From the Bird’s Nest: Reunion weekend-Saturday
We all knew Saturday would be a special day.
After the great turnout at the social on Friday night, we knew that Saturday would mean even greater participation. We had hoped that the publicity surrounding the return of the former players and coaches would bring a decent crowd to the Cajundome for the game against Louisiana-Monroe.
Saturday's afternoon social was well attended again. We got to visit with outgoing athletics trainer John Porche and his wife Beverly, along with Ray Castle, who was a trainer under Porche during Marty Fletcher's tenure. Former Athletic Director Nelson Schexnayder was there with his wife M'Liss. Danny Cottonham and Christy Alford, who don't get nearly enough recognition for what they do for student-athletes in assisting with academics were on hand as well.
Got to visit with Eric Mouton and Byron Starks, who not only won an NCAA Tournament game in 1992, but also served as coaches for the Cajuns. Saw Alonza Allen again, and showed him a You Tube video on my iphone from a game with New York State-Fredonia. In that game, Alonza was a human highlight reel (imagine that) and he got a kick out of seeing it. He immediately asked me for a copy and I emailed it to him on the spot.
There was a brief program which I had been asked to emcee. I remarked about being on the radio Thursday and Friday and hearing the fans' memories of Cajuns Basketball. I introduced the players as a group according to decade. I announced Dean Church individually. He was the lone All-American in attendance. He, once again, told me he listened to me on the radio when he was a kid. Dr. Savoie spoke briefly, as did Scott Farmer.
I also mentioned that every living former coach at USL/UL had something in common. They all won championships. Every one of them. And then I introduced Cajuns head coach Bob Marlin, who was going to be the next Cajuns coach to cut down nets. Coach spoke briefly as well. Then it was time for me to turn the program over, as I needed to get into the Dome to finish getting ready for the game broadcast. Upon entering the arena, I saw Coach Robert Lee, now a ULM assistant. My friendship with Robert will be one that lasts a lifetime. We worked together for fourteen years. And, although the last few seasons were tough, I'll always remember him jumping into the arms of one of his assistant coaches as the Cajuns won the Sun Belt tournament in Denton in 2005. That was a special team, one that came oh-so-close to beating Final Four participant Louisville in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Robert has a great sense of humor. I asked him if his family was coming to the game and he said yes. He told me that his son Trei, who is eight years old, told Dad he'd be rooting for the Cajuns.
At 6:00 the former players and coaches were escorted to the autograph area, where they signed for an hour. I, of course, didn't get to witness it, but saw photos of the event. The smiles of the honorees was only surpassed by the smiles of adults and children alike, who were getting an opportunity to be with the Cajuns' greats. Unfortunately, having to get busy meant I didn't get a chance to say hello to guys like Otis Lanier, who was a member of Marty Fletcher's "Mod Squad," or Chicago native Anthony Johnson (yes, the Easter Bunny made an appearance.)
I recorded pregame with Coach Marlin and got on the air for pregame. I could tell early, based on those seated in the 200 level, that it was going to be a festive crowd.
It was a good college basketball game. The Cajuns, as expected, had a tough time with ULM's Tommie Sykes in the first half and the Warhawks jumped out to a lead. But the Cajuns went on a 10-2 run near the end of the first half and led by one at halftime.
The halftime presentation went off well. The former players were led in by reunion committee members by decade. The "parade" was led by Dr. Sam Foreman, 90 years young, who played for the Bulldogs in 1942. Most of the fans stayed in their seats at halftime and gave a great ovation to the honorees as they came on court. Once they were in place, their names were announced...players, trainers, managers, broadcasters, sports information. The assistant coaches and player coaches were introduced. Then Coach Tom Cox, who was Coach Beryl Shipley's assistant, Coach Hatfield and Coach Paschal.
Public address announcer Hans Nelson then asked the fans to look at the scoreboard, where Coach Shipley made a statement about his joy in seeing his former players and expressed his thanks. We found out later that Coach Shipley was enroute to the Cajundome when he fell ill. I'm happy to report he was released from the hospital yesterday and is recuperating at home. The fans gave everyone a prolonged ovation.
The fans stayed in the game during the second half. And, the Cajuns responded by breaking open a close game late. La'Ryan Gary's alley-oop pass to Josh Brown for a dunk gave the Cajuns a five point lead and the crowd's chant of DE-FENSE on the next possession reminded many fans of times past. And, it gave the Cajuns players an idea of what things would be like in the future. It was the largest crowd in the Cajundome in over three years. And, it was pretty obvious that the fans liked what they saw on Saturday night.
During the postgame, Scott Farmer walked up to where I was sitting. I was going over scoring totals early in the postgame and we didn't get a chance to speak. But he wrote the word "Perfect" on a piece of paper.
Thanks to the Cajuns' performance Saturday night, he was right.
The theme of the weekend was "Basketball is Back."
Saturday night, the players, coaches and fans showed that it certainly can be.
And, under Bob Marlin, it won't be long before Saturday's atmosphere is a regular occurance.