By T. Scott Boatright
I’ll never forget the name. Not only is it emblazoned on the one of the Lincoln Parish football stadiums I so dearly love, it’s also part of wonderful memories I have of my youth into young adulthood.
Bobby Aillet, Sr., the son of Louisiana Tech coaching legend Joe Aillet, namesake of Louisiana Tech University’s football stadium, passed away at his Shreveport home on Monday at the age of 93. He was a widower since the death of his wife Dorothy in October of 2015.
The younger Aillet was a standout quarterback for both Ruston High School and for his father at Tech. But he was probably best known for his 36-year-career serving as a referee for 450 football games on both the high school and collegiate football levels.
It was in college football where Bobby Aillet’s name became an almost fixture during Saturday afternoon telecasts.
Aillet climbed his way up the referee ranks to become a top official for the Southeastern Conference, being chosen to work in eight post season bowl games and a national championship contest along the way.
Starting in 1956 Aillet worked high school football, including four state championship games, before moving up to ref in the all-Louisiana Gulf States Conference.
In 1966 he became an SEC official until his retirement from the gridiron in 1986. He was the SEC’s chief of officials from 1978-82, and spent three years in pressboxes serving as an observer of officials after leaving the playing field.
Aillet refereed 276 SEC games and eight bowls games, the biggest being Oklahoma’s Orange Bowl win over Penn State to win the national championship in 1985.
He was someone I learned about as soon as I became old enough to watch and understand football.
Growing up, it became a family challenge within the Boatright household to try and beat my father — he was called Tommy while he was growing up in Ruston — at announcing (yelling actually) that a former Louisiana Tech or Grambling player had been mentioned during television broadcasts of NFL games.
“He’s from Grambling” or “He’s from Tech,” or even LSU or Tulane, was heard hundreds if not thousands of times in our den while I was growing up in New Orleans, where my father worked for 34 years for Louisiana Power & Light/Entergy before returning to Ruston upon his retirement in 1991.
Bobby Aillet didn’t play in the NFL. But he became a major component of the Boatright household name game as we watched college football broadcasts. He was one of the few times, “He’s from Tech,” was shouted out during an SEC football game, save for an occasional Billy Brewer sighting. And for the record, as a young fan of the New Orleans Jazz, I learned right off the bat that Scotty Robertson was from Tech, too, and that Aaron James was from Grambling.
Aillet was just as successful off the field, co-founding Aillet Fenner Jolly & McClelland, Inc., an engineering firm in Shreveport and being named the Louisiana Tech Alumnus of the Year in 1989, and was enshrined into the Tech Athletics Hall of Fame in 1998.
In September of 2018, Louisiana Tech President Les Guice talked about Aillet in his weekly online blog/update at guiceblog.latech.edu.
“One of my most enjoyable visits this week was from Bobby Aillet and his grandson Noah (Huckaby) who is a new student from Houston,” Guice wrote in that blog released on Sept. 29 of 2018. Bobby is the son of Joe Aillet and is a legendary athlete and engineering alumnus. “Bobby and his family have been special friends of mine throughout my professional career. They are such an integral part of Louisiana Tech’s history and culture, and their loyalty to Tech is second to none. As founding principal of Aillet, Fenner, Jolly and McClelland, Bobby hired many Tech engineering graduates and led many engineering projects on Tech’s campus and across the region.
Jack “Britt” Brittain, Jr.’s father Jack Brittain Sr. and Aillet were Tech teammates in the 1940s and the Brittain and Aillet families remained close over the years.
“We all had a lot of respect for Mr. Bobby,” Brittain said. “He was a class act and one of the finest persons we ever knew. I never heard Mr. Bobby say an unkind word about anyone and I never heard anyone say an unkind word about Mr. Bobby.
“It was an honor to have him in our lives.”
Bobby Aillet, Sr. — “He was from Tech!” — and it was an honor for Tech nation to have him in our lives, too.