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Basketball: Red Dots group made its opponents see spots

Basketball: Red Dots group made its opponents see spots

Basketball: Red Dots group made its opponents see spots

Dan McDonald

It all started very innocently, and like most college students and those just out of college, it happened out of economic necessity.
At the start, the guys and gals who made up the "Red Dots" didn’t know that they were creating the most famous clothing items in the University of Louisiana’s athletic history.

"It was only going to be a one-time deal," said Rich Jenks, who along with Cliff Broussard unwittingly became the founders of a loosely-knit organization that became as recognizable in Blackham Coliseum as sawdust floors and Bo Lamar.

For several seasons, the "Red Dots" were the unofficial ambassadors of mayhem in the Blackham stands, constantly coming up with new ways to show their support of the Ragin’ Cajun basketball team, capture the attention of Cajun fans and bedevil the unsuspecting opposition.
"We had a group of people that always sat together," Jenks said. "We were caddy-cornered from where the football players sat and gave the other coach a hard time. It was a good mix."

"It was a bunch of guys that had been going to the games for a while," Broussard said. "We’d go out and have a good time."

Jenks and Broussard celebrated Cajun basketball along with Randy Morgan, Marty Levasseur, Tim Stafford, Danny Fontenot, Gary Hebert, Tim Viator, Rex Moore (later of local television sports fame) and several others. Assorted girl friends and future wives ("If we had dates, they’d come with us," Jenks said) were part of the crew.

They were all just fans, boisterous but anonymous, until a weekend in January of 1982 when several of those friends were planning a trip to watch USL play the University of New Orleans in UNO’s dreaded "Chamber of Horrors" gym.

Jenks and Broussard were driving in north Lafayette one day before the game, and passed a place called Good Hope Printing which was advertising $1 T-shirts.

"There was a festival in Savannah, Ga., and they were printing shirts for them," Jenks said, "but they got the dates mixed up and the shirts didn’t get printed until the festival was over. There they were with all those shirts, so they just put this big giant red dot on them and were selling them for a dollar. We couldn’t miss that."

"We were just looking for cheap T-shirts to play in," Broussard said, "and they kind of caught your eye. And the red dot kind of fit."

The two bought 20 of them and took them to the UNO game, where they passed them out among their group. That night, Alonza Allen hit a game-winning shot and USL won 70-68, but the crew from Lafayette’s KADN-TV doing the game broadcast were as much enamored with the red-dotted fan crew as with the game.

It probably helped their antics that UNO was one of the few places at that time that sold beer at basketball games.

"I think Rich fell through the bleachers when Alonza made that shot," Broussard said. "A lot of people saw us on TV wearing them and people kept talking about it, so we kept wearing them."

"Every time they went to a commercial, they’d show us," Jenks said. "People started talking about it, so we figured we’d wear them at a couple of home games."

Now with an identity, the crew developed more and more creative ways to raise interest and get the Blackham crowd involved. Jenks saw a television game from Wyoming where fans held up newspapers during introduction of the opposing team to feign disinterest.

"We started doing that and yelling ‘who cares’, ‘so what’, ‘big deal’ when they were introduced, and then we’d throw the papers on the floor," Jenks said. "A few games later the cheerleaders were handing out papers, and I remember vividly looking over my paper and seeing 8,000 people holding up newspapers. It was awesome."

Broussard remembered a road trip to McNeese when the "Red Dots" made an impact.

"We took a big piece of cardboard and painted a red dot on it," he said. "We pasted it up on the wall on one end of the Civic Center. After we won, there was something in the paper about the dots taking over."

"Those guys were just nuts," said Russell Heim, who in his career as the Fabulous Cajun Chicken provided his own brand of insanity. "How many times did the opponents move their chairs out to midcourt so they didn’t have to listen to them."

It helped that the Cajuns were in one of their basketball "golden ages," with two NCAA Tournament appearances and two NIT outings including one journey to the NIT Final Four between 1982-86. Players like Allen, Graylin Warner and Dion Brown as well as coach Bobby Paschal became "Red Dot" favorites.

"We’d talk to all the players," Broussard said. "The opposing players would always react to what we did. But we never did anything mean-spirited."

The group had a solid four-year run, even getting a Sports Illustrated mention during their prime, but as people moved away, started families and developed other interests, the original group dwindled.

And the original $1 "Red Dot" shirts? Most have long since vanished, with only a precious few tucked away in bedroom drawers. But the memories remain.

"Most of us cut our teeth on basketball in Blackham," Broussard said. "You couldn’t beat it. We knew we had a great deal."

"It was just a fluke, really, the way it happened," Jenks said. "But we had a lot of fun, and there wasn’t a better place to be in America for college basketball."

Originally published December 2, 2005