joe took a chance,” Henry said. “(Catholic High School coach) Pete Boudreaux, who’s here tonight, was sitting with me at a meet in Baton Rouge. I knew (Baton Rouge) was going to be a great place.”
Labeled as a “complete coach” who could coach technical aspects of track and field as well as a recruiting maven, Henry’s impact remains strong in Baton Rouge even after his 2005 departure for Texas A&M where he remains a head coach.
“His philosophy is phenomenal,” said current LSU head coach Dennis Shaver. “I worked with and under him for 10 years. I’ve applied those same concepts to keep the ball rolling here in Baton Rouge.”
For Henry, it was as simple as sticking to what he learned as the child of coaches.
“Without family, things aren’t the same,” he said. “My whole family is coaches. The things that your family does enables me to go to the track every day. Without family backing you, you couldn’t get done what you need to get done.”
The familial feel of Natchitoches and Northwestern State University provided Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism honoree Doug Ireland with a place to call home and a family tree that spread its limbs throughout the sports information profession.
Ireland’s role as the chariman of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame came with it the drive to construct the award-winning museum in downtown Natchitoches, a relationship that has given him a giant extended family that marks the sporting eras of the state of Louisiana.
“When I hear Hall of Famers talk to Doug, it’s like they have had this relationship for 30 years when in reality, he’s only been talking to them for six to eight months,” said Northwestern State men’s basketball coach Mike McConathy, who worked with Ireland for nearly two decades. “He has so much knowledge and the ability to recall things about them as people. They become part of his family because they are now Hall of Famers.”
After nearly three decades serving as the Hall’s chairman, Ireland took his place among the numerous figures he has delivered to whom he has delivered the call to for years.
“I’m here on the shoulders of so many people,” Ireland said. “I didn’t do something. We did something. I was just lucky to help steer it in a couple of directions.”
While Natchitoches adopted Ireland as a native son, it celebrated the Hall entry of one of its own born and raised citizens as 1980 Bassmaster Classic champion Villis “Bo” Dowden joined his hometown’s shrine Saturday.
From a child who enjoyed fishing with his grandfather to winning the Super Bowl of bass fishing by “showing us we could fish in the wind,” according to fellow competitor Bobby Murray, Dowden quickly espoused the values of his hometown and his family.
“(My childhood) was quite a fun time as far as I was concerned,” he said. “I didn’t worry about anything. I didn’t have too many big chores in the backyard, so I went fishing.
“I fished out here in Black Lake and Saline Lake and Sibley Lake and Cane River. Natchitoches is just full of fishing holes if you know where to look for them.”
While Dowden could look around and find a fishing hole almost anywhere near his childhood home, veteran Baton Rouge Advocate sports writer and Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism winner Sheldon Mickles literally held his future in his hands.
Growing up in Gretna, Mickles was a paperboy who morphed into one of the state’s most decorated sports writers and one of the most respected NFL beat writers in the country, having covered his hometown’s New Orleans Saints for more than three decades.
“I’ve always admired him as a writer,” said fellow DSA winner Glenn Quebedeaux, who has teamed with Mickles to spearhead the Louisiana Sports Writers Association’s annual writing contest for years. “When he first got to Baton Rouge, he was probably handling the prep beat, and all of a sudden, he takes over the Saints beat. Other than the Times-Picayune, he was probably the No. 1 Saints reporter in the state. That’s not an easy job. Fans never lacked for knowledge of what happened with the Saints. That’s a tribute to him and his hard work.”
On the Saints beat since the 1980s, Mickles has seen the journalism world shift to a more digital focus. Ever the professional, he remains tied to the core tenets of the job he learned in LSU’s journalism school.
“You still have to do your job,” Mickles said. “What’s the core? Reporting the facts. Reporting about features. Reporting transactions. Now there’s so much more involved. It’s 24/7. With the digital process, you might get a call at four or five in the morning to do something. You’re on call all the time.”
Mickles had a front-row seat to a multitude of Henry’s track and field titles at LSU, and he had one of the best seats in the house for the Saints’ Super Bowl XLIV win against Indianapolis.
The leading receiver in that game for the first-time champions was Mickles’ fellow Saturday night inductee, Marques Colston.
With Hurricane Ida bearing down on the Louisiana coast, Colston’s travel plans forced him to leave Natchitoches early Saturday.
“Up in the Northeast, we’re not as savvy at navigating these hurricanes,” Colston said in a taped video that aired during the ceremony. “It was such an amazing experience being back in Louisiana and feeling the energy. It was a great, great experience having my family feel the vibes and the energy.”
Dubbed “The Quiet Storm” during his 10-year career with the Saints, Colston often let his play do the talking – that is unless teammates wanted to take up the mantle.
“He had an All-Star career,” fellow Saints wideout Lance Moore said. “He played 10 years and had 10,000 yards. What more can you ask for? I had to do the talking for him. Every year he didn’t make the Pro Bowl, I would say something. It was disappointing to me. In my mind, he’s a Pro Bowl player.”
A seventh-round draft pick, Colston paid heed to the Saints’ brain trust for taking a chance on a 6-foot-4, 220-pound “tweener” from Hofstra, which no longer fields a football program.
“I have to thank the Benson family, Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton for taking a chance on a small-school player,” Colston said. “That was so meaningful for me as an individual for my family.”
Similarly, Rickie Weeks was an under-the-radar addition to a team located along Interstate 10 who blossomed into an all-time great.
Playing on a high school team in Florida that had guys “going here and going there,” Weeks entertained the thought of playing college football.
Enter Southern coach and 2019 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame inductee Roger Cador.
“My high school coach and I thought for a long time that was it,” Weeks said of potentially seeing his baseball career end in high school. “Then this big giant comes to my doorway saying, ‘We want you to come down to Southern.’ In Florida, we’ve got Florida A&M, Bethune-Cookman College. I never heard about Southern too much. I was blessed to go to Southern and create relationships and bonds that last a lifetime.”
All Weeks did at Southern was become the first player from a historically black college or university to win the Golden Spikes Award as the top amateur baseball player in the United States. He became the No. 2 overall draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers and became an All-Star starter in 2011.
“Rickie Weeks had the discipline,” Cador said. “He could work alone. He didn’t need a teammate to do anything. He was the right guy – like Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was the right guy to break the color barrier – Rickie Weeks was the right guy to be the first Golden Spikes Award winner from an HBCU. He did all the right things. I told him in 2000, if you work hard, you can be anything you want at Southern University.”
In the same way Weeks helped elevate the fortunes of the Jaguars baseball team, Abdul-Rauf did the same just down the road for LSU.
A two-time All-American while playing as Chris Jackson, Abdul-Rauf made Tiger basketball appointment viewing at home or away.
His relationship with longtime LSU coach Dale Brown was sealed during the recruiting process that landed LSU a once-in-a-lifetime scorer.
“Dale came to my house to recruit me in Gulfport, Mississippi,” Abdul-Rauf said in a taped video. “There were a lot of coaches who were promising me things. I was looking to compete. (Brown) said, ‘We know who you are, but if you have what it takes, you’ll play.’ That meant a lot. When people would offer me things, in my mind – even though I was young – I thought, ‘How do you know what I’m going to become?’ How are you promising things for tomorrow when we don’t know what tomorrow brings?”
Abdul-Rauf brought notoriety to Brown’s program and made life tough on everyone not wearing an LSU uniform. That extended to referees as well.
“He was so quick and moved his feet a lot,” said Louisiana Senator and Hall of Famer Gerald Boudreaux. “He’s one of the top players I was fortunate to be on the floor to watch. He spread the floor and made it hard to officiate.”
While Abdul-Rauf made things tough on opponents and referees, softball pitcher Courtney Blades Rogers made it nearly impossible on opposing hitters.
Splitting her collegiate career between Nicholls and Southern Miss, Rogers fanned a remarkable 1,773 hitters.
While Rogers was singularly focused on softball from age 9, it took a while for her to make her way to the circle – much to opposing hitters’ dismay.
“I decided I wanted to be a catcher,” said Rogers, who admitted her basketball career lasted one game after a ball hit her on the nose. “I was about nine. When I went to catch the ball, I grabbed for it and the hitter hit me with the bat. That happened twice in the same game. That was the end of my catching days.”
More than three decades later, Rogers remains involved in the game, passing lessons taught by her parents on to her children and other people’s children as the coach of a 16-and-under team.
“She’s the epitome of a Hall of Famer,” said her daughter, Britton Rogers. “She has the passion, the fight and the grit all legendary players exude. The impact she continues to leave on the game – she has given us an unconditional love for the game. Myself and other girls hope we can play the way she did. The footprint she has left in our lives will live on past softball.”
The impact of a decision Terry McAulay made as a 15-year-old is still being felt as well.
The three-time Super Bowl referee was named recipient of the Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership Award on Saturday. Despite retiring from his on-field job, McAulay remains a fixture on NBC’s Sunday Night Football and Notre Dame football broadcasts as its rules expert.
“Terry was able to see the entire field, which made him such a good referee,” said fellow ref Mark Steinkerchner. “Terry was so good at everything, which is what really helps him be a great analyst for NBC. He could have worked another 10 to 15 years, but Terry already had perfected that. If you know Terry, you know he always wants to challenge himself.”
Some of McAulay’s plaudits include fellow referees calling him the best to every walk on an NFL field.
And while McAulay admitted to having a bit of an ego, his family has been there to support – and to humble – the remarkable white hat.
“We were in Tampa in the hotel room before (the Super Bowl),” he said. “We’re fixing to enter the stadium, and I’m feeling pretty good. It’s my second Super Bowl, so I’m feeling pretty important. Then my daughter turns to my wife and says, ‘Mommy, do we have to stay for the whole game?’ Humbled me for life.”
Humility played a key role in Glenn Dorsey’s rise to prominence as a dominating defensive tackle for LSU’s 2007 national championship team.
A native of nearby Gonzales, Dorsey could have been a first-round pick after the 2006 season but returned to play his senior season for the Tigers, one that ended in LSU’s second national championship in five seasons.
“He wasn’t really vocal,” said LSU fullback Jacob Hester, “but by his play, he was our leader. He was a captain. There aren’t many times you get a defensive tackle to be that guy. You have to be extra special to be that guy. This is a guy who was uber-talented, but wasn’t too big for the program. He dominated like we’ve never seen in college football. He got Heisman votes as a defensive tackle.”
And while Dorsey handled every offensive lineman thrown at him in that remarkable 2007 season, he was nearly brought to tears at the close of Saturday night’s ceremony when describing his family’s impact on him.
“I have to thank my two angels in heaven – my grandmothers,” Dorsey said. “They were huge football fans. They showed me the ropes on how to love the sport. I have to thank my hometown of Gonzales and Ascension Parish. I have to thank coach Nick Saban for coming and getting me and giving me the opportunity. I have to thank my wife, Tiffany. I’m a lot to deal with. I’m grumpy when I’m hurting, and she’s cooking me those anti-inflammatory meals. My sister was in a tough position because it was about me growing up – always the next game. He’s playing football, baseball, he’s powerlifting. Thank you for supporting me. I love you to death.
“Down there on the front row, my parents, Glenn Sr. and Sandra. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for instilling in me to work hard, achieve my dreams and be humble. Thank y’all for being so selfless and giving me your heart and soul. Thank you for always teaching me to put in the hard work and take pride in a hard day’s work. I love y’all to death.”