This Best of the LPJ for 2022 story was originally published on November 3, 2022.
By T. Scott Boatright
One of the biggest games to hit Ruston in quite some time will include a reunion 40 years in the making.
When Ruston plays host to West Monroe Friday night in a District 2-5A showdown between Top 10 teams in both the Louisiana Sports Writers Association Poll and GeauxPreps.com’s Division I Football Playoff Power Ratings, the 1982 RHS state championship team will be honored and serve as honorary captains for the Bearcats.
Ruston will be looking for its first victory over West Monroe since 1990. The Bearcats will also be looking to break the Rebels streak of 26 district championships.
The 1982 RHS team that will be honored Friday captured Ruston’s first state championship under head coach Chick Childress and the first for the Bearcats since Childress was a RHS player himself in 1947.
Childress, who passed away in 2015, went on to lead the Bearcats to state titles in 1984, ’86, and ’88 and 1990.
But that championship run began with the 1982 team, which went 15-0, defeating Neville 15-14 during regular season play before winning the rematch 8-0 over the Tigers in the title showdown in the Superdome.
It was a magical and memorable day for many Lincoln Parish football fans who watched Louisiana Tech fall 17-0 to Delaware in the nationally-televised 1-AA semifinals earlier in the day before cheering the Bearcats on to the state title.
Coach Childress’ son Dan was the Bearcats’ quarterback on that 1982 team and said he’s looking forward to getting back and reuniting with his former teammates.
“We’re honored to be honorary captains, but the main event Friday night is this year’s Bearcats against West Monroe,” Childress said. “The legacy lives on and every Bearcat team that comes through is that — the most important ever for that season.
“This game against West Monroe makes it even better. I’m ready to beat West Monroe. We all are after (31) years. But everybody knows it won’t be a cakewalk regardless of what happened at the jamboree. West Monroe is still West Monroe.”
Dan’s career at Ruston began as a freshman in 1979 – the same year his father took over as head coach.
“I played three games a week,” said Dan.. “I quarterbacked the freshman game, I quarterbacked the JV game and then I backed up Neal Janway and got in a few games as a freshman. But as I always talk about, it was those first teams (under Chick Childress) that it was all built on.”
The Bearcats went 2-8 in that first season under Childress before going 4-6 in 1980.
“Even that first year going 2-8, you could feel things changing,” Dan said. “We were barely losing to teams that had been beating the Bearcats by much bigger margins. That season laid the foundation that dad started building on.”
Then the magic started to show in 1981 as Ruston went 11-2, falling at Covington in the semifinal round of the playoffs.
“One of the things we had from the very beginning was that we had a sense of mission,” Dan said. “We were very focused even though we were high school kids and we had fun. Shannon Frazier asked me last year if anybody could have had more fun in high school than we had? And I told him I didn’t think so.
“But we worked hard and were totally focused on football success while still enjoying our time as teenagers.”
Dan said it was a sense of brotherhood that was at the heart of the Bearcats’ success back then.
“Early on, we knew we were part of something special,” Dan said. “I remember talking with a senior — James Mathis — when I was a freshman and saying we were going to do great things together.
“Not white, not black, but white and black together. I remember sitting there on the field in front of the benches clasping hands and saying that — “Not white, not black, but black and white together. And I think that we had a real sense of bringing everybody in and doing something special.”
And that special ended up extending much further than the football team.
“It was just a really nice, neat experience to see the whole community come together — all sides of town and every aspect,” Dan said. “I think about Ruston football during the ‘80s and seeing all the fans coming together. We traveled so well and had so many fans at away games, whether it was playing a team in Shreveport or playing Rummel down in New Orleans.
“To see those fans from all walks of life riding on the school buses or the Trailways buses heading to rally around the Bearcats was a really neat deal.”
A neat deal that has lasted for four decades now for the 1982 Bearcats.
“We’re all still really close even though it’s been 40 years and I haven’t seen a lot of those teammates for a long time,” said Dan. “Thank God for Facebook because that’s how so many of us keep in touch with everybody now. That’s restored a lot of old high school relationships.”
Dan said those relationships go beyond the ‘82 RHS football team members on to others who also played a vital role for the Bearcats that magical season.
“You weren’t just playing the football team, you were playing the entire student body and community,” Dan said. “Our cheerleaders, our Pepettes, our band — our everything and everyone. And that was really special.”
Ruston’s defense was also really special that 1982 season. The Bearcats chalked up seven shutouts that season, including the 8-0 win over Neville for the state title and held opponents to an average of four points per game.
Michael Slaughter was a sophomore defensive back for the Bearcats during that 1982 championship, but spent his time taking a knee on the sideline so that the starters on the bench could see over him and his younger teammates.
“Sophomores didn’t really play in those days,” Slaughter said. “It was a different day back then. You would dress out but didn’t play.
“The freshman and sophomores didn’t want to play. Those juniors and seniors were grown men. We earned our spots going up against those guys every day by playing on the scout team. But those guys made us tough by beating on us.”
Slaughter said those ‘80s Bearcats teams followed a tone set by Coach Childress.
“He just said ‘I know what I’m doing and if y’all do everything I say, everything’s going to work out,’ and it went pretty much just like he said,” said Slaughter. “It was all about discipline. We all followed the same rules.”
Slaughter said playing Neville, where Chick Childress had served for years as an assistant, in the 1982 and ’84 championship games only fueled the legend and memories of those games and that rivalry.
“I went on to play at Louisiana Tech and roomed with Conroy Hines, Neville’s quarterback in the 1984 games,” Slaughter said. “Michael Brooks went on to play for LSU’s linebacking corps with Toby Caston from Neville.
“Coach Childress beat Neville two or three seasons twice. Neville never beat us twice in one season. That was something special.”
Bob Hearn was a senior offensive lineman for the Bearcats that 1982 season.
“What this year’s team has done obviously brings back memories of what many would call the good old days with the community being behind us and all of that,” Hearn said. “A little bit of that fever is out and about and I think there’s a lot of anticipation about some good things that might happen Friday.”
Hearn said it will be good seeing former teammates he hasn’t seen for decades, although there is a group of friends from the 1982 team he has remained close to.
“Scot Brasuell, me, Shannon Frazier, Lee Holstead, Jerry Windsor, Jeff Camp — there’s several of us around here that still have pretty regular contact. Most of those are either in town or close and attend games fairly often.”
There will also be three former Bearcats that their teammates will be remembering Friday night – three players who have since passed away — Jesse Winzer, Richie Sims and Mitch Williams.
“We’ll be thinking about those great guys and great players,” Dan said. “We could not have gotten there without No. 22 (Winzer), No. 80 (Sims), and No. 45 (Williams). They will always be a special part of that season and will always be remembered.”
Ruston 36, Byrd 6
Ruston 41, Bolton 8
Ruston 27, Bossier 0
Ruston 14, Airline 0
Ruston 17, Ouachita 0
Ruston 33, Jonesboro 0
Ruston 15, Neville 14
Ruston 34, West Monroe 0
Ruston 42, Bastrop 6
Ruston 35, Carroll 6
Ruston 16, Captain Shreve 0
Ruston 14, Southwood 7
Ruston 35, Suphur 12
Ruston 14, Rummell 3
Ruston 8, Neville 0