The 2020 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame inductees competed on the biggest stages under the brightest lights across the country and around the world, but a recurring theme underlined Thursday’s press conference and welcome reception at the LSHOF Museum in downtown Natchitoches.
Five of the seven competitive inductees cut their teeth in small towns, on dirt courts or in grass fields chiseled from the rural Louisiana landscape.
All four of the other honorees either grew up in small towns or were shaped by rural Louisiana on their way to wildly successful careers.
Thursday’s opening press conference kicked off a Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction weekend that will enshrine 11 inductees.
Tonight’s free Rockin’ River Fest concert starts at 6 on the downtown riverbank, with introductions of the inductees at 9 followed by fireworks. Saturday night’s Hall of Fame ceremony at the Natchitoches Events Center caps a weekend full of festivities to honor Louisiana’s greatest athletes.
Visit LaSportsHall.com for participation opportunities at the five remaining events.
The seven competitive ballot inductees are basketball’s Kerry Kittles, Angela Turner Johnson and “Sweet Lou” Dunbar, legendary football coach Mackie Freeze, noted NFL cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman, world famous bodybuilder Ronnie Coleman and quarterback turned famed outdoorsman Phil Robertson (who will arrive today).
The hall will also honor its first Louisiana Sports Ambassador Award recipient, Fox Sports broadcaster Tim Brando, along with Joan Cronan (Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership Award) and Robin Fambrough and Kent Lowe, this year’s Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism recipients.
“Sweet Lou” Dunbar perfected his game on a dirt basketball court in Minden.
Before he made his name at now-closed Webster High, starting his high school and college battle with future Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer (and 2002 LSHOF inductee) Robert Parish, Dunbar had to outsmart his neighbor Mr. Odom’s bulldog if the basketball went over the fence from his dirt court.
“We had to trick the dog as one of us distracted him from the front so another guy could jump the fence and get our ball back,” Dunbar said with his wide grin that would eventually be seen across the world as a Harlem Globetrotter.
Minden seems small to most, unless you’re a native of Shady Grove like Angela Turner Johnson and graduated with a class of 17 from Shady Grove High. She became a cornerstone of dominating Louisiana Tech women’s basketball squads from 1979-82.
Tech made Final Fours in each of her four seasons, and the mid-range specialist was the Final Four MVP in 1981 as the Techsters won the first of two straight national crowns.
“We might have been a little town and a little school, but we had big hearts,” Turner said of Shady Grove, which helped her bond with her Louisiana Tech teammates. “I’m joining three players from those Louisiana Tech teams (Pam Kelly, Kim Mulkey and Janice Lawrence-Braxton) and both of my coaches (Hogg and Leon Barmore) in this hall of fame, and at that time, we just didn’t know the impact we would have on women’s basketball.
“But we did think we could win a title. Pam and I told our coaches and (President F. Jay Taylor) that we were going to win a national championship. We won two.”