NATCHITOCHES – Four-time major league baseball All-Star pitcher Ben Sheets, NBA standout P.J. Brown, University of Michigan and NFL star Anthony Thomas, and two longtime highly-successful coaches, Tulane baseball coach Rick Jones and prep football coach Jim Hightower, headline eight 2016 inductees chosen for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
Also in the class: Janice Joseph Richard, a two-time All-America basketball player and highly successful coach at her alma mater, Louisiana College, along with Xavier University; Arthur “Red” Swanson, Southeastern Louisiana’s most successful football coach who became an impactful figure in LSU sports history; and “Gentleman” Dave Malarcher, a great player and manager in Negro Leagues baseball. That trio will be inducted posthumously.
They will be enshrined Saturday, June 25, in Natchitoches to culminate the 2016Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Induction Celebration June 23-25.
The 2016Induction Class will be showcased in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Museum, operated by the Louisiana State Museum system in a partnership with the Louisiana Sports Writers Association. The striking two-story, 27,500-square foot structure faces Cane River Lake in the National Historic Landmark District of Natchitoches and has garnered worldwide architectural acclaim and rave reviews for its contents since its grand opening during the 2013 Hall of Fame induction weekend.
A 35-member Louisiana Sports Writers Association committee selected the 2016 inductees. The panel considered 113nominees from 28 different sport categories on a 24-page ballot, said Hall of Fame chairman Doug Ireland.
The eight new inductees will raise the total of Hall of Fame members to 326competitors honored since the first induction class — baseball’s Mel Ott, world champion boxer Tony Canzoneri and LSU football great Gaynell Tinsley — were enshrined in 1959 after their election a year earlier.
Also to be enshrined next summer will be three other Hall of Fame inductees, the winner of the 2016 Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership Award and the recipients of the 2016 Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism presented by the LSWA. Those inductees will be announced later this year.
The complete 11-person Class of 2016 will bring the membership in the Hall of Fame to 400 men and women, including 16 Dixon Award winners and 58 sports journalists.
Brown and Thomas each starred at Winnfield High School in rural Winn Parish, and are the only the second unrelated pair of athletes from the same high school to be enshrined in the same induction class.In the Class of 1998, football star John Petitbon and golf champion Pat Browne were alumni of New Orleans’ Jesuit High School.
Sheets won an Olympic gold medal as part of Team USA’s 2000 championship team after a breakout college career at UL Monroe, then made four major league All-Star Game appearances (2001, 2004, 2007, 2008) in 10 big league seasons. The right hander starred at St. Amant High School, then overwhelmed hitters for ULM before being a first-round MLB draft pick, 10th overall, by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1999. Two years later, he earned a spot in the Brewers’ rotation and was chosen for his first All-Star Game. A power pitcher with excellent control, he won 94 games with a 3.35 career earned run average, striking out 1,325 in 1,596 innings while issuing only 369 unintentional walks.
Brown shined collegiately at Louisiana Tech before a 15-year NBA career, three times making the NBA’s All-Defensive Team. He averaged 9.9 points and 7.7 rebounds in 1,089 games, starting 990 for five pro teams, including four years with New Orleans. The 6-11 forward/center capped his career in 2007-08 by helping the Boston Celtics win the NBA championship. In five seasons, he posted a double-figure scoring average, topped by an 11.4 figure in 1998-99 for Miami. He was consistently productive, averaging at least 8 points in 12 seasons and at least 7 rebounds in nine years. At Tech, he averaged 10.1 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks despite playing a modest 26 minutes per game for the Bulldogs.
Thomas combined bruising power, speed and agility to set a state prep record with 106 career touchdowns and ran for 7,594 yards at Winnfield, earning high school All-America honors. He headed to Michigan and as a freshman in 2007, the “A-Train” helped the Wolverines win a national championship. The 6-2, 221-pound running back finished his college career with 15 school records, including rushing (4,472 yards) and rushing TDs (55). A second-round NFL Draft pick in 2001, he was the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year after running for 1,183 yards and seven scores in 14 games for Chicago. He played four years in Chicago and also played for Dallas, New Orleans and Buffalo.
Jones was Tulane’s baseball coach for 21 years before his 2014 retirement, and guided the Green Wave to 12 NCAA Tournament appearances highlighted by College World Series berths in 2001 and 2005. The former Georgia Tech assistant posted an 814-439-2 record at Tulane, the most wins and best winning percentage (.649) in program history. Jones won Baseball America’s 2005 national Coach of the Year award when the Wave spent most of the season ranked No. 1 in the country and made its second trip to Omaha for the CWS. While developing 24 All-America players, Jones became one of the college game’s most respected skippers and served as Team USA’s head coach in the summer of 2009.
Hightower is the second-winningest high school football coach in state history and ranks among the top 25active coaches in the country with 379 victories early in his 41st season as a head coach. Entering the season at 376-116-1 with a .762 winning percentage, Hightower has been at Lafayette’s St. Thomas More for 30 years, entering 2015 with a 249-89 record while guiding his teams to 27 consecutive playoff appearances since 1988, winning 13 district championships. He has never had a losing season, beginning his head coaching career at Catholic-Pointe Coupee in 1975, where his 1978 football team won a state title and he captured another as baseball coach. Hightower is believed to be the only football coach to win a district crown in all classes in Louisiana (1A and 2A at CHSPC, 3A, 4A and 5A at STM).
Richard’s combination of playing and coaching basketball credentials earned her selection. The Alexandria native was a hometown hero as a two-time first-team NAIA All-American at Louisiana College who in 1986 led the Lady Wildcats to a 31-3 record, a No. 1 national ranking and third place at the NAIA Tournament in Kansas City. A four-time All-Gulf Coast Athletic Conference selection, she scored over 2,300 points and issued more than 700 assists. In 16 seasons as a head coach, Richard was 307-163 at Xavier, San Jose State and LC. From 1992-98 at Xavier, she was an amazing 159-34 with a winning percentage of .824 that is tops in school history, guiding the Nuggets to five consecutive regular season and GCAC Tournament titles. Beginning in 2006, she battled breast cancer in the last four years of her life, and still was 55-23 in three seasons at her alma mater, including a 24-3 record and a conference title in her final season of 2009-10.
Malarcher, a New Orleans native, became one of the best third basemen and most versatile players in the Negro Leagues prior to serving in World War I, then emerged as a shrewd tactician as a highly successful manager. After earning his college degree from New Orleans University, which later became Dillard, he went into pro baseball and earned comparisons with Baseball Hall of Famer Judy Johnson among the Negro League’s third basemen. A lifetime .272 hitter, he became manager of the Chicago American Giants, the dominant team in the Negro American League in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Malarcher became player/manager in 1926 and guided the Giants to two pennants, plus World Series titles the only two seasons they were played during his managerial career, which featured a 379-230 (.622) record.
Swanson, born in Quitman in Jackson Parish, stood out as Southeastern Louisiana’s football coach, going 41-17-4 from 1931-37 with a .674 winning percentage that is the best in school history. Also head football coach for a season at UL Lafayette, and briefly during World War II head basketball and head baseball coach at LSU, Swanson’s greatest impact came as an assistant coach and ace recruiter for the football program at his alma mater, where he played in the first game in Tiger Stadium. He was the pivotal figure in bringing abundant talent to Baton Rouge, notably future pro stars and LSU legends Y.A. Tittle and Jerry Stovall, long after he was the high school football and track coach of LSU All-American and world-record shot putter “Baby Jack” Torrance. He also convinced future major league star Joe Adcock, then exclusively an LSU basketball player, to give college baseball a try.
The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame already includes 16 Pro Football Hall of Fame members, 18 Olympic medalists (Sheets will be the 11th gold medal winner), nine members of the Basketball Hall of Fame, seven of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players, six Baseball Hall of Fame inductees, 34 College Football Hall of Fame members,five National High School Hall of Fame enshrines, jockeys with a combined 12 Triple Crown victories, six world boxing champions, seven Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinees, seven College Baseball Hall of Fame inductees, seven College Basketball Hall of Fame members, four NBA Finals MVPs and two Super Bowl MVPs. Biographical information on all current members is available at the LaSportsHall.com website, with a steady stream of info available at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Facebook page and the @LaSportsHall twitter account.
The 2016 Induction Celebration will kick off Thursday, June 23 with a press conference and reception. It includes three receptions, a youth sports clinic, and a Friday, June 24golf scramble at Oak Wing Golf Course in Alexandria. Tickets for the Induction Dinner and Ceremony, and golf entries, along with congratulatory advertising and sponsorship opportunities, will be available through the LaSportsHall.com website.
Anyone can receive quarterly e-mails about the 2016 Induction Celebration and other Hall of Fame news by signing up on the LaSportsHall.com site.
Adding to the 318 sports competitors currently enshrined, 15 winners of the Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership award and 56 recipients of the Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism, thereare 389current members of the Hall of Fame before next summer’s inductions.
The 2016 Induction Celebration weekend will be hosted by the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Foundation, the support organization for the Hall of Fame. The LSHOF Foundation was established as a 501 c 3 non-profit entity in 1975 and is governed by a statewide board of directors. For information on sponsorship opportunities, contact Foundation President/CEO Lisa Babin at 318-458-0166 or LisaBabin@LaSportsHall.com. Standard and customized sponsorships are available.