by Doug Ireland
The biggest, most celebrity-filled party of every summer in CenLa is coming your way a month later than normal, at the end of July.
Three days of festivities – including the BOM Bowling Bash at Four Seasons Bowling Center in Alexandria – are coming July 27-29 for the 2023 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Induction Celebration.
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 12-member induction class.
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 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 13 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 64 th Induction Celebration July 27-29.
A 40-member Louisiana Sports Writers Association committee selected the 2023 inductees. The panel considered 151 competitors from 28 different sport categories on a 36-page ballot.
Also spotlighted will be two other Hall of Fame inductees, writers Bruce Brown of Lafayette and Lori Lyons of New Orleans, 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.
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 starred in 16 seasons with the New York Giants (2004-19) after a stellar four-year career at Ole Miss. A New Orleans native, the Newman High School grad claimed the Maxwell and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm awards as a senior at Ole Miss, where he amassed career totals of 829 completions, 10,119 passing yards and 81 touchdown passes while setting or tying 45 school records (2000-03).
He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft by the San Diego Chargers but was traded to the Giants, who he led to victories in Super Bowl XLII and XLVI. Manning was named MVP in both and is one of only five players to win that honor at least twice. A 17-14 win over the New England Patriots, who were 18-0 going into Super Bowl XLII on Feb. 3, 2008, is considered one of the all-time greatest upsets in sports history. The Giants won another title four years later, topping the Patriots 21-17 with a last-minute TD.
Manning, who seven times threw for at least 4,000 yards, holds Giants’ franchise records for passing yards (57,023), completions (4,895) and TDs (366). Going into the 2022 season, he ranks ninth in NFL history in yards and completions and 10 th in TD passes. A four-time Pro Bowl pick, Manning played in 236 games with 234 starts and never missed a game because of injury. He started 210 consecutive games from 2004-17, the third-longest streak by a quarterback in league history.
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 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). She led Southwood to four consecutive state titles from 1997-2000 with a 144-6 record (ending her career with 53 wins in a row), and the WBCA All-American scored 2,646 points before going to Duke.
There, Beard scored 2,687 points — 41 more than she did in high school — and was the first NCAA player to amass 2,600 points, 500 assists and 400 steals in a career while leading the Blue Devils to two Final Four appearances. The three-time ACC Player of the Year (2002, 2003, 2004) averaged 19.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 3.0 steals for her career.
The second pick of the 2004 WNBA Draft by the Washington Mystics, Beard played 14 seasons with the Mystics and Los Angeles Sparks and averaged 11.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 419 career games. Beard was the WNBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 and 2018 and was a first-team All- Defensive team pick five times (second team four more times). She helped the Sparks win the 2016 WNBA championship.
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. Mainieri had his most success at LSU and Notre Dame, where he won 69.3 percent and 71.4 percent of his games, respectively. A former player at LSU, then UNO, he was the winningest active coach in the NCAA ranks when he retired with an overall record of 1,505-775-8 for a winning percentage of 65.9 percent. The 1,505 wins put him seventh all-time among all NCAA Division I baseball coaches.
During 15 seasons at LSU, he was 641-283-3 before stepping away because of recurring neck issues. His 2009 team won the CWS as the Tigers topped Texas, two games to one, in the championship series.
During his time at LSU, where he played as a freshman in 1976, Mainieri’s teams won a CWS title, five NCAA super regionals, eight NCAA regionals, four Southeastern Conference regular-season titles, six SEC tournament titles and six SEC Western Division crowns. Mainieri coached 13 first-team All Americans at LSU and as of September 2022, 25 Tigers have reached the major leagues with 88 players being selected in the MLB draft during his tenure from 2007-21. He was a four-time National Coach of the Year.
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. In 2010, Washington became the franchise’s first manager to win a playoff series when the Rangers beat Tampa Bay in the ALDS and eventually advanced to the organization’s first World Series. Texas lost in five games to San Francisco, but Washington became only the third African-American manager to guide a team to the World Series. In 2011, Washington led the Rangers to a career-best record of 96-66 (.593) and a second straight division title, but Texas fell to St. Louis in seven games in the World Series – coming up one strike short of the title.
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. The Arnaudville native and Beau Chene High graduate had a short, but highly productive career at LSU from 2001-02 after transferring from Barton County (Kansas) Community College. In two seasons with the Tigers, he claimed six NCAA titles with victories in the indoor and outdoor triple jump in 2001 and ’02, the outdoor long jump in 2002 and 4×100-meter relay in ’02, helping LSU win two of its six men’s national championships in the sport.
Davis also represented the U.S. at the World Indoor and Outdoor Championships eight times — winning indoor and outdoor gold medals, an indoor silver and an outdoor bronze.
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.
A two-time Pro Bowler, Forte was a second-round pick (No. 44 overall) of the Bears in 2008 and became a five-time 1,000-yards rusher. In 2014, he rushed for 1,038 yards and caught 102 passes for 808 yards and is one of three backs in NFL history with 1,000 rushing yards and 100 catches in a season (LaDainian Tomlinson, 2003; Christian McCaffrey, 2018). At Tulane, Forte had a breakout season as a senior with a school-record 2,127 rushing yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry with a school-record 23 TDs. His 4,265 rushing yards are second in school annals behind Mewelde Moore’s 4,364 yards. A two-time All-Conference USA pick, Forte was MVP of the 2008 Senior Bowl.
Byrd was part of the National League team in the1999 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. A fourth-round draft pick by Cleveland in 1991, Byrd won at least 10 games six times in his 14 MLB seasons — going 17-11 in 2002 for a 100-loss Kansas City Royals team, 15-8 in 2007 with Cleveland and 15-11 in 1999 in his ASG year with the Phillies.
Byrd posted wins in the ALDS (Yankees) and ALCS (Red Sox) to help Cleveland reach the 2007 World Series, becoming one of only two pitchers to beat those storied clubs in the same postseason. At LSU, he remains in the top five in career pitching in wins (31, fifth) and strikeouts (319, fifth) in only three seasons (1989-91). The right-hander holds the school season record for victories with 17 in 1990, going 17-6 with a 3.84 ERA in 140.2 innings, including six complete games, while striking out 130 to earn Baseball America Second-Team All-America honors. In the Tigers’ national championship season of 1991, he struck out 116 in 102.1 innings with an 8-3 record capped by a CWS semifinal win over Florida.
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. Playing for the Tigers from 1984-87, the Shreveport-Fair Park product held most of the school’s receiving marks until 2001 Biletnikoff Award winner Josh Reed came along. Among the marks Davis set were for receptions in a game (14), and he established single-season marks for catches (80), receiving yards (1,244), receiving TDs (11) and yards per game (113.1) in 1986 and also had the school record for career receiving yards (2,708). Davis still holds the school mark for career receptions (183).
A first-round draft pick (27th overall) of the Chicago Bears in 1987, his NFL career was cut short by a devastating injury when he tore the patellar tendon in both his knees on the notoriously-bad artificial turf at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium just five games into the 1993 season. In the two seasons prior to the injury in 1991 and ’92, Davis grabbed 115 passes for 1,679 yards and eight scores. 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. In college, Imahara joined the UL-Lafayette weightlifting team and was an All-American when the program won the 1957 NCAA team title – the first ever for the school. He was the NCAA featherweight champion in 1957, 1959 and 1960 — improving his total each time, lifting a total of 645 pounds in 1957, 695 pounds in 1959 and 725 pounds in 1960 when he was named an All-American and earned “Best Lifter” acclaim.
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. As a child, he and his family spent 2 ½ years in a California internment camp, among thousands of Americans incarcerated because of their Japanese descent.
Woodruff became the head baseball coach, head basketball coach and assistant football coach in 1982 at Parkview Baptist in Baton Rouge, where he spent the remainder of his 30-year teaching and coaching career before retiring in 2010. Aside from two years, while he served as the school’s full-time athletic director, Woodruff was the Eagles’ head baseball coach for 27 seasons while Parkview’s baseball 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 Eagles achieved a perfect record of 22-0 in all semifinal games and finals games played under Woodruff, who holds a 603-163-2 career record for a winning percentage of .785. Woodruff was honored as the American Baseball Congress Association’s National Coach of the Year in 2007.
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 10 th anniversary. The facility is operated by the Louisiana State Museum system in a partnership with the Louisiana Sports Writers Association.
The 2023 Induction Celebration will kick off Thursday, July 27, with a press conference and reception. The three-day festivities include two receptions, a free youth sports clinic, a bowling party, and a Friday night riverbank concert in Natchitoches. Tickets for the Induction Ceremony, along with congratulatory advertising and sponsorship opportunities, are available now through the LaSportsHall.com website.