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Next Level Sports has strong UL ties

Joshua Parrott • jparrott@theadvertiser.com • August 23, 2008

As far as Tony Robichaux was concerned, he needed the perfect situation to continue serving as UL’s head baseball coach and attempt to follow his passion of training athletes the right way.

It appears he found it with a group of familiar faces in Lafayette.

Robichaux has joined his twin brother Tim Robichaux, the head baseball coach at Notre Dame High School, and former Cajun baseball players Phil Devey, Chad Bailey and Chad Arceneaux among the co-owners of Next Level Sports Academy located in a renovated warehouse on Easy Street.

The Robichauxs are serving as the directors of baseball operations, establishing the training protocol. Another former Cajun player, James Gamble, is working as

the general manager for the academy, which opened in late June but held

its grand opening on Aug. 16.

"I’ve grown up more of a teacher than a coach," said Tony Robichaux, who is 756-480 in 20 years as a collegiate head coach, including a 512-330 mark in 14 years at UL. "This gave me an opportunity to help train children at an early age and do so in a clean and positive environment. Being able to do this with some of my former players that were all passionate about training youth made it a pretty easy decision."

Robichaux said youth baseball players need to develop the proper fundamentals early on. Instead of just playing games with Little League or travel teams, most foreign players develop their basic fundamentals at a young age at local baseball academies.

"In the United States we play and don’t train, while in foreign countries they train more than they play," Robichaux said. "The kids need to play but also train."

The academy, though, will offer more than just baseball training. Acadiana High graduate David Chaney, who coached the UL men’s club soccer team to two conference titles from 1998-2000, serves as the academy’s director of soccer operations.

Former Cajun men’s basketball player and coach Eric Mouton is the director of basketball operations. Mouton, who played at UL from 1988-92, finished fifth in program history in career steals (471) and ninth in career steals (144).

Ex-Cajun softball players Holly Tankersley and Amy Helo share duties as the lead softball instructors. Tankersley finished first in the UL career record books in walks (157) and second in numerous categories, including homers (71), RBIs (231), runs scored (218) and total bases (530). As a senior in 2008, Tankersley led the Cajuns to the Women’s College World Series and the sixth spot in the final national rankings.

There is also a focus on speed, strength and agility training at the academy.

"We wanted to be an academy that could train youth, from baseball to basketball to softball and soccer," Robichaux said. "We want to promote training and growth for athletes, and not by screaming and yelling at them."

The staff will also teach the importance of academics and the process of getting approved by the NCAA Clearinghouse. Without approval from the clearinghouse, student-athletes cannot accept an athletic scholarship from an NCAA school.

Hiring people with area ties, Gamble said, just made sense when pursuing this new endeavor.

"You have to have the right people," he said. "We want the mothers and fathers to have trust in what we are doing. With coach Robichaux and the UL connection, people have grown accustom to the way those teams are run. If coach Robichaux was involved they would know that we would do things with respect, go 100 percent and teach life skills. The entire sports world is starting to acknowledge that outside of the country the Latin America countries are training for baseball in academies. In Europe, they’re training for basketball.

"We’re unique because today we’re probably the only one that has a major Division I head coach as not only the owner but also the director of baseball."

Gamble said there is room for future expansion at the academy’s current location. The plan is to add based on what the area dictates a need for sports-wise.

For now, the focus is the academy’s grand opening on Aug. 16.

"Not every kid is going to be a great athlete," Gamble said. "But we can ensure that we teach them properly and teach them life skills with sports as that platform. Some parents just want their son to learn how to play catch so he can play catch with his kid with he’s a father.

"That’s what we want to be able to do here, help every athlete accomplish their goals regardless of what they are."