by Doug Ireland
You know that business meeting you dread? The Louisiana Sports Writers Association just held their version Sunday, Aug. 27 in Scott, the boudin capital of our state, just off I-10 west of Lafayette.
A four-hour discussion that occasionally slipped into a friendly debate ensued. Incredibly, as 40 voters scattered to race storm clouds home around the state, there was boudin from Best Stop left over.
I said voters, as in the members of the selection committee for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. Every year, just before football kicks off, the committee finishes a month-long review of roughly 150 candidates by convening to pick the handful who will be inducted the following summer.
Why, you ask, would anyone dread that? A chance to talk sports with friends who are experts, and choose the best of the best to join the legends forever honored in the amazing Hall of Fame museum at 800 Front Street on the bricks in beautiful, historic downtown Natchitoches. Sounds great.
It is. And it’s not.
Soon, you’ll see the announcement heralding the election of nine people from the “competitors’ ballot” to be the cornerstone of the LSHOF Class of 2024.
“What a great class.” That’s the reaction the announcement always solicits. That’s how each of the 40 selection committee members feel in the aftermath of voting.
Yet, every one of them (I’m one, along with local pals Bob Tompkins, John Marcase, Philip Timothy, LaMar Gafford, and this year, LSHOF Foundation board member Greg Baker) leaves with an equal, if not bigger, sense of remorse. As deserving, as worthy, as the new inductees always are – and the 2024 class will at the very least hold its own with its predecessors – there’s regret and frustration about those incredible candidates who don’t make the cut.
They roll over to next year’s ballot – at least, the 46 finalists considered Sunday will, along with most of those others who didn’t get enough support in the semifinal round of online voting earlier this month.
But staying power is no guarantee they’ll ever get elected. Every year, roughly 50 new candidates are nominated, and 20 or so survive vetting and make their first appearance on the full ballot.
Some of those are absolute locks – I am not betraying any secrets by telling you Drew Brees is in his first year of eligibility, having been retired for three years as of 2024. The “Future Hall of Fame Candidates” list – not a complete one, but just a compilation of some of the prominent possibilities – is included in each year’s commemorative program, a full-color 108-page publication that each guest receives at his seat for the induction ceremony.
It’s a challenge for voters to not succumb to the “new and shiny” urge and give first-year candidates more consideration than those who are repeaters on the ballot. Some of those holdovers, though, have been strong contenders in previous years, and many of them are unquestionably impressive enough to take a place in the Hall.
Many are names you know. Others aren’t. The full 2024 ballot listed nominees from 27 – yes, that’s right – different sports categories, including chess, sailing, shooting, swimming, athletic training and women’s boxing, along with more mainstream pursuits.
There are world champions, Olympic gold medalists, multiple Pro Bowlers, and pro bowlers. Voters compare apples to Corvettes. Is that outdoorsman more remarkable than the world top 10-ranked tennis pro, or are the All-Star Game participants in baseball and basketball better than a four-time USA Olympian who won a silver medal in one of his appearances?
The choices are brutal, and personal. The standards are not absolute, they’re subjective for each voter.
But in rounds of voting, like the political conventions used to have, there’s ebb and flow. That comes after a robust discussion of each sport, with committee members touting their favorites and weighing compelling points about others.
The toughest part? In each round, voters can list only five picks, in descending order, in a point system. By design, dating back to the words of Otis Harris, the Shreveport Journal sports editor of the 1950s: “only the state’s immortals in the sphere of athletics will be enshrined.”
I can’t tell you who got picked – yet. But I can tell you, that credo was honored once again with a star-studded, diverse and fascinating Class of 2024. Mid-September, I think you’ll agree. Next year, I hope you come see for yourself at the Induction Celebration.
Check LaSportsHall.com for tickets. They’ll go fast.