by Doug Ireland
While preparing for its most unique Induction Celebration ever, Dec. 15-17, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame is also tracking on its normal timeline to enshrine the Class of 2021 next June.
The Class of 2020 didn’t get officially installed this summer for obvious reasons, but its memorabilia and portraits were just placed in the Hall of Fame museum at 800 Front Street in Natchitoches. This year’s induction festivities are set for mid-December, showcasing some of Louisiana’s greatest sports stars basking in the glow of the state’s most spectacular Christmas lights display.
Looking ahead to 2021, the Hall’s selection process stayed on track with a socially distanced mid-August meeting in the expansive third-level suite at Russo Park, the almost new baseball facility at UL Lafayette. Eleven of the 40 voters from around the state participated via Zoom, with 29 more committee members masked up to choose just eight from a field of 151 candidates from 29 different sport categories.
Marques Colston, the all-time leading receiver for the New Orleans Saints, joins two of LSU’s greatest competitors, basketball’s Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and football’s Glenn Dorsey, and Southern Jaguars baseball star Rickie Weeks, among a star-studded group of eight 2021 competitive ballot inductees.
The LSHOF Class of 2021 also includes another dynamic LSU figure, former track and field coach, Pat Henry, and Baton Rouge native, Courtney Blades-Rogers, considered one of college softball’s best pitchers of all time at Nicholls and Southern Mississippi. North Louisiana is represented by Monroe’s Mackie Freeze, a dynamic high school football coach at Richwood High School and an undefeated pitcher for the Grambling Tigers, and Natchitoches native Villis “Bo” Dowden, the 1980 Bassmaster Classic champion.
For the first, and hopefully only, time in the Hall’s history, an induction class was selected before the previous one was inducted. That circumstance opened the door to fast-tracking enshrinement for two who were elected just weeks ago, Freeze and Henry, who will time-hop into the Class of 2020 and take their spots in the Hall this December. “When you’re 93 years old, you learn not to wait on anything if you don’t have to,” laughed Freeze from his home in Monroe.
For Henry, a spring chicken at age 70 and still active as one of collegiate track’s iconic coaches at Texas A&M, taking his Hall of Fame stroll in December avoids a late June conflict with the final days of the 2021 USA Olympic Trials, where he will have several current and former athletes competing.
The other six members of the Class of 2021 will be enshrined Saturday, June 26, in Natchitoches to culminate the 62nd Induction Celebration June 24-26. Joining them will be eight-time Mr. Olympia world bodybuilding champion, Ronnie Coleman, chosen for the Class of 2020. The Grambling product, who played linebacker for coach Eddie Robinson’s Tigers, will be inducted next summer in the Class of 2021 because the pandemic resulted in the Mr. Olympia competition being rescheduled for the same mid- December dates the LSHOF is using.
Colston, a seventh-round 2006 draft pick, made the NFL All-Rookie Team as he and new Saints quarterback Drew Brees began an extremely productive partnership that was a key in the Super Bowl XLIV championship season. In 10 seasons, Colston set Saints records with 711 receptions for 9,759 yards and 72 touchdown catches.
Abdul-Rauf also had instant impact as a high-scoring guard for LSU, averaging 29 points per game from 1988-90, and was the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year in each of his two seasons with the Tigers. In nine NBA seasons, he averaged 14.6 points and then played many more seasons internationally before LSU retired his No. 35 jersey last season to the delight of his LSU coach, 1999 LSHOF inductee Dale Brown.
Dorsey, a Gonzales-East Ascension product, is the most decorated defensive player in LSU football history and helped the Tigers win the 2007 BCS national championship. A two-time All-American defensive tackle, Dorsey played nine NFL seasons after he was SEC Defensive Player of the Year and earned the Outland Trophy, among other top national collegiate honors, playing for 2019 LSHOF inductee, Les Miles.
Weeks set two NCAA Division I career hitting records still on the books with a .465 batting average and a .927 slugging percentage under 2019 LSHOF inductee Roger Cador at Southern, winning the 2003 collegiate player of the year awards. He played 14 major league seasons, nearly all of them in Milwaukee, and was the National League’s starting second baseman in the 2011 All Star Game.
Henry is one of the most successful track and field coaches in NCAA history. He led LSU’s men’s and women’s teams to a combined 19 SEC titles and an amazing 27 NCAA indoor and outdoor team championships during a 17-year run from 1988-2004, and since then has been head coach at Texas A&M, building the Aggies’ program into a national power.
Blades-Rogers was a four-time All-State pitcher at Baton Rouge’s Belaire High School who set an NCAA career record with 1,773 strikeouts in 1,261.2 innings pitched in two seasons apiece at Nicholls and USM. A recent NCAA.com column ranked her as one of the 11 best college pitchers of all time.
Freeze, who will become the oldest living person inducted at age 93, had a 116-23 (.834) coaching record from 1954-67 after starting the Richwood program. The Rams won a record 56 straight games and four consecutive state titles. As an athlete at Grambling, he was unbeaten on the mound in his career and pitched the Tigers to the NAIA national championship before going to spring training with the Brooklyn Dodgers featuring Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese.
Dowden’s 1980 Bassmaster Classic win came on the St. Lawrence River after he was second in 1976 and third in 1977, highlighting 14 appearances in the Super Bowl of professional bass fishing. He was in the money in 57 percent of the tournaments he entered, including 99 of 241 on the BASS Tour.
Dowden becomes only the fourth outdoorsman elected to the Hall from the competitors’ ballot, joining Grits Gresham (1989), 1975 BassMaster Classic champion Jack Hains (2018), and Phil Robertson (2020). Robertson, the patriarch of the Duck Commander crew that was reality TV gold in the “Duck Dynasty” series, headlines the Class of 2020 along with former LSU football coach, Nick Saban. Minden native Sweet Lou Dunbar, whose number 41 jersey was retired by the Harlem Globetrotters, is another headliner for the December festivities.
The Class of 2020 features Pro Bowl football standout, Chicago Bears cornerback, Charles “Peanut” Tillman, a star at UL Lafayette, along with two extraordinary basketball players: New Orleans native, Kerry Kittles, a two-time All-America guard at Villanova who averaged 14 points in an eight-year NBA career, and Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters basketball legend, Angela Turner, a Bienville Parish native who helped her teams to four straight national championship game appearances including wins in 1981 and 1982.
Inducted as winners of the Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism will be LSU sports publicist, Kent Lowe, and Baton Rouge Advocate prep sportswriter, Robin Fambrough. Opelousas native, Joan Cronan, one of college sports’ most influential administrators in her career as athletics director at the University of Tennessee, will be inducted as the Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership Award winner. Enshrined as the first recipient of the Louisiana Sports Ambassador Award will be Shreveport-based broadcaster, Tim Brando, whose pride in his home state has been evident throughout his four decades among the best in his business around the country.
The upcoming Dec. 15-17 Induction Celebration for the Class of 2020 kicks off with a press conference and reception. The three-day festivities include two receptions, a free youth sports clinic, a bowling party December 16 in Alexandria, and a riverbank concert in Natchitoches. Tickets for the Induction Dinner and Ceremony, along with congratulatory advertising and sponsorship opportunities, are available through the LaSportsHall.com website.
Golfers can get a head start. Registration is on the website for the Hall’s Golf Classic, postponed from the spring by the pandemic and then relocated from Lake Charles by Hurricane Laura’s impact, and will be held Oct. 18-19 in Baton Rouge, on a weekend with LSU football at Florida and the Saints enjoying their open date.