A blog by Lori Lyons

Friday, May 31, 2024

May Days


I don't know why, but it seems there is something about May days in my life.

 "Mayday" is, of course, the widely recognized word for distress. Pilots, ship captains, and fishermen all use it to say "Help me!" or "I'm going down!" or "Oh shit!"

To my knowledge, "mayday" is not commonly used among journalists or teachers. Mostly, teachers just count down the days until the next vacation or the end of the school year.  Journalists, on the other hand, just say "oh shit" a lot. 

But as a former full-time journalist and, now, former full-time teacher, I've come to realize that there have been several May days in my life that have been "Maydays." (See what I did there?)

It was a balmy night in May of 2012 when I first learned that my employer of then-26 years, The Times-Picayune, which was owned by Advance Publications, was about to be sacrificed on the altar of digital technology and profit margins. The night Phillip Phillips was crowned the winner of that year's American Idol, I logged into what was then known as Twitter (now known as X, but I'll never call it that) to see the overall reaction. 

Some loved him, some didn't. But buried in between the comments was a blurb by the New York Times, reporting that Advance Publications was about to give up its print editions of several papers, including ours, to go all-digital. It would revolutionize the industry, they said. It would save them money -- at the cost of hundreds of hard-working newspaper people.

A few weeks later, I was one of the 200 employees who was handed a white envelope with my severance package. My services as a prep writer turned perp writer/news clerk in the River Parishes Bureau, would no longer be needed after September 30. It was a devastating blow. A punch in the gut that left me a crumpled heap in my pool with a bottle of Boone's Farm Blue Hawaiian. 

Now, every May, my Facebook memories are flooded with the hundreds of "-30-"s posted by each of us as we got our packets. 

Mayday.

Some of my colleagues recovered quickly, finding new jobs at new papers, launching their own enterprises or changing careers completely. Not all of us, though. Some of us -- I -- landed one toe at a time and had to hang on for dear life. In distress.

A few weeks after my last day, my mother-in-law, Jane, had to leave her assisted living apartment and moved into my spare bedroom. I became a full-time caretaker for the next 18 months. There are a whole bunch of blog posts in my archives about that if you care to read them. Search for "vodka."

I became a freelance writer for several publications and websites. I wrote features and covered high school games, sometimes writing four versions of one game for different outlets. 

Once Jane passed away in February of 2014, I could begin looking for a "real" job. I found one -- temporarily -- at my alma mater, Loyola University. I was hired to work in the Office of Public Affairs to fill in for a woman who was going out on maternity leave. 

I'm not going to lie. The money was fantastic but it was boring. Public relations people don't write the stories. They write the pitches to try to get other people to write the stories. My first assignment was to write a pitch about a rooftop greenhouse on campus. I was all ready to go take pictures and interview the people working on it when they stopped me. "You don't need to do all that," I was told. "Someone else will." Oh. And I had to week to not write it. Well OK then.

I did enjoy being back on campus, though, and seeing all the joggers Uptown in the springtime. And I got to earn my Master's degree in parallel parking. 

But one day in May, at a big staff meeting, I was praised for my skills and my contributions to the office but then I was told my services would no longer be needed. 

Mayday.

From there I got a nice little job at the local library, which I really enjoyed. But I was only there a few months when I got a call from the local bi-weekly paper offering me the job as the sports editor. It wasn't May, it was November of 2015. And I lasted until August of 2017 when too many promises were broken, too many hours weren't counted in my paycheck and my mama started fading. She was next to move into my spare bedroom, but only for a few months.

Unincumbered and in need of a real job, I turned to teaching. It was a Plan B, but one I had always wanted to pursue. In August of 2018 I was hired as a middle school English teacher. It was new and very different. I had a difficult time keeping up with the paperwork. I killed lots and lots of trees. I wasn't great at it but I sure tried my butt off and I got better as I went along. I loved (most of) the kids in my classes. 

But in May, when they told me they were not renewing my contract for the next year, I was punched in the gut again. I felt like a failure.

Mayday.

I went back to freelancing for food, but then circumstances sent me to a small private school that I had been covering on my beat for decades. They needed an English teacher and a multimedia teacher, a couple of things I knew a little bit about. I was learning on the fly trying to get a handle on what the students and my principal expected. Six weeks later, Covid hit and shut down everything and I was trying to reinvent the wheel I hadn't yet invented.

When that May brought the end of school, it was a relief -- but not yet the end of the journey.

Over the next few years, I figured it out. I taught creative writing to a bunch of eighth graders who would rather kill things on their computer screens than create a character. I started a school news website and found a couple of students who were proud to produce it. I taught multimedia and web design to some creative students (and a couple who should be ashamed of themselves for not getting an A in the easy A class). 

But then May came again. 

The Coach struggled with his baseball team and with a bad back but notched his 500th career win and a trip to the playoffs. Late, but better than never, they found a rhythm and made it to the third round. But the day after his team lost in the quarterfinals, he was told he was no longer to be the baseball coach. Too old. Not young enough. They wanted a "young face" on the program.

It was a sucker punch right out of left field. It hurt. Like hell. And it left both of us reeling and fretting over what our futures looked like. 

Mayday.

Ultimately, we both decided that this was no longer the place for us. I spent a few weeks packing up all my teal desk accessories and my various props that made the kids laugh and roll their eyes at me -- my skeleton hand pointer, my various stress squeezes, all of my beach-themed decor. And I tore down the paper palm tree I'd been sitting under for more than four years. Not one grown-up came to ask me why.

And on the last day of school, The Coach and I walked out together into yet another unknown future with our fingers crossed and our heads high. 

The origin of the word "mayday" is believed to have come from the French phrase "m'aidez," which means "help me." We could use a little of that right about now -- thoughts, prayers, good wishes, good mojo, a winning lottery ticket -- because I don't know exactly what comes next for either of us. We have hopes and dreams, some of which involve the beach. We have some plans. We hope to make the best of whatever time we have left, however many Mays there may be.

May days or Maydays. It seems they're all the same. 


Sunday, April 14, 2024

Five Hundred



What do you think you have you done 500 times in your life?

I'm not talking about the mundane things like driving to work, brushing your teeth, or setting your alarm. Those are things you've probably done thousands of times. 

But do you think you've mowed your lawn 500 times? Gone for a run? Washed your car? Done 500 loads of laundry? I'm pretty sure I picked Barbie's shoes up off my floor 500 times. Maybe not.

It isn't easy, is it? Neither is doing something 500 times -- successfully.

Which is why what my husband, Riverside Academy baseball coach  Marty Luquet, did last week is so extraordinary.

On April 11, 2024, his young, inexperienced and injury-riddled baseball team defeated West St. John by the score of 16-0. That in and of itself would not be notable except that it was a much-needed win for this group of boys on a six-game losing streak. But it also happened to be Coach Luquet's 500th win in his long and illustrious career as a high school baseball coach.

Think about that for a second: 500 wins. That's 500 wins out of roughly 800 games in 27 seasons over 44 years at five different schools. 

Some were easy. Some were not. Some were really not. Some were thrillers. Some were somebody's first game; some were somebody's last. 

He went into this season knowing he needed only five wins to reach the milestone. He certainly didn't expect it to take until the middle of April, though. After going into the season with very high hopes and expectations, the Rebels have struggled to put it all together. The losses mounted quicker than the victories and Coach hit the 300 mark on the right a few weeks before the milestone on the left. 

His players tried. They really did. But a couple of games got away from them. A few were never meant to be. Slidell, not likely to lose on their senior day, one-hit them. But they were so ready to dunk the old man with the water cooler, they even lugged it on the road to Pointe Coupee, something they hardly ever did. 

And it's probably a good thing Newman rallied for two runs in the top of seventh inning to win that one because the cooler was filled with blue Powerade instead of water on that day. 

It would have been cool to do it in my hometown of Houma against Vandebilt Catholic. Instead, I left with a fresh dent in my car from a home run one of their players hit. 

Needless to say, it got pretty stressful in the Luquet household at times, with him tossing and turning through the night and me trying my hardest to find the bright spots in the dark. 

"This is like a bad joke," he said.

One parent suspected someone had a voodoo doll somewhere.

But thankfully, the milestone finally was reached in the second-to-last week of his 27th season.


Marty was a young, energetic, dark-haired man when he started his career at the now-defunct John F. Kennedy High School in New Orleans in 1980 (ahem -- the year I graduated from high school!). The Cougars weren't so good though. The next year he moved to O. Perry Walker High School (also now defunct), where he went 118-70 over 10 seasons.

He left in 1991 to become the coach at Hammond, but never made it to the baseball season. With a divorce from his first wife looming and split time with his children, Daniel and Courtney, he opted for a job as Assistant Director of the St. Charles Parish Recreation Department. That's what he was doing when I was introduced to him through a fellow sports reporter who used to cover his games at Walker. 

He still coached a little though -- the summer recreation All-Star teams, a 30-over Men's League team, and a lot from the bleachers.

Then came an election cycle and the guy he backed didn't win. The guy who did win was unforgiving and let a lot of people go, including my husband.

But it didn't take long for him to land. My old friend Rick Gaille, the football coach and athletic director at St. James High School, just happened to be looking for a baseball coach. The Wildcats were a gritty, hard-working and hungry bunch. They went 9-17, but one of those wins was against the team that went on to win the state title that year. It was their only loss.

Then he got an opportunity to coach at Destrehan, where his son was a senior and his daughter was about to be a sophomore. Our newly adopted baby girl was in daycare and I was covering Orleans Parish sports at the time. He went 286-125 in 14 seasons at Destrehan with two trips to the state championship -- but alas, no titles. He was still coaching when his mom moved in with us.

Then he gave it all up. Retired -- or tried to. He tried to like golf. He tried to relax. Lord knows he isn't handy. He discovered internet memes and World War II documentaries. Then he became an Uber driver -- something he really enjoyed until UberEats got into the mix. 

And he coached a very successful American Legion summer team that won two state championships and earned one trip to the World Series. He coached a game on ESPN. He also has coached a few very successful collegiate league teams to national titles. But none of those wins are included in his 500.

While he was driving me crazy showing me old videos and memes while I was trying to do my freelance work, another longtime coach pal asked me what he was doing. I all but begged him to get the man off my sofa. And that's how he became the coach at Riverside Academy. That has been an adventure in and of itself, with his first year as an assistant, then the season lost to Covid. 

According to the National Federation of High Schools record book, only 45 active coaches have reached the 500 mark in their careers. Roughly 200 men have won 500 or more games all-time. I'm certain a few are missing from the list because I'm told it's pretty hard to verify.

And you have to wonder how many more there might be. There aren't that many of the old-timers, the guys who now have bad backs from hours sitting on sunflower seed buckets and worn out dugout benches. Who walk with a slight limp when they go out to the mound to pull their struggling pitcher. Who no longer even try to make a play on a foul ball near third base. And all those young guys who don't believe in wearing a full uniform on game day will probably never coach long enough to win that many games. 

I don't know how many more years my husband will keep doing what he loves to do. Until he can't do it anymore, I suspect, or until our school decides they want someone else to do it. I don't know what the final numbers will be on the left or on the right when he finally hangs it up.

But more than all the wins and losses, the big games and the small, the trophies and the accolades, he will tell you, without a doubt, the more important number to him is the number of lives he has touched in one way or another. The countless men who blew up his phone sending him messages of congratuations -- and some of their parents. 

Just last week his former team, the 2003 Destrehan Wildcats, who were the school's first team ever to go to the State Tournament, had a little reunion. They were recognized on the field and got to throw out the first pitch to this year's Wildcats. One of the old Cats, in mid hug/handshake asked him about his current team. 

Marty truthfully told him that it was a tough season, that things haven't been going their way, they haven't had much luck.

With a shine in his eye, the former player looked at his former coach and said, "I hope they know how lucky they are to have you as their coach."

















Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Here Comes the Bride

 

Wearing a black dress and mom's veil. 


My little girl was in love.

There was this boy she got to hang out with just about every day, and she would come home to tell me all about the special things they did together. Usually, it involved watching The Wiggles, sharing snacks, and playing house at Ms. Sue's.

She was 3. I think he was 4. His name was Little Zac -- not to be confused with Big Zac.

One day, she told me all about the wedding she would have complete with her sisters and her best friend Carolyn as bridesmaids. When I asked her what color it would be, she rolled her eyes at me in the universal language of "Duh" and said, "Mom. Pink!"

Now my little girl is 22 and there really is a wedding on the horizon, but it definitely will not be pink. 

My grown-up girl is in love with a grown-up boy named Gavin, who proposed to her Saturday night at the annual Christmas lights display in New Orleans' City Park. It's the same place where her dad proposed to me 30 years ago this week, the day before our engagement party, which we scheduled to take place one year before our scheduled wedding date. It was a countdown. And rather than get down on one knee, he put me up on a carousel horse and stood beside it. 

Gavin did not duplicate his future father-in-law's clever feat, however, perhaps because he has seen my rather large collection of carousel horses to commemorate the event. For a moment, he considered doing it at the huge walk-in whale at the park's Storyland exhibit. But perhaps the image of a future collection of whales all over his house dissuaded him. 

Instead, he chose a lovely spot with a large collection of lit-up dandelions, which he may or may not have known is a special symbol for my girl and me. I bought both of us dandelion necklaces when she went off to college four years ago. Mine was the dandelion puff (Google says it's called a seedball); hers is the seeds flying away. It's a metaphor.

Anyways, before dropping to one knee and popping the question -- to which my beautiful girl replied, "What the fuck?" he knocked on our door to carry out the traditional act of asking her dad for her hand in marriage.

Of course, Dad wasn't home. The baseball coach was off doing baseball coach-y things at a local festival with a bunch of his team parents. There was loud music involved and much talking, so he did not hear his phone when I called him to try and make sure he did not miss out on such a momentous occasion.  Nor did he hear the second time. Nor the third, or fourth, or fifth, or sixth, or seventh. There may have been more.

In desperation, I texted a few people I thought might be with him. One was not. Another did not answer. A third did answer with the reply, "He just left."

Also typical of my husband, he somehow switched off his Life 360, so I had no idea where he was or how far out he might be from home. Meanwhile, the groom-to-be was getting antsy. 

I tried to make conversation to kill some time.

"Are you sure you want to do this?"

Oh, it was a joke! I mean, he knows how messy she is and how cranky she can be and how stressed she gets over work and money, and how much she spends on beauty products. They've been together for five years, since the summer she finished high school and swore she did not want a boyfriend right before she went away to college but, you know, stuff happens. And they made it through four years of her being a four-hour drive away and living in the dorms and the lockdown that came with Covid. 

But he wasn't there for her first days with us as we prayed that the woman who let us have her would let us keep her. She did, but I guess we always knew that it wouldn't be forever -- not really.  But back then we didn't want to think about the fact that one day some young man would come and sweep her off her feet and take her away to live with him instead of us. And we surely didn't think that he would move her into his house but that she would be leaving most of her stuff in her old bedroom for me to figure out what to do with it all.

And he wasn't there that day my little precocious 3-year-old told me all about the pink wedding she wanted to have.

 I can only wonder if he ever imagined the dark-haired beauty someday walking towards him in a white dress while her mom sobbed on the front row. 

And when he came to my door Saturday night, I don't think he imagined that his future mother-in-law would nearly blow the big surprise.

After her father and I gave our blessings, Gavin went off to pick up Lora and they headed off to City Park. I knew when they arrived because, unlike her dad, Lora does not disable her Life 360. So, with a sappy Hallmark Christmas movie on in the background, I waited for my daughter to make The Call to tell me "Ohmygodmomimengaged!!!"

And I waited.

And I waited.

And I stalked her on Life 360 as she -- they -- made their way around City Park, through Storyland, and the amusement park and, finally, the gardens.

And I waited.

Finally, I got a text with a lovely photo of them kissing near the dandelion lights. OK. It wasn't a phone call, but it was still the moment I was waiting for!

Or so I thought.



Oh Crap... What? Doesn't that look like THE MOMENT! But it wasn't. So now I have to cover! 



Then, holding my breath, I had to wait again.

And Gavin was sure taking his sweet time about it.

Finally!






Whew! I didn't blow it! Gavin didn't mess it up. She said yes -- actually, I think she said "Duh!" after the "WTF."

And all is good!

So now my baby is getting married -- for real. The next day she went out and bought a wedding planner. And her dad and I are wondering if it's tacky to start a wedding GoFundMe. 

Just kidding. 

Maybe.

The happy ENGAGED couple!



















Sunday, October 15, 2023

After The Game

 



Over my long career as a sports writer, I've been on more football fields than I can count in more tiny towns than I can remember.

Sometimes I would make my way onto the field before the game to say hello to the coaches and let them know I was there. Being 5-foot-2 1/2, I rarely watched the game from a sideline because it did me no good, but I did have to take a photo or two over the years. Most of my field time came after the final horn (or buzzer), in the minutes right after the clock ticked to 0:00 and the final score was in the books.

But what most people don't realize is, after the game is when the real action begins. I have known this all along, of course, I just never had much time to absorb it all. 

Being a reporter on a tight deadline, I usually had to run from one end of the field to the other to find a coach and a player or two to get quotes, then dash back up to row Z and the press box to type my story and fend off the mass of mosquitoes. It was many years before technology evolved to where it was more efficient to run to my car instead, where I had an air conditioner/heater, a car plug for my laptop and a cellphone that doubled as a Wi-Fi hotspot.

But now that I'm "just" a teacher and a just a fan with no post-game duties to worry about, I can take it all in.

Friday night I did just that.

I watched as our football coach gathered his sweaty, smelly players around him to praise their good work while, at the same time, reminding them that they still have much work to do. Around this inner circle was a bigger circle of parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and girlfriends, waiting to give hugs to the smelly boys and smile for pictures that will be shared on Facebook.

Off to the side, the younger boys and girls who have been playing probably the more competitive game of two-hand touch in the end zone throughout the game have finally moved their contest onto the big field, with a lot more room to throw bombs to one another.

Over there is the guy who babies the field and probably spends more time on it than his own grass at home. He's cursing under his breath as he scoops up all the divots the two teams made with their cleats over the last two hours.

Somewhere is our principal, thankful that the game is over, that we won and no one got hurt while secretly hoping all these people start to make their way home soon so she can too.

Back in the "old days" there likely was a reporter -- or several -- chasing down the coaches and the stars of the game to get a quote or two for the newspaper or a soundbite for the Friday night football TV show. 

And over in the clearing is a dad following his toddler who is practicing their steps and trying to make a run for it. 

There have been times when I've been serenaded by bands. When I've had to wait for TV people to get out of my way. For brothers, biological or otherwise, to dry their tears after a big loss. For husbands to kiss their wives and children.

And not every school allows its fans to join its players on the field like we do. It's one of the things that is unique to our area and to our school. It's one of the things I've always loved about covering these games.

But on this night, I stood on the far sideline for quite some time watching all this post-game action, marveling at all the little scenes playing themselves out, wondering how many times I had been on a field just like this and missed it all because I had a job to do.

There is nothing quite like the rush of writing a story on deadline, adding up the stats and putting it all together into something people will read and maybe want to keep to show their kids and grandkids. There's nothing like coming up with the perfect lede (yes that is spelled correctly). 

But, then again, there's nothing like taking a step back and just taking it all in.






Tuesday, September 12, 2023

My Cousin, Beyonce

 Originally published on LouisianaGumbeaux




It's really hard to impress high school students.

Tell them you spent 30-plus years as a sportswriter for a major metro daily newspaper -- meh. You interviewed the likes of Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Ed Reed, Justin Jefferson and Jarvis Landry -- eh. Tell them you were just inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame -- crickets.

But tell them you're related to Beyonce and they sit up and take notice!

"Really? Nuh-uh. Have you been to her house? Can you call her?"

Ha! Now I've got their attention!

I really am (probably) related to Beyonce Knowles, but I don't think we'll be doing any line dances at family weddings together or going to any family reunions anytime soon. There are a lot of degrees of separation between her and me and one of them is kind of iffy, but hey! A thread is a thread.

Follow along.

Beyonce is the sixth great-granddaughter of Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil, the legendary leader of the Acadian people who fought against the British in King George's War and the Seven Years War. The Acadians eventually lost, the British took over and began what came to be called Le Grand Derangement, during which many of our ancestors and their families were cast out of their lands and set adrift. Families were separated and sent on different ships to different shores, never to be reunited. Remember the story of Evangeline and Gabriel? 

Joseph Broussard eventually led a group of displaced Acadians to Louisiana, which was Spanish-owned at the time but French-friendly, and needed all the settlers it could get. The Acadians quickly acclimated to the bayou country and made it their new home. Then they had lots of baby Broussards. One of those, Armand Broussard,  eventually led to Beyonce. 

I am not a direct descendant of the legendary Beausoleil but probably of his brother, the lesser-known but just as ornery Alexandre Broussard dit Beausoleil. who hid in the Acadia woods for three years in resistance to the British with Joseph. He had 11 children before leaving Acadia with his wife, Marguerite Thibodeau, but did eventually make his way, first to Haiti, then to New Orleans, then to Pointe Coupee, and on to St. Martinville. Sadly, he and his wife died of the Plague shortly after their arrival in Louisiana in 1765. (It is believed they were exposed in Haiti.) 

My sixth great-grandmother was Marguerite Broussard, who was born in 1727 in Acadia. Some sources show her to be the daughter of Alexandre and Marguerite. The WikiTree, which is an open-source family tree, does not show her to be their daughter but has no parents listed. She definitely was a Broussard, though, and connected to Beausoleil's parents somehow. She married Helio (or Julien) Viaud around 1747. They both eventually made their way to Louisiana and are listed on the Wall of Names in St. Martinville, which lists more than 3,000 Acadian refugees.

They had one known child, Catherine, on Jan 1, 1752 in Acadia. Catherine somehow ended up in France, where she married Jean Cecile Bourg in 1784. She and her husband arrived in Louisiana in 1785 and they both are on the list of names in St. Martinville.

Catherine and Jean Bourg had six children, including my fourth great-grandfather, Jean Similen Bourg, born Feb. 28, 1792, in Plattenville, Louisiana. He married Rosalie Eleonore Lirette on October 1, 1809, in Plattenville. The Terrebonne Parish census of 1850 lists Jean Bourg, 68, and his wife, Rosalie, 55, living in the Bayou Terrebonne area. Neither of them could read or write. Living with them was an 11-year-old boy named Zenon Rodrigues. All said their parents were born in Louisiana. They lived one door away from their daughter Eulalie and her family.

Eulalie Clementine Bourg was married to Francois Naquin. Her brother Jean Similien Bourg Jr., my great-great-great-grandfather, was married to Marie Celeste Naquin. 

Their daughter Melina Bourg, my great-great-great-grandmother, was born in 1840 in Thibodaux, Louisiana. She married Simeon Theodule Dupre in 1864. 

Their son Germain Dupre, was my great-grandfather, who married Marie Louise Thibodeaux.

Their daughter, Pauline Dupre, was my father's mother. 

Am I absolutely certain about all of this? No. But a lot of people with a lot more time than I have did a lot of research and put this all out there for the rest of us to find. Genealogy is a big, giant jigsaw puzzle like that except you have to FIND the pieces before you can put them together. Either way, Beyonce and I are (perhaps) cousins many, many, many times removed. So are Prince Charles and I. And Elvis. 

They could do a lot worse than me, a semi-retired Hall of Fame sportswriter-turned-teacher. And I'll happily do the Electric Slide with any of them.


Saturday, August 5, 2023

Teacher In the Hall

This is going to be another long one... Grab a snack... 



My whole life I've been pretty good with words.

I've used them to document my own life's ups and downs, as well as the accomplishments of some great athletes, friendly politicians and, for a short time, criminals. I even used them to tell the story of a little miracle baby.

My words have been my strength -- my superpower, if you will.

But over the past few weeks, my words have failed me. Just when I needed them the most, it seems.

How can I put into words -- the proper words -- what it means to have your life's work acknowledged by your peers? What it means to have your longtime friends vote for you to receive the highest honor in your profession? What it means to see your name on a wall with some of the greatest athletes and sports figures the state of Louisiana has produced? I can't. I tried -- several times. I failed often.

There are no words descriptive enough to say what it means to be selected for the Distinguished Service Award, to be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. If there are, I have not found them yet.

And I don't know if I have the words to describe what the past few months of my life have been like, since the November night I received The Phone Call from my friends Doug Ireland and Raymond Partsch III. 

As a Hall of Fame committee member, I was there the day we elected Alana Beard, Bruce Brown, Paul Byrd, Walter Davis, Wendell Davis, Matt Forte, Walter Imahara, Paul Mainieri, Eli Manning Ron Washington and M.L. Woodruff. But the DSA's are done by email vote a few months later.

I had tears the day I received the ballot and saw my name and my long list of accomplishments as a sports journalist in Louisiana. But there are many names with lists as long or longer than mine. You have to be pretty special to get enough votes. 

Apparently, I was. 

Honestly, I can't remember exactly what Doug and Ramond said to me that night on the phone because, already the tears were forming. So, I asked them if they thought there was enough Kleenex in Natchitoches to get me through it. Then I tried to thank them. I wished I could call my mama to tell her, and my brother and my sister.

And I tried to tell my husband but he didn't answer the damn phone! I tried to call my daughter. She didn't answer either. So I sat and cried with my two little poodles who seemed to be very happy for me. 

Marty did finally return my call, only to listen to me cry hysterically and ask if it was good news or bad.

As sometimes happens in our journalism business, I had to hold on to the news for a little while until all the proper ducks were in rows. I could tell a few family members -- and I did. Only one or two understood the enormity of it, though. 

But the world knew soon enough and thus began my feeble attempts to explain how it felt and what it meant to friends, family, reporters and, especially, to a bunch of middle and high school kids who have no knowledge of my former life as a sports reporter for just about every publication and website in southeast Louisiana. It definitely was a strange experience being on the other side of the interview.

I have been going to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony since the early 1990s. I have sat in the audience every year and listened as grown men and women stood on the stage and thanked their parents, their siblings, their friends and family, their coaches and their players and, sometimes, every person they've ever met, for helping them get up there. Grown men have cried. And they made me cry.

It was incredibly hard for me to fathom that this time, I would be up on that stage. I also had an incredibly hard time trying to figure out what I was going to wear. It became a bit of an obsession. 

It also began a long trip down memory lane. I'm a little bit of a hoarder, so I have all of my first bylines and many of my middle and last ones as well. Many days and nights I sifted through them, remembering some of the athletes I covered, marveling at certain turns of phrases I managed to come up with on deadline, and wondering if some were the parents of my current students. Some were.

And it all came to a climax over a few blistering hot days in July in the tiny town of Natchitoches with my little entourage: my husband, Marty, cousin Larry from Chicago, cousins Bob and Kate from Florida, my kids Daniel, Courtney and Lora, my daughter-in-law Cori, my nephew Lee and his wife Regina, my nephew Beau, my grand-niece Ava, and my best friend since eighth grade, Janine and her husband Bob. I also invited my high school journalism teacher, Mrs. LaRose and she planned to come until she was diagnosed with cancer just a few weeks ago.

After the long drive up to the middle of the state, I walked into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame -- a place I have been so many times I can't even count them all. I was one of the people with a shiny shovel when we broke ground a long time ago. My name is on some of the paperwork as president of the Louisiana Sports Writers Association. And when it opened in 2013 I was one of the short people out front with the giant scissors and Shaquille O'Neal as our marquee inductee. 

But what I remember are the countless times I've watched grown men and women beam and cry as they found their exhibit and showed it to their wives and children and grandchildren. They all posed for photos next to the wonderful painting by artist Chris Brown and asked him how he managed to do that. Then they went to the computer kiosk and typed in their name.

But this time, it was my name on the wall and my picture along with a long list of my accomplishments. This is one of the moments that will live with me forever.  The joy, the thrill, the disbelief. The pride.



A few minutes later, I spotted fellow inductee Walter Davis looking a little lost and out of place. I went over and grabbed him.

"Have you seen your name yet?" I asked him.

"No."

"Come on! You have to do it! It's so cool."

So I kind of dragged him over to one of the computers and told him to punch in his name. And there it was. And he had the same look of wonder and disbelief that I had. And I was so happy.

"Give me your phone! I'll take your picture."

A little while later I did the same thing to Wendell Davis. He got the same look in his eye. Pride. Joy. A little disbelief. 

That afternoon there was the first press conference with 11 of the 12 inductees. Eli Manning didn't arrive until the next day. I was certainly out of my comfort zone, being on the other side of the interview. My friend Doug asked me about my career, about my husband (although I never said his name!). I talked about my children. I was asked about what difficulties I had to overcome as a female sports writer before being a female in sports was cool. Then we drank.




Over the next two days there was a crazy celebrity bowling event at which I was considered one of the celebrities. I finished last. 

There was a big party by the Cane River where I was united with all of my entourage for the first time. It was very hot and very crowded, but we got to hobnob and mingle with lots of people, including Eli, who I wrote about a few times when he was in high school. The highlight of the event was when all of the inductees were brought up on stage to be introduced to the crowd. Then there were fireworks.


There was a junior training camp with basketball and football drills for all the kids. I asked if anyone wanted to do some sentence diagramming, but no one did so I went back to the hotel. Then there was a lunch and roundtable interview with fellow Hall of Famer Tim Brando. He asked me about being married to a coach.

When that was over, I went back to the hotel to chill for a while until it was time to get ready for the induction. As I've already confessed, I obsessed over what I was going to wear for this thing -- a dress, pants, a suit? I also have an issue with shoes. Because I wore heels in the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s, I can't wear them in the 2020s at all. 

But after finding the perfect dress and shoes, I learned on Monday morning that I was supposed to have been fitted for a blue plaid sportscoat that I was to wear during the induction. This was the first I heard about it. I was fitted. It was ordered, but it did not make it to the ceremony in time. I can't say I'm sad about it.

I wore the dress and the sparkly flat sandals.



There was a pre-party at the Hall of Fame where I was finally able to show everybody my name in the computer and on the wall. I had to walk the Purple Carpet and get interviewed again, this time by another old friend Victor Howell. We talked about how strange it felt to be on the other side of the rope. He also asked me about teaching. Then it was time to go inside and I was ushered backstage.

My favorite part of every induction is The Walk of Legends, where the past and present inductees are introduced and walk across the stage to the theme music from The Natural. It's stirring and gives me goosebumps every time.

This time, I was backstage with the legends. I was lined up alphabetically as one of the legends. I was about to walk across the stage as a legend. And as each one walked across the stage before me, I watched through the backstage curtain with goosebumps and tears in my eyes. 

The induction itself was a whirlwind. They kept telling me it would go by fast, and it certainly did. The DSA winners are introduced first, so I was second after Bruce Brown. My friend Teddy Allen introduced my introduction video, which just blew me away.

With tears in my eyes, I stood next to Doug in the dark and watched as my friends and colleagues and my husband said all kinds of nice things about me as a montage of photos of my life flashed before me. I  didn't want to cry because I didn't want to miss a minute of it. It was so heart-warming. So humbling. So surreal.

Then it was my turn to go on stage to be interviewed by Lyn. We joked about my tendency to cry at these things. I gave a shout-out to my peeps in Houma and the River Parishes who might be watching. He asked me about the story I've told about having a crush on the high school quarterback and how that lead to my interest in sports. I talked about the success of my kids and my journalism students at Riverside. And I corrected one mistake.

All along people have called me a "trailblazer." Maybe I was as one of the first women to do what I did. But I wasn't the one who went first. That was Robin Fambrough and I gave her the credit. As I said, she was the one with the chainsaw, I just followed along with the machete. I owed her that. I would not have lasted one year on the job without her guiding hand and support. 

But, again, I forgot to talk about my husband. Marty Luquet. The Coach, the man who supported me from day one, who never belittled what I did or tried to stop me, who drove me to Louisiana towns no one has even heard of, who drove while I typed, who found me phones to send my stories, who sat on top of the pressbox with me in the snow, who defended those who tried to tear me down. I would not have been on that stage if it were not for him either.



And then it was over. I spent the next few hours trying to pay attention to the other inductees' interviews, staring at my plexiglass State of Louisiana, having a few drinks and eating the Chex Mix we snuck in to tide us over until dinner, which was another marathon in itself.

Then I got to reflect on it all.

It was one of the most extraordinary moments of my life with the people who mean the most to me -- my husband, my children, my nephews, my bestie since the eighth grade, my cousins. Growing up in Houma, where there were a bunch of mean girls who liked to make my life miserable, I was determined to leave, to get out and to make something of myself. I didn't necessarily want to be famous, I just wanted to be somebody, do something. I think I succeeded in that.

As a person who has traced her family tree for decades trying to find missing pieces of a gigantic puzzle, I've always said I didn't care where my body ended up, I just wanted my name to be somewhere. And now, it is. Forever. In the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.

And even if no one remembers who I was or what I did, they'll be able to punch it into a computer and find out who I was. 




Links to some stories

L'Observateur

LSWA Bio Story

NOLA story

Hall of Fame Recap Story

Herald Guide Story

Rebel Express Story

Video: Hall of Fame Induction

Video: Bowling

Video: Welcome Reception

Video: Press Conference

Video: Interview

Behind the Glory -- mini documentary









Sunday, June 4, 2023

Home Again


                                  


 It wasn't that long ago that I sat at my computer to write a very sappy blog post about my baby girl going off to college. It was one of the hardest things I've ever tried to write -- not because I couldn't find the right words, but because I could not see very well with the tears pouring down my face and the blubber blocking up my sinuses. 

I get like that sometimes.

At the time, I poured my heart out about how proud I was, but also how sad that my baby girl was leaving me to go off and become her own person, to become even more independent than she already was and pretty much always has been. I marveled at how quickly the time had passed from that moment her first mother placed her in my empty arms to then. How hard it was to let her go.

It was so full of emotions that even she was moved to a tear. (Just one. My girl does not cry like her mama.)

But almost just as quickly, four years flew by and my baby girl is home -- sort of.

Just a few short weeks ago, she donned a purple gown and mortar board, moved her tassel from one side to the other, and graduated Magna Cum Laude from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana, with a Bachelor's degree in Communications. She was on the Dean's List all four years (or the President's List) and was the editor of her school newspaper, The Current Sauce.  Best of all, in four years I never got a call from campus security or a local sheriff's deputy and we made it through with no major traumas, dramas, illnesses or catastrophes. 

Whew! 

I may have been up in the rafters on graduation day, but I could still see her proud smile as she walked across the stage to receive her diploma. I did not cheer. I did not hoot or holler. I did not even caw. I just watched and cried and recorded it so I could watch it again... and again. And so could she. 

And she did not have to see me to know that I was bursting with pride and crying -- again.

Shortly after the ceremony (and the monsoon that hit during it), we posed for a slew of family photos to mark the occasion. We then drove back to her dorm to pack it up and move her out one last time. I got to play car Tetris once more (I am the Master!), stowing her belongings in my car, hers and her boyfriend's. Before we hit the road, we stopped for a quick bite to eat at her favorite spot in Natty -- a little gas station cafe called The French Market. Then we all settled in for the very long drive home.

But this time, she didn't bring all her stuff back to my house to sort through. No, this time it all went to her boyfriend's place just up the street! (Score one for Mom!) Her now tidy bedroom is still tidy! The only thing she gave me was the cap and gown to store safely in one of her many boxes and trunks of keepsakes. 

And I was fine with all of it. After four years, I'm just happy to have her less than four hours away. She is literally one mile away now, in a tidy little trailer she is working hard to decorate and keep clean. We've gone there to see where she put all her stuff and to visit with our grand cat, Flea, and dog, Buddy. She's come home to raid the fridge and the pantry and to swim. It's nice.

So now she begins her post-graduate degree in adulting. She's looking for a job (she's a damn good writer), filling out applications, taking care of their pets, figuring out how to pay the bills, and calling for advice here and there. 

These four years have taught both of us a lot about independence. She has been on her own and survived. And so did I.

So, now that she is home again, I have not become a helicopter mom, opting to let her do it her way. I'm here if she needs me, and if I do happen to spot an interesting job opening on Twitter or Facebook, I do send it her way. The rest is up to her.

A lot of my co-workers and Facebook pals are now where I was four years ago, crying over their soon to be empty nests and lamenting how hard it will be to drive their child miles away and drop them in their new temporary homes. I feel for them. My heart aches for them. But at least now I can tell, them -- they do come home again. Well, sort of. She may not be back in her childhood bedroom, which she never cleaned, but at least she's in the same zip code.