R.L. “Russell” Stockard, a trailblazing sportswriter and historian who was a 2008 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame inductee, passed Saturday morning at age 92 after battling cancer.
Stockard is believed to have been the first African-American to have a byline and a photo as a sportswriter for a mainstream major daily paper in the country, at the Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat in 1953.
He broke the color line in Louisiana sportswriting circles when he joined the staff of the Baton Rouge State-Times in 1954, and was there until joining the New Orleans States-Item staff where he worked from 1960-74.
He was the first sports information director (1959-64) at Southern University in Baton Rouge, where he also taught classes. He became the first public relations director and SID for the Southwestern Athletic Conference, serving in those roles from 1985-92, and worked as the SWAC’s initial NCAA compliance officer from 1990-93.
In 1964, he played a role in bringing about the first recorded integrated high school basketball game in state history, an event between New Orleans’ all-black St. Augustine High School and all-white Jesuit High, commemorated in the 1999 television movie “Passing Glory.”
He was on the committee which helped create the annual Bayou Classic football battle between in-state rivals Southern and Grambling held in New Orleans each year since 1974.
A World War II veteran, Stockard had master’s degrees from LSU, Tulane and Florida A&M, after earning his undergraduate degree at Tennessee State in his hometown of Nashville.
“I’ve led a blessed life. I was always able to do what I wanted to do. You could write a script, and it still would never turn out this good,” he once said.
Along with receiving the Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association and being enshrined in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2008, Stockard was enshrined in the Greater New Orleans/Allstate Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame in his adopted hometown of New Orleans.
“Russell Stockard has a complete knowledge of sports. He has dedicated his life to it. If I had to recommend anyone to speak about sports, it would be Russell,” said the late Buddy Dilberto, the iconic New Orleans broadcaster and writer who was the 2005 recipient of the LSWA’s Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism.
In 2005, then an adjunct professor of geography at Southern-New Orleans, Stockard was stranded in his Ninth Ward home for two days during Hurricane Katrina. At age 81, he walked more than two miles to the top of the I-10 high rise bridge, and was eventually evacuated from the Superdome.
The hurricane did not decimate his remarkable collection of sports memorabilia and historical information compiled during his more than 50 years of involvement in state sports. After Katrina, he moved his family back to Baton Rouge, where he passed after spending his final days in hospice care.
Stockard also wrote for the Baton Rouge News-Leader, Louisiana Weekly and the Black Collegian magazine.