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Former Tennis: Athletics taught Sen. Breaux about teamwork

Bruce Brown, The Advertiser, September 1, 2016


Former U.S. Sen. John Breaux speaks to the media at the Lake Charles Civic Center. Breaux will return to the Hub City on Sept. 22-25 for the John Breaux Cajun Tennis Classic. (Photo: Advertiser file photo)

It’s been over 50 years since Sen. John Breaux played tennis for USL’s Ragin’ Cajuns in the 1960’s, but some details remain fresh to this day.

“It was not like it is today,” said Breaux, who played for the Cajuns from 1961-64 and was a conference champion in both singles and doubles. “Teams are much better now, and they have a great facility.

“We played on some old hard courts next to Earl K. Long Gym on campus that were in terrible shape. They needed to be resurfaced 10 years before we played on them. And, if you fell, you got some sort of deathly illness (from the surface).

“It was a challenge, but we enjoyed it.”

Today’s UL Cajuns play at the Culotta Tennis Center, a six-court haven with locker rooms, coaches’ offices and hospitality areas wedged between Cajun Field and Tigue Moore Field.

It will be the site Sept. 22-25 when Breaux returns to the Hub City for the John Breaux Cajun Tennis Classic.

He might even be persuaded to take part in an exhibition doubles match.

The host Cajuns will be joined by LSU, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Southern Cal, Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State in the fall showcase event. Breaux’s involvement accents how far the sport has come.

“We didn’t have a coach,” Breaux said. “The one we had (football assistant Raymond Blanco) just coordinated our trips. Coach Blanco came by our practice one day, and had us pumping iron, doing wind sprints and push-ups, like it was football. It was crazy.

“We pretty much just winged it. Most of us were from the area. Glady Trahan, from Crowley, helped me a lot. They have a tennis center in his name there now (opened in 2012).”

Multiple sports in Crowley

Breaux played football, basketball and competed in track and field at St. Michael’s (now Notre Dame) in his hometown, but tennis soon reeled him in.

“I took a liking to tennis,” Breaux said. “I went to a summer tennis camp my junior year — much to the chagrin of Jerry Dill, our football coach who was afraid I would lose weight for football.”

Despite those misgivings, Dill was a pivotal influence on Breaux’s life.

“He didn’t just teach us football; he taught us about life,” Breaux said. “Part of it was his Marine Corps background. He taught us about winning, but more importantly he taught us not to be afraid to lose. You’re not going to win every time.

“We would walk over hot coals for him. I kept in touch with him until the end.”

Armed with life lessons from Dill, and a solid serve and volley, Breaux arrived at college ready for more tennis. His main memory of his Gulf States Conference titles?

“I got a little bitty trophy. I still have it in my office,” said Breaux, who also carried forth other benefits.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “I consider tennis a game for life. You learn how to handle wins and losses and, with doubles, you learn how to partner with people. It’s a sport you can play when you’re 10, or 90. (I’ve got a game this afternoon.)

“Tennis has helped me throughout my professional career. I’ve been able to call on friends to raise funds.”

Breaux was instrumental in forming the Washington D.C. Tennis in Education Foundation, which raises funds for disadvantaged students in the D.C. Area.

He was also nominated by UL for the Rolex Achievement Award, a national tennis award which he received in 1995.

Athletics to Advocacy

Breaux received his law degree from LSU and embarked on a career in public service that included the U.S. House of Representatives (1972-87) and U.S. Senate (1987-2005).

Despite his success, it wasn’t always his direction.

“At one point, I would have liked to have been a coach – to work with others, not by yourself, to stress sportsmanship, to have a positive influence on someone’s life,” he said. “To be successful, you’ve got to understand people and see where they’re coming from.”

That quest for understanding is sorely lacking on Capital Hill these days, according to Breaux.

“Instead of looking for ways to be successful, they’re looking to blame others for failures,” he said. “They don’t like the others, and you can’t run a country like that, It’s like two armed camps facing off against each other.”

Breaux worked closely with others in the Louisiana delegation like Bennett Johnston, Lindy Boggs, Billy Tauzin, Chris John and Bob Livingston, often able to downplay personal agendas and party allegiances for a greater good.

From those years, Breaux listed the Breaux Act (1990) and Medicare Part D as two favorite achievements.

The Breaux Act seeks to rebuild the nation’s wetlands related to the Mississippi River with a tax on fishing equipment. Task forces were formed to plan and prioritize restoration projects with the funds raised.

Breaux was moved to act by the continued erosion of Louisiana’s coast and wetlands.

Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit — Part D — helps elderly Americans to afford prescriptions.

“I felt it was important to press for health care for senior citizens,” said Breaux, who wasn’t perfect on the tennis court but found no equal in campaign arenas.

Never lost an election

“I started off in mechanical engineering,” he said. “Then a professor pointed out that I was always trying to make 2-plus-2 equal 5, 6 or 7, and they suggested a career in public service.

“I was in it for 34 years, and enjoyed it all. I loved to campaign — I never lost an election — and I also enjoyed the legislation. Some only like one.

“Life is a series of events. There are no final victories.”

Asked about his legacy, Breaux said, “I’d like to be remembered as someone who worked hard and brought good things to people.”

Athletic Network Footnote by Ed Dugas.

Click here for John and his 1964 teammates.

Click here for John and his 1963 teammates.