Former Weightlifting: Update on Glory Days - The Documentary to Chronicle Team's National Triumphs
Source: Sports, Glory Days, La Louisiane , Fall 2018, pgs. 34-35
Here is an update on our WL documentary film from Nick Campbell:
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Documentary to chronicle weightlifting team’s national triumphs
Mary Perrin and Cheryl Thompson sat side-by-side on a sofa at
Mike Thompson, were time traveling, reliving their glory days
as members of one of the nation’s most-successful collegiate
weightlifting programs.Mary and Cheryl know every inch of this particular stretch of Memory
Lane. “Oh, yes, we’ve heard all the stories,” Cheryl said with a laugh.
There are many stories to tell. Between 1957 and 1972,the University’s squad won eight national championships.A
forthcoming documentary, “The Ragin’ 13,” will chronicle the
University’s improbable domination of the sport. The title is a
reference to the number of first- and second-place finishes the team
collected, explained filmmaker Nick Campbell.
“It’s an underdog story. They excel on every level, beating
universities that had a lot of support and a lot of money behind
them,” said Campbell, who holds bachelor’s degrees in history
and media art from UL Lafayette.
Competitive weightlifting requires speed, skill and strength. In the
Weightlifting at UL Lafayette, then known as Southwestern
Louisiana Institute, began in the mid-1950s at an off-campus
gym owned by student Mike Stansbury.
Among the students Stansbury introduced to the sport was
Walter Imahara, one of the most-decorated student-athletes in
UL Lafayette’s history. As a weightlifter at SLI, in the U.S. Army,
and after his discharge, Imahara amassed nearly 200 regional,
national and international titles between 1957 and 2005.
In 1955, Imahara enrolled at SLI and met Stansbury, whose
gym on Jefferson Boulevard in Lafayette welcomed students
who wanted to lift. By 1956, a group of them – with the
blessing of Dean of Men Glynn Abel – felt confident enough
in their skills to represent the school at the National Collegiate
Weightlifting Championship. The team placed second.
The following year, the team took the crown decisively,
more than doubling the score of its nearest opponent, the
University of Hawaii. It was the first national championship in
any sport in UL Lafayette’s history.
Seven more titles followed, in 1963, 1965, 1966, 1967,
1968, 1970 and 1971. National competition was cancelled for
1969, because of a lack of a sponsor. It resumed the next year.
The team’s record, which included undefeated seasons, regional team
titles and individual records, drew attention from national weightlifting
publications and newspaper sportswriters. It was an
irresistible story: a small college with no coach and little money that
managed to defeat better-equipped and better-funded
programs such as Pennsylvania State University and the universities of
Michigan, Texas and Maryland.
The squad would return from championships with trophies in tow,
and a small group of students and the University’s band would be
waiting. The next day, team members would be back
in Earl K. Long Gymnasium, where they trained after Stansbury’sdowntown gym closed in 1960, preparing for the next meet.
With cameras rolling, the veteran lifters returned to Earl K.
Long Gym in July carrying only memories.
Jim Reinhardt and Alvin Chustz peered into a storage space
where they first trained. It’s beneath the bleachers. They recounted
that the low clearance meant lifters had to take care when they
hoisted barbells above their heads or else they might hit and damage
the bleachers’ underside.
The squad later moved its equipment into a more-spacious
former handball court in the gymnasium’s recesses. They called
it “the dungeon,” and as the veteran lifters returned to the space
during their tour, they greeted the room like an old friend.
The film crew had placed a barbell in the room’s center.
Imahara approached the bar and began to explain for the cameras –
and to the hushed ex-lifters who stood around him in a semicircle
– the importance of foot positioning, gripping the bar properly and
breathing on successful lifts.
“OK, I think we got it now, Walter,” teased squad member Gene
Hebert. “Now lift it.”
Imahara, now 81, smiled, but declined. “I didn’t bring my belt
with me,” he said.
During the summertime, the unairconditioned “dungeon” grew
so hot that the walls dripped with humidity. Despite the conditions,
“we wanted to be there,” recalled Jay Trahan. “Our bond was
Team members shared and devoured training publications and
replicated stances demonstrated in photographs. They had no coach,
but they had each other, recalled Warren Perrin, who approached
Campbell with the idea for the documentary.
“We all came from unique backgrounds, but we helped each
other gain a positive attitude, that through hard work, you win –
and gain pride.”
“It was a shared passion for the sport – man against iron – that
forged the team and its successes,” Perrin said.
Weightlifting at the University of Southwestern Louisiana – the
school’s name changed from SLI in 1960 – ended after the 1972
season, when the squad’s last two members graduated.
Recreating the 17-year period the sport existed at the University
requires scores of primary sources. Training diaries and scrapbooks
of photographs and newspaper clippings kept by the competitors are
particularly valuable. Many were on display at the Alumni Center on
the first day of filming for the documentary.
The material will help corroborate decades-old details
recounted by ex-lifters during interviews, Campbell said.
“Walter (Imahara) has an old notebook. It’s yellowed and
brownish from age, but it’s got every single competition he ever took
part in – every single one.
“Warren (Perrin) did the same exact thing. Every competition
they were ever a part of, how much they lifted, what they felt they
could have done at that moment to do better. All the guys who were
really successful kept one.
“You can’t ask for any better primary sources than that.”
Please click here for the complete story in La Louisiane, Fall 2018, including two team photos.