COLUMN: Bearcats, local teams deserve support as playoffs approach

Braylon McNeal (1) slams over a defender during the Bearcats win Tuesday. (Photo by Trenton Richard)

by Malcolm Butler

As I sat in the stands Tuesday night watching the No. 2 ranked Ruston Bearcat basketball team roll over a pretty good Pineville team at the RHS Gymnasium, I leaned over to my friend Wes Clark and asked “Where is all the support?”

What I am about to write is mainly about the Bearcats due to my personal memories from high school as a sharp-shooting manager on the 1988 Ruston High state title team (I’m the guy in the team pic still hanging in the RHS hallway in the yellow Coca Cola shirt — yeah, you older folks remember those.) But, it could be said for any of our parish high school teams.

Support is important. And support — in this day and age — seems to be waning.

Heck, it took a historic year by Jerrod Baugh’s Bearcat bunch on the gridiron to finally wake up the masses and get Hoss Garrett Stadium close to capacity late in the state championship runner-up season. And even then there were still some empty seats.

I guess I was lucky (warning this is one of those back when I was such and such an age and time rants).

Back in the late 1980s, when Chick Childress and the Bearcats were making Super Dome appearances more often then Madonna and Michael Jackson were releasing No. 1 songs — and that seemed like about every week — then-named James Stadium was packed. I can still hear Mickey Slaughter’s deep bass voice, “Go Bearcats!” There were times you couldn’t get a ticket even for one of those second half, running clock wins over whoever the opponent may be that night.

When the Bearcat boys basketball team made its memorable run to the 1988 Class 4A state title under coach Jack Thigpen, the RHS gym in January into February was rocking. Heck, I can even remember a near full house when Anthony Dade, Al Thurmon and Co. defeated Cedric Mackeon and a talented East Ascension High School team during a Christmas Tournament.

The atmosphere was electric. And those Bearcats fed off of it on their way to a 30-3 record and the last boys basketball state title in RHS history. Even 35 years later I can still remember getting goose bumps as we walked into the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for the Top 28 and all that Ruston Red bringing the noise. I still have my Top 28 t-shirt (most likely doesn’t fit). Those are the memories that high school athletics can provide for these young people.

I think this year’s Ruston Bearcats has a chance to possibly repeat that feat. These Bearcats — and Lady Bearcats — and Cougars, and Aggies, and Tigers, and Panthers all deserve the support from their fan bases. Parents. Teachers. Administrators. Student body. General public.

High school athletics can bring a community together. Again, case in point, the Bearcat football team this past fall.

As the high school basketball season starts to wind down, take an opportunity to jump on the proverbial band wagon, regardless of who your school is. Strong support from the home fans can make a tough atmosphere for an opposing team.

I would love to see 1,500 fans at RHS Gym as Ryan Bond’s Bearcats and Meredith Graf’s Lady Cats prepare for the postseason.

Senior Night is Friday night for Ruston as they host Alexandria Senior High School. The Lady Cats have an opportunity with a win to tie for the district title as the girls playoff brackets set to be announced Sunday.. The Bearcats have a chance to remain No. 2 overall in the power rankings with the boys playoffs closing in soon as well.

It appears as though Lincoln Parish will see all five boys teams and at least three girls teams make the state playoffs. They all have aspirations of making deep postseason runs and memories for a lifetime.

Just ask Cedar Creek coach Gene Vandenlangenberg and his Lady Cougars who made it to the Select School Division IV state title game last year (and have a shot to repeat the accomplishment this year). Just ask those Simsboro boys teams who have captured … what … three state titles in the last decade. Lincoln Prep has a storied history of making it to the state title game and are poised to make a run. Choudrant’s boys have lofty aspirations as they look towards the playoffs.

And as a community we can help them by showing up and supporting them. Take the family. Take a friend.

But at the bare minimum … take yourself. The players will appreciate it, and you could make a difference.