Community support key for Cats Friday night

Photo by Josh McDaniel

by Malcolm Butler

I have the luxury of having attended Ruston High School in the late 1980s when Hall of Fame coach Chick Childress and his all-star staff of coaches were leading the Bearcats deep into the playoffs year after year after year.

It was Superdome or bust for the Bearcats each and every season.

I remember another legendary Hall of Fame Coach Leon Barmore telling me numerous times early in my career at Louisiana Tech that the hard part wasn’t getting to the top. The hard part was staying at the top.

Oh, was Coach Barmore so right.

Ruston High won four state titles during a nine-year span (1982-1990) back then. It hasn’t won one since.

This Friday night the 2022 version of the Bearcats has a chance to play their way back to the Superdome, a place that the beloved R hasn’t seen since 1998.

Kudos to Ruston High coach Jerrod Baugh and his staff in building the program back to prominence. They got over the quarterfinal hurdle last Friday night down at Denham Springs.

Can they take the next step this Friday at home against the defending state champions in Zachary? It won’t be easy.

But one thing is for sure. Ruston needs — and deserves — the support of this community. And yes, it’s important to pack Hoss Garrett Stadium Friday night with a sea of Bearcat Red.

If you don’t believe me, then just ask Jerrod Baugh.

“I think the (crowd) is a big factor,” said Baugh following Wednesday’s practice. “To me it gives the kids the confidence just knowing the community is behind them. Our fans have done an excellent job this year of showing up and supporting the kids. It should be something that they are used to seeing now so it shouldn’t be a distraction for us. It should be really helpful for us.”

A near-sellout crowd saw the Bearcats finally beat West Monroe after a drought of three decades. However, there were still some empty seats. Let’s fill them all this Friday.

RHS Principal Dan Gressett said general admission tickets are still on sale for this Friday night. General admission tickets are $15 and can be purchased from 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. in the Ruston High ticket office located in the school.

Baugh said he has seen an increase in support this year and hopes it continues this Friday and on to the Superdome if the Bearcats can survive another tough test against Zachary.

“I think anytime you have success, everyone jumps in … no fault to them,” Baugh said. “They want to be helpful. You see some people that maybe haven’t been around the program in a long time that want to get back involved and give back. These kids have earned that kind of support. They have done everything that we have asked them to do.

“I wasn’t around back (in the 1980s) when they were making trips (to the Superdome). But I get the feeling that this has rejuvenated everybody in the community, just with the positivity towards our football program and the school. It is really good to see.”

Last night members of the Ruston High School spirit squads painted local business windows downtown in an effort to increase community spirit for the Bearcats. Tonight anyone can drive their vehicle to the freshman parking lot at RHS between 5 and 6 p.m. to get their windows painted by the Ruston High cheer squads.

These are small things, but they are signs of a community wanting to support one of its local high schools. And of a school wanting that support.

Friday night at Hoss Garrett Stadium could be a special one for a lot of young men. And some of us old men as well. And for a community.

Baugh knows his team is in for yet another slugfest against one of the best in the state. But he also has great belief in the young men representing with the R on the side of those red helmets.

“In my mind, (getting back to the Superdome) was something that I believed we could do at Ruston High when I took this job,” said Baugh. “I’m too hard headed to think otherwise. I want to see that take place again. I am happy for these kids. They grow up and they hear about all of the past and the tradition. A lot of these kids, well their dads played on those teams in the 1980s and 1990s. Maybe they don’t have to listen to their dad’s stories anymore. Maybe they are creating some of their own.”