Free, next Thursday evening: food, drinks, music, sports stars, Billy Cannon’s Heisman

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For all those times you’ve wondered what it would be like to visit with sports stars you see on TV or read about, you get the opportunity free of charge next Thursday evening at the La Capitol Welcome Reception kicking off the 2023 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Induction Celebration.

You can be right there at the Hall of Fame museum at 800 Front Street (at the traffic circle) in Natchitoches. No need to dress fancy, just enjoy food and refreshments and music and a world-class museum, mingling with sports stars and their families from 5-7 next Thursday evening, July 27, at the museum.

Adding to the excitement — one of America’s most prized sports trophies will be on display on the second floor. Billy Cannon’s 1959 Heisman Trophy will be in the house through the weekend festivities, courtesy of the Cannon Trust, as a cornerstone of the museum’s months-old Heisman Trophy exhibit that showcases the state’s four winners: Cannon, John David Crow (1957), Joe Burrow (2019) and DeVonta Smith (2020).

But the spotlight is squarely on the Class of 2023, which includes a two-time Super Bowl MVP (Eli Manning), a women’s basketball superstar with Natchitoches roots (Alana Beard), a College World Series-winning LSU coach (Paul Mainieri) and three more LSU sports heroes (big league pitcher Paul Byrd, NFL receiver Wendell Davis and two-time USA track and field Olympian Walter Davis).

There’s another Pro Bowl NFL star, former Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte. For fans of the Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers, Ron Washington will entertain you – he managed the Rangers to the World Series in 2010 and 2011, and as the current third base coach for the Braves, he was also in that role when Atlanta won the 2021 Fall Classic. He was also third base coach in Oakland during the “Moneyball” years (he’s a featured character in the movie headlined by Brad Pitt).

Meet the amazing 86-year-old Walter Imahara, a Japanese-American who became a world-class weightlifter for decades – while running a Baton Rouge floral business, and serving in the United States military in the early 1960s. Another Baton Rouge hero is M.L. Woodruff, who won 11 state championships coaching baseball for Parkview Baptist.

Sports journalists Bruce Brown (Lafayette) and Lori Lyons (New Orleans/Houma) have covered many amazing games and highly-accomplished athletes, including plenty of LSHOF members, in their careers and will be inducted next weekend as well.

The Welcome Reception is also a wonderful chance to stroll around the 27,500-square foot museum, which has just celebrated its 10th anniversary. Lots of display items have been rotated into exhibits, and there’s a new Kim Mulkey exhibit showcasing the LSU women’s basketball coach.

A frequent reaction from first-time local and area visitors: “I didn’t realize it would be this great! I can’t believe I haven’t been here already. I’m bringing friends next time.”

That’s the same sentiment for the entire Induction Celebration, which includes a free Friday evening Rockin’ River Fest concert on the downtown riverbank stage, and a free Junior Training Camp Saturday morning, July 29 with the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans teaming with Hall of Famers to provide activity and instruction to kids ages 7-17 (no charge, but registration is necessary at

You’re invited to all the fun. Visit to get more information and the schedule of events, make online ticket purchases and Junior Training Camp reservations, or call 318-238-4255 for participation opportunities for ticketed events.