A blog by Lori Lyons

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."

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