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Softball: Coming home – Ex-UL softball coach makes long-awaited return to Lamson Park

Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, April 18, 2013
Former UL head coach Yvette Girouard throws the ceremonial first pitch prior to the NCAA softball game against Houston at Lamson Park, April 18, 2013, Paul Kieu/pkieu@theadvertiser.com

Former UL head coach Yvette Girouard reacts after throwing the ceremonial first pitch prior to the NCAA softball game against Houston at Lamson Park. Paul Kieu/pkieu@theadvertiser.com

A month or so ago, Yvette Girouard had no idea that it was going to happen so soon.

For 13 years, the woman who started the UL softball program was an enemy of her creation.

For 13 years, there was bitterness, finger-pointing, mystery and a fierce rivalry. Simply put, it was ugly.

Through it all, however, Girouard always hoped that Wednesday night would happen.

And apparently current UL coach Michael Lotief felt the same way.

A few weeks ago, the two discussed the issue and Lotief expressed his desire for Girouard to return to the field and the program that she made special.

For the record, there are even bigger plans on the horizon. Some are to take place in the fall with a big alumni event and a special Yvette Girouard weekend is already being discussed for next season.

But before any of that took place, there had to be Wednesday night at Lamson Park.

Years of not feeling welcomed back to her own school and her own people and her own program slowly ended with each step Girouard took to the pitchers circle on Wednesday.

Prior to UL’s doubleheader with Houston, led by former Cajun All-American Kyla Hall-Holas, Girouard was introduced as the grandmother of the program … in true Robert Harris style.

She walked onto the field with red pants and a white shirt to a standing ovation.

Something that many of us thought wouldn’t happen for many years had indeed taken place.

Perhaps her school, at long last, no longer hated her.

“It means I can breathe again,” Girouard said. “I can come home again.”

What a huge relief. Other than playing in a regional here in 2002, Girouard doesn’t need all of her fingers on one hand to count the amount of times she’s traveled on Cajundome Blvd. since leaving to coach LSU after the 2000 season.

“Two times since,” Girouard said. “It just tore me up.”

About a year ago, she pulled up near Bourgeois Hall for a look.

That was it, until last week when Michael Lotief took Yvette Girouard on a tour of the new ball park. It didn’t look like the park she coached Lotief’s wife, former All-American pitcher Stefni Whitton, on for sure.

It didn’t even look like the park she left in 2000.

“It was a long time coming, but it’s something this program deserves,” Girouard said. “They did an incredible job with it.”

On Wednesday, not only was she able to walk on the field again, but do so wearing red and feeling apart of the Ragin’ Cajun family again.

“I was proud to put on my red on again,” she said.

“It was surreal. I was thinking about my mom and dad (who died 5 and 8 years ago, respectively) and how I wish they could have seen it. But actually I believe that they did.

“Some of the best years of our lives were on that field.”

For all of those early years just couldn’t be forgotten in Michael Lotief’s mind. He said that it wasn’t time for such an event while Girouard was still coaching at LSU.

“She was competitive and we’re competitive,” Lotief said. “It was LSU vs. UL. That wasn’t the right time. It’s kind of like Saban vs. Miles. It wasn’t a good time. Now is the right time.”

Lotief said in his mind, it was always going to take place.

“It’s good to have Coach Girouard back,” he said. “She spent her life out here. She sacrificed for this program. She was the pioneer who fought for equity and opportunity. She laid the foundation.

“So now to see her come back and smile and see the community embrace her, that’s the Ragin’ Cajun way. That’s the way we are. She’s a Cajun. She went to school here. She’s one of us. We’re all flawed. I know that better than anyone. But I always tell my kids, ‘You can always come home.’ It doesn’t matter. You can always come home.”

Lotief attempted to deflect the credit for the event taking place to UL president Dr. Joseph Savoie. His wife, Stefni, though, pointed away from her and to her husband.

“It was very important to him that she come back to this program,” Stefni Lotief said. “It was a perfect opportunity to extend (olive branch) to one of our own. There are so many great people associated with this program. I want everyone who walked through that gate and stepped on that field to feel a part of it all.”

Girouard got that feeling on Wednesday and she plans on doing what she can to extend that to her teams of the past.

“Now I’m hoping it’s OK to go the bowl games,” said Girouard, who didn’t attend either one of UL’s New Orleans Bowl wins. “I tried to come back to a football game here after I left and they just yelled at me, so I didn’t come back.”

Apparently it wasn’t time yet. Now it is.