By T. Scott Boatright
It’s a great time to be a Panther.
Those words came from Lincoln Preparatory School Executive Director Gordan Ford Wednesday night on the eve of the second-seeded Panthers taking on third-seeded Crescent City in the semifinals of the Division IV Select School Boys state tournament.
Tip-off for Lincoln Prep’s first 2023 Marsh Madness contest is set for 1:15 p.m. today inside Burton Coliseum on the campus of McNeese State University in Lake Charles.
The Panthers reached Marsh Madness last season, falling to top-seeded and eventual state champion North Central 70-66 in the semifinals.
Lincoln Prep made it all the way to the Class 1A title game in 2020 before falling to North Central 81-65. The Panthers also reached the semifinals in 2017, falling to Tensas 70-60 in a semifinals showdown.
Before that, the last time a Grambling-based high school made it to the Class 1A Final Four was in 2011, when Grambling Laboratory School fell to Southern Lab 46-29 in the semifinals.
Grambling Lab also reached the semifinals in 2007, falling to Country Day 51-37. The Kittens also reached the semifinals in 2006 before being defeated in double overtime to Southern Lab by the score of 76-73.
Grambling Lab also lost to Southern Lab in the 2003 semifinals, 79-55. Former NBA and Louisiana Tech star earned honors as Louisiana’s Mr. Basketball that season, but didn’t earn a title, as the Kittens fell in junior high school season of 2002, losing to White Castle 54-45.
Panthers coach Antonio Hudson played at Grambling Lab in the late 1990s before graduating in 2001 and moving on to star for LSU but never reached a prep Final Four until becoming head coach at Lincoln Prep.
The last time a Grambling-based high school team claimed a state championship came in 1992, when then-junior and future Tulane and NBA standout Jerald Honeycutt guided the Kittens to a 52-49 victory over White Castle.
Grambling Lab won seven state titles over the years going back to taking the 1974 title with a 64-57 win over Brusly.
The Lab also took took state in 1978 (96-78 over Boothville-Venice), 1985 (56-52 over University Lab), 1986 (59-49 over University Lab), 1989 (60-42 over North Vermilion) and 1990 (70-67 over Vermilion Catholic in OT).
Grambling Lab also reached Class 1A title games in 2000, 1988 and 1977 without earning a championship.
It all amounts to a rich hoops history and tradition that Lincoln Prep, which rose like a phoenix out of the proverbial ashes of Grambling Lab following a decades long court battle concerning the issue of segregation, looks to build on today.
Ford graduated from Grambling Lab, playing football and serving as official basketball scorer – students were allowed to do so in those days – including during the Kittens’ 1985 state championship season.
“It’s important to tie the history together,” Ford said. “There’s so many people that are just disaffected. What we dealt with for years with the Justice Department, and then COVID, things got sort of separated. This is a great opportunity to unify our community again.”
Even better, it helps unify a school that next week will start moving students into its new location at the first Lincoln Prep school building, which is located on land that used to be the Louisiana Tech University Golf Course on Old Grambling Road.
“So it’s a great time to be a Kitten or a Panther – it’s all being tied back together,” Ford said. “We’ll move first through fourth grade in next week, the middle school the week after that and the high school the week after the middle school moves in.”
“For some people it’s starting a new tradition. But for those of us who wore the old green and gold, it’s a continuation of acting out what we learned. We’re living what we were taught by those who instilled in us the legacy we were part of when we were kids – Antonio in the late ’90s and 2000s and we’re just excited to be here to restart – rekindle – that legacy.”
While Hudson is all about the legacy he grew up with, his sole (and “soul” in all honesty because of his parts in the tradition) focus right now is on this season and today’s game against Crescent City as his 23-4 Panthers fight to earn their second title game berth over the past three years.
“The past, that was then and it was great being a part of, but this is now – it’s about these kids, the players on this team and this new legacy they’ve worked and are still working so hard to create,” Hudson said. “This team has what it takes. We just have to stay focused on the goal at hand, and that’s winning the next two games and earning a state championship.
“These guys have been there before. They’ve played in Marsh Madness. Our seniors have had great careers here. But there’s still one more goal to be reached. One last hurrah for them to go out on. And something for our younger players to build on – a new legacy of winning state championships. That’s our only focus right now.”
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