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Family was focus of Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction speeches

John Marcase, For USA TODAY Network, The Advertiser, July 2, 2018

NATCHITOCHES — The 11-person class enshrined into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday night at the Natchitoches Events Center may have been one of the most diverse in history.

The 2018 class featured three football players, a baseball player, a basketball player, a tennis coach, a high school football coach, a drag-racing pioneer and one of the first men to win the Bassmaster Classic along with two sports journalists.

Despite the different playing fields, as each honoree took the stage to be interviewed in front of the second largest induction crowd in the event’s history, one unifying theme emerged — family.

It started with Pineville’s Lyn Rollins, who received the Distinguished Service Award along with Lake Charles American Press sports editor Scooter Hobbs.

Rollins, who pulled double duty by also interviewing the athletes and coaches on stage, thanked his wife, Debbie, and noted they will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary in a few weeks.

Grambling State basketball legend Larry Wright was a high school All-American and collegiate All-American for the Tigers before winning an NBA Championship in 1978 with the Washington Bullets. He also won a European Championship playing in Italy.

"My mother taught me the value of hard work," Wright told the audience. "I saw her go to work every day and raise nine kids by herself. I had no excuse."

When asked the highlight of his career, Wright didn’t have to think.

“The thing that means so much to me is my kids, all of them, went to college. All of them received scholarships, and all of them graduated from college," he said. "That means more to me than anything in the world.”

Reggie Wayne was a six-time Pro-Bowler for the Indianapolis Colts who will likely one day be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Growing up in New Orleans, he wanted to be the next Ozzie Smith and play shortstop. It took encouragement from his dad, who was a football coach, to lead him to football greatness.

"My dad wouldn’t let me settle for anything less," said Wayne. "My mom, she never missed a game — Pop Warner, playground, high school, college and the pros."

Wayne then saluted his wife.

"She’s the real Hall of Famer in my family," said Wayne, who now works for the NFL Network. "She means everything to me."

One of Wayne’s former teammates in Indianapolis was also honored. Brandon Stokley was a record-setting receiver in college for the Ragin’ Cajuns. He would go on to play 15 years in the NFL and win two Super Bowl rings.

Yet, Stokley fondly remembered his college career, not only being able to play in his hometown of Lafayette, but also being able to play for his father, Ragin’ Cajun coach Nelson Stokley, who died in 2010.

"(College) football coaches are so busy and are rarely home," he said. "To spend five years with him on a daily basis was special."

Lewis Cook has won 344 games coaching high school football at Crowley and Notre Dame high schools. Along the way, he has won four state championships and his teams have made 31 consecutive playoff appearances. Still, he made sure to single out his wife.

"People will congratulate me for raising three sons and I tell them to congratulate her; she is the one who did it," said Cook.

Pollock’s Russ Springer was enshrined after pitching in the major leagues for 18 seasons, playing on three teams that advanced to the World Series and setting an SEC record for strikeouts per nine innings while at LSU.

Springer was unable to participate in the weekend festivities because of his 19-year-old son Jake, who suffers from autism and epilepsy. Taking care of Jake is Springer’s top priority. He taped an acceptance video with Rollins that was well received.

"I don’t want people to think I blew it off," he said.

Also honored were Jack Hains, who won the Bassmaster Classic in 1975, tennis coaching legend Jerry Simmons, who led the Cajuns and LSU to national prominence in the sport, and the late Paul Candies, whose drag racing team — Candies and Hughes — won 45 major events, two NHRA championships and five IHRA championships. Candies was also the man behind making the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo an international fishing event.

Receiving the Dave Dixon Award for leadership was former New Orleans Saint Steve Gleason, who is raising awareness of ALS, which has left him unable to move, eat and barely communicate. His Team Gleason foundation raises awareness of the disease as well as money to help ALS patients.

"He has helped thousands of people to live with ALS," said Gleason’s father-in-law, Paul Varisco, who is the executive director of Team Gleason and accepted the award on Gleason’s behalf. "The foundation provides life-changing adventures. We document them and raise more awareness.

"Everything we do is to help people with ALS in the now."

Athletic Network Footnote by Dr. Ed Dugas.

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