by Doug Ireland

It’s never too early to make plans for something special.

Case in point: the 2023 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Induction Celebration next July 27-29 – including the BOM Bowling Bash smack dab in Alexandria at Four Seasons Bowling Center on Friday, July 28. Including the Rockin’ River Fest featuring big-time entertainers and fabulous fireworks over Cane River Lake in downtown Natchitoches that night.

For the rundown of events, check

For the great state sports figures being celebrated next summer, read on:

Two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning Joins four-time WNBA All-Star Alana Beard and College World Series champion LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri in a star-studded 10-member group of 2023 competitive ballot inductees chosen for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.

The LSHOF Class of 2023 also includes New Orleans native Ron Washington, who managed the Texas Rangers to a pair of World Series appearances and last year helped the Atlanta Braves win the world’s championship; two-time LSU track and field USA Olympian and world champion Walter Davis; and Slidell native, Tulane great and Chicago Bears two-time Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte.

Also elected for induction next summer are All-American LSU pitcher Paul Byrd, a 14-year Major League Baseball veteran who made the 1999 All-Star Game; Shreveport native Wendell Davis, who shattered LSU football receiving records before heading to the NFL; multiple national champion and world class weightlifter Walter Imahara, a UL-Lafayette legend; and retired Baton Rouge-Parkview Baptist baseball coach M.L. Woodruff, whose teams claimed 11 state championships.

The LSHOF’s Class of 2023 will be enshrined Saturday, July 29, at the Hall of Fame’s home in Natchitoches to culminate the 64th Induction Celebration July 27-29.

A 40-member Louisiana Sports Writers Association committee – including local Foundation board members Greg Baker, L.J. Mayeux and Bart Schmolke, along with LSWA members John Marcase and Philip Timothy — selected the 2023 inductees. The panel considered 151 nominees from 28 different sport categories on a 36-page ballot.

Also spotlighted next summer will be two other Hall of Fame inductees, recipients of the 2023 Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism presented by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association, the parent organization of the Hall of Fame. Those inductees will be announced later this year.

The complete 12-person Class of 2023 will swell the overall membership in the Hall of Fame to 480 men and women honored since its founding in 1958.

Manning will join his father, Archie (a 1988 inductee) and older brother Peyton (inducted In 2019) as the first set of father and two sons in the Hall. Two other father-son pairs are enshrined: football stars Dub Jones (1982) and son Bert Jones (1986), and USA Olympic hurdlers Glenn “Slats” Hardin (1962) and son Billy Hardin (1998).

A phenomenal shooting guard at the high school, collegiate and professional levels, Beard has deep family roots in Natchitoches but grew up in Shreveport, where she was the 2000 Miss Basketball in Louisiana for Shreveport’s Southwood High School. She won the 2004 John R. Wooden Award as the nation’s best college player and became a four-time WNBA All-Star (2005-07, 2009).

Mainieri retired after winning 1,505 games in 39 seasons at four stops as a college baseball coach, concluding with 641 at LSU highlighted by the 2009 College World Series championship. During 15 seasons at LSU, he was 641-283-3 before stepping away because of recurring neck issues.

A New Orleans native who played 10 major league seasons with five teams, Washington was hired by the Texas Rangers as their field manager and held that position for eight seasons, steering Texas to two American League pennants. From 2007-14, he had five winning seasons and compiled a record of 664-611 (.521) with his best seasons being 2010-13 when he won at least 90 games each year. Washington, who was manager of the American League All-Star team in 2011 and 2012, won a World Series ring as third base coach of the Atlanta Braves in 2021, and remains with the Braves.

Walter Davis is a two-time Olympian in the horizontal jumps and a two-time World Games champion and four-time medalist.

A former Tulane star, Forte, who starred at Slidell High School, was one of the NFL’s top dual threat running backs during his 10-year career with the Chicago Bears (2008-15) and New York Jets (2016-17). He retired at the age of 32 in Feb. 2018 with 9,796 rushing yards and 54 touchdowns while he caught 554 passes for 4,672 yards and 21 TDs for a total of 14,468 yards from scrimmage with 75 TDs.

Byrd was part of the National League team in the 1999 All-Star Game after being one of LSU’s most successful pitchers, starring on Skip Bertman’s first College World Series-winning club in 1991. Byrd went on to a 14-year major league pitching career, compiling a 109-96 record with a 4.41 ERA for seven teams. “Byrdie” is part of the Bally Sports broadcast team for the World Champion Braves.

One of the most prolific wide receivers in LSU history, Wendell Davis was a two-time All-American in 1986 and ’87 when he teamed up with Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer Tommy Hodson. For his 5½-year NFL career, he had 207 catches, 3,000 yards (14.5 yards per catch) and 14 TDs.

Imahara was a six-time USA national champion in the 60kg (132-pound) weight class while competing in the press, snatch and clean & jerk. The longtime Baton Rouge resident and businessman won his first titles in 1962 and 1963 while serving in the U.S. Army and then won four consecutive titles from 1965-68 representing the New Orleans Athletic Club. He was the 1960 Junior National champion and 1967 Pan Am Games gold medalist; he also won eight Southern AAU titles, six Louisiana state titles, two Southern USA championships and was National Masters champion from 1980-2005 before retiring from competition at 68 with hundreds of Masters records while winning 26 consecutive national gold medals.

Woodruff was the head baseball coach at Parkview Baptist for 27 seasons while the Eagles’ program became one of the best in the state in all classes, winning 21 district titles and making 23 playoff appearances in his tenure. The 11 state championships came over a 23-year span: 1986, 1987, 1989, 1997, 2002-2006, 2008 and 2009.

Five of the inductees – Byrd, Walter Davis and Wendell Davis, Mainieri and Woodruff (who were baseball teammates as freshmen) – competed at LSU.

The 2023 Induction Class will be showcased as the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum celebrates its 10th anniversary. The facility is operated by the Louisiana State Museum system in a partnership with the Louisiana Sports Writers Association.

The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame already includes 25 Pro Football Hall of Fame members, 18 Olympic medalists including 11 gold medal winners, 12 members of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, seven of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players, seven National Baseball Hall of Fame inductees, 42 College Football Hall of Fame members, nine National High School Hall of Fame enshrinees, jockeys with a combined 16 Triple Crown victories, six world boxing champions, nine Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinees, seven College Baseball Hall of Fame inductees, 10 College Basketball Hall of Fame members, four NBA Finals MVPs, four winners of major professional golf championships, five National Museum of (Thoroughbred) Racing and Hall of Fame inductees and two Super Bowl MVPs.

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