Hall of Fame: Coronado, Breaux, Ryan, Shipley enter UL Hall of Fame
Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, Nov. 6, 2016
One has never been back since she graced the playing field as a Ragin’ Cajun athlete.
One returns to the area quite often for business.
One has been back a few times.
The other never left.
All four of this weekend’s 2016 inductees into the UL Athletics Hall of Fame certainly brought plenty of distinction to the university’s athletic department during their respective careers.
The group, honored at halftime of UL’s homecoming contest Saturday at Cajun Field, consists of former softball star pitcher Melissa Coronado Abner, former tennis player and longtime U.S. Sen. John Breaux, former Major League pitcher B.J. Ryan and longtime men’s basketball coach Beryl Shipley, who was represented by his widow Dolores.
Now Melissa Coronado Abner, the two-time Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year in 2001 and 2002 carried the UL softball staff from the Yvette Girouard to Michael and Stefni Lotief era at the turn of the century.
And while this induction weekend will be her first time back to Lafayette since leaving the program 14 years ago, don’t get the impression that she’s lost touch with it over the years.
“I wanted to make it back for some of the NCAA Regionals, but just couldn’t make it,” Coronado Abner said. “To go back and see the progress of the athletic department since I left is going to be great. To see a former teammate in Jessica (Clarke-Leger) in the administration now, it’s all very emotional.
“Since they called me with the news (of induction), I’ve been so excited. There have been a lot of tears, but very happy tears.”
Despite not returning, Coronado said she’s regularly communicated with the coaching staff over the years. For one, she’s from Pearland, Texas, right next to Stefni Lotief’s hometown of Friendswood. But also, Coronado has remained around the game. Her younger sister, Megan, completed her career at DePaul in 2014.
She coached for years, was a high school athletic director and is now in school administration in the Dallas area.
Throughout the process, she’s continued to run pitching and hitting clinics. She currently is mentoring a commitment to Virginia and another to Ole Miss.
“I love staying around the game,” Coronado said. “The only time I stopped it is when my father got sick.”
As an athlete at UL, Coronado was an old-school workhorse pitcher for the Cajuns. Her 35 wins still ranks as the second-best single season win total in program history. She remains fifth in games pitched, fifth in wins and her 295.1 innings in 2001 still ranks second.
“We expected it,” Coronado said. “If we were playing a Sun Belt doubleheader against Western Kentucky, I’d pitch the first game, eat a hot dog in between games and then pitch the second game. It was no big deal. We had trained that way. We were physically ready for it.
“It’s very different now. Not only are the facilities so much better and the players are bigger, faster and stronger, but they have 28 kids on the team now. We had 15.”
UL president Joseph Savoie, left, and athletic director Scott Farmer, right, honor new UL Hall of Famer B.J. Ryan. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE / USATODAY Network)
When B.J. Ryan played his two seasons for the UL Ragin’ Cajuns back in 1997 and 1998, the dream of making the College World Series was still just that, a hope of something that hopefully one day could be achieved.
Ryan played on two NCAA Regional squads, though. The year after he made his mark and was drafted in the 18th round by the Cincinnati Reds, things skyrocketed for both UL and his career.
By 1999, Ryan had made it to the Major Leagues. That year, the Cajuns played Rice in the Super Regionals in the Astrodome. A year ago, coach Tony Robichaux’s team was knocking off No. 1 South Carolina on the road to reach the dream of Omaha.
“When I got here, there were no accolades,” said Ryan, who played 11 seasons in the Major Leagues from 1999-2009 with two All-Star seasons in 2005 and 2006. “USL was at the bottom of the Sun Belt and Coach Robe was battling for respect. But he always told us not to worry about what others said about you. All that mattered was believing in ourselves as a team.”
Ryan said he attended the NCAA Regional and Super Regional after the Cajuns had ascended to No. 1 in the country back in 2014, so this weekend wasn’t his first trip back. He currently lives in his hometown of Bossier City, and proudly brags on his school’s program.
“It’s LSU country up there,” Ryan said. “I tell people that they don’t have any idea what’s going on down there in Lafayette. It’s just such a special place down here. The people are so special. It means a lot to come back and see all the progress that’s been made.”
Sen. John Breaux is honored as a new UL Hall of Famer for his career as a tennis player back in the 1960s. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE / USATODAY Network)
When you served over 30 years in Congress and have been in the public spotlight for as long as you can remember, recognition isn’t No. 1 on your list of priorities.
After all, Crowley native John Breaux lived in that fast-paced arena practically since he left then-USL back in 1964.
But when he got the call that he was being inducted into the UL Athletics Hall of Fame for his achievements on the tennis court all those years ago, now that was worth getting excited about.
“Yes, it was definitely an honor,” Breaux said. “I liked that it had nothing to do with (politics).
“It’s very special to me. I really am deeply honored.”
Breaux served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1972 to 1987 and then in the U.S. Senate from 1987 to 2005. He’s still working in our nation’s capital as a lobbyist today.
But this weekend’s trip to Lafayette for the induction is Breaux’s latest in a flurry of visits to his roots in Cajun Country. In September, he came down to take part in the new John Breaux Tennis Classic at UL.
Then there was the funeral for “a dear old friend Ray Cordova” in mid-October, not to mention an upcoming LHC board meeting.
While addressing the UL tennis team at the tournament in September, Breaux got the rare opportunity to relive some of his athletic exploits.
He was the 1962 Gulf States Conference singles and doubles champions. He also served as team captain. In 1995, Breaux received the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Achievement Award.
“The stadium they have down there now is great,” Breaux said. “They have a great coach and they’re recruiting players from all over the world. When I spoke to the team, I told them when I played the courts looked like a gravel road. We played with wooden rackets.”
In that era, smaller sports were coached by football coaches doing a second sport.
“Our coach was Raymond Blanco,” Breaux laughed.
“I really enjoyed my time (as college athlete). I think the lessons you learn in athletics are invaluable. Athletics teaches you how to handle winning and how to handle losing. And the great thing about tennis is you can play it for life. You could play it from 5 all the way to 95.”
UL president Joseph Savoie, left, and athletic director Scott Farmer, right, honor the daughter Marilyn and wife Dolores of new Hall of Famer Beryl Shipley. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE / USATODAY Network)
With new rules governing the Hall of Fame selection process, former men’s basketball coach Beryl Shipley is fittingly the first coach to be inducted into UL’s Hall.
It was the latest step in the long healing process after years of bitterness in the aftermath of Shipley’s era ending with the two-year NCAA death penalty from 1973-75.
For decades after that tumultuous ordeal, Shipley’s achievements as a revolutionary coach in Lafayette from 1957-73 went unrecognized.
Shipley died on April 15, 2011, at his Lafayette home.
Three years later, he was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame after decades of fighting for that honor.
On Saturday, his widow Dolores represented her husband of 61 years at Cajun Field as the first coach ever inducted into the Hall of Fame of the university she said he never stopped loving.
“I’ve been told, ‘Don’t be sad about accepting it in his place. Take the honor as if you are him,’” Dolores said. “That’s what I’m going to do. This is very, very meaningful to me.”
Shortly after the death penalty, Dolores said she suggested to her husband that the family should return to their roots in East Tennessee.
“Beryl told me, ‘Oh no, this is home,'” Dolores said. “He loved Lafayette.”
As a coach, Shipley had a 293-126 record on the floor. He was the conference Coach of the Year five times. Six times, the Cajuns were ranked in the top 20 nationally during his tenure and twice in the top 10.
While the Louisiana and UL Hall of Fame acclaim didn’t come Shipley’s way until after his death, Dolores explained that he experienced an even more important victory prior to his death.
“He was able to forgive,” she said. “He knew how important it was to forgive. He was very positive up to the day he died. He was very much at peace with everything.”