Locals Curtis, McConathy honored at National Football Foundation dinner

LOCALS SPOTLIGHTED:  New Natchitoches Central football coach Jess Curtis (left) and former Northwestern State basketball coach Mike McConathy were honored at the annual awards dinner hosted by the S.M. McNaughton Chapter of the National Football Foundation last Thursday night in Shreveport. (Photo by ROBERT FREDERICK, for the McNaughton Chapter)

New Natchitoches Central High School football coach and former Northwestern State basketball coach Mike McConathy were saluted at the annual National Football Foundation S.M. McNaughton Chapter Scholar-Athlete Awards Dinner last Thursday night at East Ridge Country Club in Shreveport.

Adam Parker, a senior football scholar-athlete at St. Mary’s, was one of 10 seniors recognized as NFF scholarship winners. Parker was playing in the Tigers’ state quarterfinal basketball playoff game at the same time, and was represented by Johnny Cox.

Curtis was recognized as the chapter’s Coach of the Year for leading Many High School to back-to-back state championships, including an unbeaten season last fall. Buddy Wood of Natchitoches introduced Curtis for the award, which is presented occasionally by the chapter for extraordinary achievement by a high school football coach.

McConathy was presented the chapter’s Distinguished American Award for his far-reaching impact on high school and collegiate athletics, community service and lifelong involvement with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. McConathy’s Demon basketball program received national accolades for its community service endeavors and he was honored as the 2012 National Association of Basketball Coaches’ Guardians of the Game for educational and service initiatives involving the Demons.

Northwestern State football coach Brad Laird gave a stirring introduction of McConathy, who became the winningest college basketball coach in state history during his 23 seasons at Northwestern as the culmination of a 39-year college coaching career. He is also a member of the Louisiana Tech Athletic Hall of Fame for his playing career there, the Ark-La-Tex Museum of Champions, and NSU’s Hall of Distinguished Educators and N-Club Hall of Fame.

Previous Distinguished American award winners include Sen. J. Bennett Johnston, Denny Duron, Orvis Sigler, Tim Brando, James Davison, Terry Slack, Greg Burke, Tynes Hildebrand, Doug Ireland, Walter Ledet,  Billy Montgomery, and Ivan Smith Jr., along with McConathy’s father Johnny McConathy and the namesake of the local NFF chapter, Milton McNaughton.

Chapter and national officials made a National Football Foundation Gold Medal presentation to Leo Sanford, the longtime chapter president who has been on the NFF board since its creation in 1980. Sanford, a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, Ark-La-Tex Museum of Champions and the Louisiana Tech Athletic Hall of Fame, was a star center and linebacker at Shreveport’s Fair Park High School and at Louisiana Tech before becoming a Pro Bowl player in the NFL with the Chicago Cardinals and winning the 1958 NFL championship alongside Johnny Unitas for the Baltimore Colts.

Along with Parker, nine other 2022 senior prep football scholar-athletes, nominated by their head coaches, received accolades and scholarships during the event. The 10 were Hunter Addison of North DeSoto, Green Oaks’ Fred Benjamin, Elijah Harper of Red River, Christian Jones from C.E. Byrd, West Monroe’s Blake Loring, Haughton’s Peyton Polk, Kam Robinson from Captain Shreve, Hayden Rolfe of Logansport and Northwood’s Mason Welch.

The event, attended by over 330 guests, culminated when North DeSoto’s Addison was announced as the McNaughton Chapter’s nominee for the National Football Foundation’s nationwide scholar-athlete of the year honor. He will be spotlighted during the 2023-24 year in the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.

Northwood’s Welch was spotlighted as the KTBS/Johnny’s Pizza House Scholar-Athlete of the Year after being nominated last fall for the 2022 NFF Scholar-Athlete Watch List. Fourteen standouts were spotlighted during Tuesday segments on the KTBS 6 and 10 p.m. sportscasts and on the station’s award-winning Johnny’s Pizza House Friday Football Fever weekly highlight show, and received a Griffin’s Game Ball in tribute to the late KTBS and KSLA news and sports personality, who served on the McNaughton Chapter’s board. Parker and NCHS quarterback Brian Young were two of the 14 recognized last fall as members of the Watch List.

Longtime Byrd High coach Mike Suggs received the chapter’s Contribution to Amateur Football Award after being introduced by former recipient Alan Carter, who hired Suggs at Byrd as offensive coordinator over 30 years ago.

Among other prior recipients are Eddie Robinson, Lee Hedges, Bert Jones, Joe Ferguson, Alton “Red” Franklin, Stan Humphries, Doug Williams, Jimmy “Chick” Childress, Rodney Guin, Broderick Fobbs, Joe Raymond Peace and Sam Goodwin.