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.
"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.
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