Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022 honored its roots in ceremony

NATCHITOCHES – For the 50th anniversary of its arrival in this small town located on Cane River Lake, the 2022 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony took time to celebrate the villages.

Those villages – whether it was Crowley or Bunkie or Mamou or Thibodaux or Opelousas — as well as the villages who helped nurture and produce the 12-member Class of 2022 that officially entered the state’s sports shrine, were on display at the event inside the Natchitoches Events Center.

“I always tell people, like the saying, it takes a village,” said Garland Forman, the longtime journalist at the Bunkie Record. “Well, I had a lot of villages.”

Forman’s statement held true across the board Saturday night whether the inductees came from the more rural areas of Louisiana or if they plied their trades in Baton Rouge or New Orleans.

Before the inductions began,  Northwestern State’s Jerry Pierce was honored with a special award for bringing the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame to Natchitoches a half-century ago, in 1972. Pierce was LSHOF chairman until April 1990.

Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame cowboy Steve Duhon, an Opelousas native who played one season of football at LSU, praised his parents for making the sacrifices necessary for him to chase his dreams and his brother for being his constant companion in the practice pen.

“God blessed me with a lot of abilities, but the best deal was him blessing me with my parents,” Duhon said. “They supplied me with whatever I needed. My brother took my hand and drove me to a lot of rodoes. All of my children rodeoed and now my grandkids are starting to ride. It’s one big family deal, and now I get to do it all over again on the other side.”

Few athletes in LSU history have been as successful as gymnast Susan Jackson, who highlighted the opening Walk of Legends by somersaulting onto the stage in front of nearly 700 at the Natchitoches Events Center.

A 12-time All-American (11 first-team honors) and three-time national champion, Jackson became a standout at a place she committed to sight unseen and helped lay the foundation for a powerhouse program.

“Very early in the process, I knew LSU was for me,” said Jackson, who started the night by cartwheeling onto the stage. “I bonded quickly with the coaches. I loved the fact they cared for me as Susan the person, not just the gymnast. I Googled LSU in typing class my junior year. The fact it was a one-hour drive from New Orleans didn’t hurt their chances either.”

The potential for a no-hitter always existed when Britni Sneed Newman stood in the circle for LSU.

A dominating right-hander who set a gaggle of Southeastern Conference softball records in her two-time All-American career, Sneed Newman tossed 10 no-hitters at LSU – six in her senior season – and helped lead the Lady Tigers to their first Women’s College World Series appearance.

That – not the 10 no-hitters – is what mattered most to Sneed Newman, now an assistant coach at Baylor.

“I don’t remember one of them,” Sneed Newman said. “I wish I did. It would be really cool to talk about. I do remember our team finally getting to the Women’s College World Series. We kept saying, ‘We’ve got to get past Courtney Blades so we can win the Women’s College World Series.’ That was my ultimate moment at LSU.”

Current Baylor coach Glenn Moore, a Northwestern State graduate, recruited Sneed to LSU and coached her for her first two seasons before taking the Baylor job.

Moore was impressed early by his ace right-hander’s demeanor even as a high schooler.

“She separated herself in the recruiting world because of her demeanor,” he said. “She didn’t get rattled. She didn’t get hit often, so there was not a lot of opportunities for her to get rattled.”

The linchpin of a Saints offensive line that helped Drew Brees set league passing records, Jahri Evans’ 11-year career produced a Super Bowl championship that forever endeared himself and his teammates to the city and state.

Evans felt the love – almost physically – from Who Dat Nation throughout his career.

“I was coming from Bloomsburg (University) where I probably played in front of 5,000 people,” he said. “In the Superdome, we fed off the crowd. We really fed off the crowd going to the hotel the night before. New Orleans knows how to party.”

A standout for the Ruston Bearcats, Kyle Williams became a starter as a sophomore defensive tackle midway through LSU’s 2003 national championship season and parlayed his success at LSU into a 13-year NFL career with Buffalo – one of the NFL’s most passionate markets.

“I’m super happy for you and your family,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott said. “Jill, I hope you don’t cry that crying face you did when Kyle retired. Kyle, I hope you smile a little bit and enjoy the moment you earned.”

Williams smiled plenty during his speech, but when it came time to acknowledge his village, it was the thought of his wife that nearly made the high-motor defensive tackle come to tears.

“Probably the greatest moment of my career is making a victory lap in Buffalo and getting to go into a secluded room and tell my family the reason I was able to do that was I made a commitment to be my best every day and do my best,” Williams said. “That’s why we get to experience this weekend. Last but not least – and maybe the shortest – I like to call her the Little General.

“Jill, when I hitched my wagon to your star, it took off. You’re the toughest person I know. You’re a monster. You’re the best. I appreciate you.”

Natchitoches Parish Journal columnist Teddy Allen was a Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism winner.

A writer and columnist in New Orleans, Shreveport and Monroe, and a communications staff member since 2008 at his alma mater, Louisiana Tech, the loquacious everyman took a 10-minute break from his master of ceremonies gig to be honored in his first year on the ballot.

“It helps to write like you talk,” said J.J. Marshall, Allen’s longtime friend and co-worker. “If you listen to Teddy and you read Teddy, it’s almost the way he talks. He doesn’t try to overwrite. Teddy opens up and types it. Here it is. It sounds simple, but a lot of people don’t do that.”

The son of a South Carolina preacher who famously bestowed “The Mailman” nickname on Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer Karl Malone, Allen had one simple way to sum up his journey to the Hall of Fame.

“I’ve led a Forrest Gump-like existence,” he said. “I was working at Beacon Gas in Claiborne Parish, and literally the parish sheriff too me to Ruston and said this is where you’re going to school. I told him no. He said, ‘Yeah, this is gonna happen.’ There have been a lot of people help me get from Point A to B to C. Such dear friends. I just like to laugh and love to hear you laugh.”