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Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame: Girouard started softball rolling in Louisiana

John Marcase, The Advertiser, June 30, 2015

Girouard, shown here speaking Thursday during a press conference at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Museum, helped to pave the way for the rise of college softball in Louisiana and across the South.(Photo: Paul Kieu/The Advertiser)

In Yvette Girouard’s first season as a college softball coach at the University of Southwestern Louisiana in 1981, she had to drive around Lafayette to find a place to play her home games.

“We played at five different city parks,” she said Friday morning before teeing off in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Golf Tournament at OakWing Golf Club. “We didn’t have the budget for scholarships, much less a field. We would eventually build one (Lady Cajun Park), but we made do with what we had that first year.”

From those meager beginnings this trailblazing softball pioneer planted the seeds for a sport that would quickly sprout and spread throughout the state of Louisiana.

By the time Girouard retired following the 2011 season, her LSU teams played in a $13 million, state-of-the-art facility she helped to design.

USL, now known as UL, also plays its games in a multi-million dollar facility she not only designed but literally built from the ground up.

“My players borrowed my dad’s truck and stole sand from somewhere,” Girouard said. “We then all got out there, spread the sand around and made a field. It wasn’t much but it was a start. It was home.”

The personable Girouard quickly built a rabid fan base who in turned helped her add to those piles of sand with covered stands, press box, fences and dugouts. The softball complex has evolved over the year and now features, among other things, air-conditioned skyboxes.

Yes, the sport of softball has come a long way since Girouard coached the Lady Cajuns to a 7-15 record in 1981.

So has the self-proclaimed “little girl from Broussard.”

She never experienced another losing season again after 1981, compiling 1,285 victories, five Women’s College World Series appearances and turning both UL and LSU into perennial top-10 programs.

Saturday night, she was one of eight new members inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches. Fittingly, she is the first college softball coach enshrined.

By the time Girouard got UL’s program rolling, LSU had disbanded its program.

Girouard and the Lady Cajuns were to softball in Louisiana what Sonya Hogg, Leon Barmore and the Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters were to women’s college basketball in this state — pioneers.

The Lady Cajuns would win 759 games and appear in three WCWS under Girouard.

After the 2000 season, she made the difficult decision to move across the Atchafalaya Basin to LSU.

LSU had brought back softball in 1997 when the SEC began sponsoring it as a way to comply with federal Title IX regulations.

The Lady Tigers’ program had success first under Kathy Compton and then former Northwestern State football player Glenn Moore. Compton, however, was forced to leave the program just prior to the start of the postseason in her second season. Moore took over and kept winning, but eventually bolted for Baylor.

That opened the door for Girouard.

“It was a hard, hard decision. I cried for a week,” said Girouard, who sported a Vermilion red golf shirt to represent UL and a white LSU visor at the golf event. “But thinking back on it, I made the right decision at the right time. I got to not only coach at my alma mater but also the state’s flagship university.”

In her first season in 2001, she led the Lady Tigers to their first WCWS. They would go again in 2004.

Since she retired, Beth Torina has led LSU to two more WCWS appearances, including this past season in which the program earned its first No. 1 ranking.

Meanwhile, the UL program has continued humming along without a misfire. The Lady Cajuns have been back to the WCWS three more times, including the 2014 season.

“My motto is to leave it better than I found it, Girouard said. “I hope I did that.”

Even more, softball is flourishing at colleges and universities throughout the state.

“The future is unlimited,” said Girouard. “Everybody loves the game.”

The ratings prove that. The Women’s College World Series championship series outdrew the College World Series championship series. Softball averaged 1.8 million viewers while baseball averaged 1.4 million.

“Title IX got this going, and now little girls don’t know what it is,” said Girouard. “They can find (female) role models to look up to.

“Mine was Mickey Mantle, which shows you how old I am!”

Little girls could do worse than to look up to Girouard.

John Marcase is a former assistant managing editor and sports editor of The Town Talk. He writes a weekly column.

Athletic Network Footnote by Ed Dugas.

Click here for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame website.