A celebration of Louisiana sports falls short of intent
Nobody (that I know of) enjoys hall of fame induction ceremonies more than I.
There is little more gratifying to me than seeing the state’s most remarkable athletes “immortalized” for their achievements.
As a member of two halls of fame selection committees (and curator of the New Orleans Prep Sports Hall of Fame), I not only look forward to having a vote in the selection process but also to applauding as the inductees walk proudly onto the stage to receive their laurels.
But this year I left Natchitoches, home of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, before the June 21 induction ceremonies. I decided to check out a day early – after the Louisiana Sports Writers Association concluded its annual business meeting – to save my company $114.
I was rather dejected as I made the long, monotonous, 260-mile trip back to Metairie.
The eight-person class of inductees included former football stars Alan Faneca and Lionel Washington, major league pitcher Shane Reynolds, professional women’s basketball standout Venus Lacy, Saints owner Tom Benson and coaches Beryl Shipley, Pete Boudreaux and “Moon” Ducote. But two of the inductees were deceased, and Benson was not going to be there.
The $23 million building that houses the museum opened last year. Shaquille O’Neal, the marquee inductee of 2013, made one of his few cameo appearances to take part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
When a few of us writers entered the building, which should have been a monument to Louisiana’s great athletic heritage, we realized that it is anything but.
One big faux pas
From the outside, the edifice is a portrait of beauty. But inside, it’s Star Trek.
The building’s architects obviously had a vision of water and waves. They produced a 27,500-square-foot, two-story cavern in which only a few of
the thousands of sports artifacts and memorabilia can be displayed.
Why is that the case? First, the curvature of the walls is not conducive to hanging displays. Second, the reported cost of $10,000 per display case makes it impossible for the facility, which is short of working capital, to properly present all the artifacts donors have to offer.
Hundreds of items that were displayed at the original site in Northwestern State’s Prather Arena are boxed and stored here in New Orleans, including Pete Maravich’s floppy socks.
The museum’s curator changes displays perhaps twice a year; so although entrance cost is a reasonable $5, there is little reason for visitor to return more than once a year.
One result is that the gift shop closed after eight months of financial losses.
A noble intent
One of the people I most respect for his tireless, dual dedication to his job and the hall is Doug Ireland, Northwestern State’s assistant athletic director in charge of sports information.
Doug has also overseen the development and growth of the LASHOF for three decades. To me, Doug IS the hall of fame. He has labored over this project without short-changing his primary employer one minute of work.
Doug worked with lieutenant governors Mitch Landrieu and Jay Dardenne and the Louisiana Legislature to make the museum a reality.
However, and unfortunately, the hall is a ward of the Louisiana Museum System, and the people who gave birth and reared this baby have lost control of its operation.
What was supposed to be a sports palace has had to give part of its precious space to other cultural displays that have nothing to do with home runs and field goals.
Visitors expecting to see Bob Pettit’s jersey or Joe Brown’s boxing gloves instead see a section devoted to rural Louisiana life. Another turn-off.
Doug Ireland will again lead the 30-person selection committee when we meet next month to choose the class of 2015. Among the biggest names of first-year eligibles are former USL and Saints/Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme and LSU running back Kevin Faulk.
There will be additional memorabilia donated by the new class of inductees. They will replace what is on display today. When those items are removed, we may never see them again. And that hurts.
Kudos to Accardo
Holy Rosary athletic director and coach Nick Accardo has been chosen as one of Brooks 2014 Inspiring Coaches finalists. Brooks’ goal with the Inspiring Coaches program is to honor inspirational track/cross country coaches who not only support their teams with time, encouragement and dedication, but also go above and beyond to build and keep their programs strong, make a lasting difference in the lives of their athletes, and inspire their own athletes and others in the community to be active.
Holy Rosary is the smallest high school in the Archdiocese of New Orleans whose focus is on educating students who struggle in a typical classroom. A recent US 100K champion, Accardo has led both by word and example, and his teams have responded with seven top-five cross country finishes in seven years with limited resources.
His nominator wrote on his behalf, “Whether it be facility, resources, learning struggles or developmental disabilities, through the guidance of Nick Accardo, these athletes have learned that they can overcome any obstacle and be stronger, smarter, faster and better for it. He regularly reminds the team how much stronger they are because of the adversities they face.”
Brooks Running is a company that produces running shoes and apparel. If Accardo wins, Holy Rosary will receive $5,000 in equipment.