Ask a Northwestern State student-athlete why they decided to become a Demon, and most will say the University fosters a “family-like atmosphere.”
Six N-Club Hall of Famers and a seventh honoree gave their version of that mantra Saturday at the Induction Ceremony in Magale Recital Hall, but two inductees were actually joining family members in the most prestigious honor that can be bestowed on a former student-athlete.
Basketball’s Wayne Waggoner watched his father Bernard be inducted in 1982, something that left a mark on him 37 years later at his own induction with his sons looking on.
“My family has deep roots at NSU – my dad went here, my sisters went here,” said Waggoner, a Logansport native who spent his first two years at Centenary before making his mark at NSU in his final two seasons. “My dad would take me to watch NSU games with guys like Billy Reynolds and Greg Procell, — he was never too cool to put me in the car with his friends and take me to Prather Coliseum.
“That’s what Northwestern State is. One big family.”
Waggoner is joined in the 2019 induction class by NSU basketball coach Mike McConathy, professional football defensive backs Kenny Wright and Mike Green, women’s basketball point guard Judy Clark and soccer standout Missy Payne Howe. Longtime NSU donor and supporter Skeeter Salim is the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award.
Waggoner, a sixth-round draft pick by the Dallas Mavericks, averaged nearly 17 points per game while shooting 57 percent from the field as a point guard. The two-time Trans America Athletic Conference selection led NSU to a 19-9 record as a senior and joined his father on the 100-man “All-Century Team.”
With McConathy’s entry in this class, he becomes the fourth McConathy to be enshrined in NSU’s Hall. Father Johnny and uncles J.L and George also call the N-Club Hall of Fame home.
While his predecessors were inducted based on their play on the floor, Mike McConathy displayed prowess on the NSU sidelines.
After finishing a career as one of the greatest scorers in Southland Conference history at Louisiana Tech, McConathy has the most college basketball victories in Louisiana history at 647 as he enters his 37th season overall and 21st in Natchitoches.
But it’s McConathy’s impact on those around him that people point out most often.
“When I met with the team for the first time, I laid out my plan for Demon basketball, wanting to get it back to where it was in the 1940s, 50s, 60s,” said McConathy, who has led NSU to three NCAA Tournament appearances and two wins, including a March Madness memorable moment by rallying to defeat No. 3 seed Iowa in 2006. “A player Ryan Duplessis asked, ‘What about us?’ It caught me off guard, and I didn’t know what to think.
“What he was asking was, ‘Where do we fit in this plan?’ That was one of the most important things for me because it showed me that we need to take care of everybody that’s there. I would go on to add that if you’re not making a difference in somebody’s life educationally or spiritually or in those areas, then what are we doing this for?”
McConathy was also inducted into the NSU Gallaspy College of Education and Human Development’s Hall of Distinguished Educators on Saturday, which recognizes NSU graduates who’ve made contributions to the education field.
Soccer student-athlete Missy Payne Howe is adding to her education repertoire as she’s pursuing a nursing degree, but on the field, Payne Howe was known for her tenacity and toughness.
The three-time All-Southland Conference selection led the program to its first Southland Conference regular season title and NCAA Tournament appearance in 2000.
“You can achieve so much through hard work and dedication, and through my experiences as a Demon, I have life-long friendships and continue to stay in contact with many of my teammates,” said Payne Howe, who flashed her championship ring to the current soccer team in Magale, which is in the running for their own title this season. “(Former NSU coach Jimmy Mitchell) would always push us to our limits and expect 110 percent from each player, and these expectations help me in my daily life.”
The other three inductees each won at least one SLC championship.
Call Mike Green “Mr. Championship.”
The safety won a pair of SLC football titles in 1997 and 1998 as well as two track team championships.
Picked by the Chicago Bears with last pick of the 2000 Draft, this “Mr. Irrelevant” was anything but, playing nine years in the NFL with 426 career tackles.
Speaking of football coach Sam Goodwin and track coach Leon Johnson in fatherly terms, perhaps Green’s most fond NSU memory came on the oval.
Johnson wanted Green to run the anchor leg of the 4X400 relay, and an NSU win would give the Demons the conference title.
“I went and hid under the bleachers,” said Green, a two-time football All-American. “But was I going to let the fear of losing stop me from running in that event?
“They wanted me to run anchor leg against Sam Houston State’s fastest guy? But my teammates gave me a lead, and I was able to hold him off on the anchor leg. I asked (Johnson) why he made me run that race, and he said it was because he believed me and because I had the heart to win.”
Green and Kenny Wright played together at Ruston High, and Wright’s desire to be closer to friends and family led him to transfer to NSU after one season at Arkansas.
Wright excelled at cornerback for the Demons, intercepting five passes on SLC championship teams in 1997 and 1998 before playing nine NFL seasons and starting for four different NFL teams (Minnesota, Houston, Jacksonville and Washington).
“My family showed me love, taught me manners and showed me respect – and that support system is so important,” said Wright, who described NSU as its own support system as he completed his bachelor’s degree in 2015. “NSU puts you on a path to improve lives, and it definitely did that for me.”
Wright knew Green since middle school, and the pair had an ongoing competition to see which player could make the most impact.
The duo combined for 11 career interceptions in the NFL, and both had their first interception off Green Bay Packer great Brett Favre.
Wright was known as a talker, but Demon point guard Judy Clark let her play make her statement.
The 1998-99 Southland Conference Player of the Year scored 1,616 career points (her 14.4 points per game was seventh in NSU history) and finished her career second in program lore with 609 assists.
Clark, a legendary high school player from Singer who would routinely score 40, 50, 60 and even 70 points in a game, was a two-time all-conference and All-Louisiana player who led NSU to a regular season title in 1998-99 and a WNIT appearance.
“I could barely speak to my teammates much less a crowd when I got to NSU as a freshman,” said Clark, who was named SLC Freshman of the Year. “But when I graduated, I signed the wall and wrote, ‘It’s not what you say, it’s what you do.’ I still live by that.”
Salim, the Distinguished Service Award winner, can say he’s done both.
The Natchitoches lawyer with a national reputation built his career arguing cases, but when it comes to NSU, he’s often quietly supported different projects and renovations across the sports spectrum to fuel competitiveness in the league.
“NSU has meant everything to me and my family,” said Salim, who also excelled in tennis as a student-athlete. “To me this is about our commitment to Northwestern and everything it’s done for us.
“When you have an opportunity, whether it’s to recruit a student or contribute to the university, always remember what Northwestern did for you and try to give something back. I’ll never be able to pay Northwestern for what it did for me.”
Pictured above: Northwestern State inducted six members into the N-Club Hall of Fame on Saturday and honored a seventh. From left to right, Skeeter Salim (Distinguished Service Award winner), Wayne Waggoner, Mike McConathy, Judy Clark, Missy Payne Howe, Kenny Wright and Mike Green.
Photo Credit: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services