Shipley’s Wait is LSWA’s Shame – From the Bird’s Nest
The wait is over.
The official announcement came late Saturday night that former USL basketball coach Beryl Shipley has been named as part of the eight member class of 2014 at the Louisiana Hall of Fame, announced by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association.
Shipley, who resigned in 1973 and passed away in 2011, should have been named to the Hall long ago. His accomplishments dwarfed some of those already enshrined. Yet, until this announcement, the Hall of Fame Committee has failed to recognize him…no…has chosen to shun him.
It is a story of pettiness and predjudice…and it’s the shame of the LSWA.
Shipley’s name is associated with two watershed moments in Louisiana college basketball history. And, both of those moments had to do with Shipley being blackballed by some LSWA members.
Those who know Bulldogs/Cajuns basketball history know the program was shut down by the NCAA after the 1972-73 season. The Cajuns were ranked in the top ten in the nation in their first two years of Division I, but were hit with scores of recruiting violations, many of which concerned improper benefits for student-athletes. And, while no one will insist the program was without its faults, many of the charges were refutable and the others certainly would not constitute the “death penalty.”
In his book “Slam Dunked,” Ron Gomez (the original “Voice of the Cajuns”) chronicled every accusation against the program. Shipley said he never saw the accusations until just a few years ago. Because of that, there really was no defense. The University of Southwestern Louisiana chose not to fight and accepted the punishment, according to Gomez’ book.
And that, if you ask many members of the LSWA, was the reason used for Shipley’s exclusion from the highest honor in Louisiana sports.
But don’t let those words fool you. There was more to it than that.
In the mid-60’s Shipley became to some, a trail blazer. To others, he became a pariah.
And to some, he became a traitor. At that time, state schools in the deep South had no African-American athletes. Shipley decided to change that. He decided to sign players of color, a move that would change college basketball in the deep south.
And, a move that would infuriate more people than would ever admit…including sportswriters in the state.
Shipley and the Bulldogs paid a price for that decision. Shipley was ordered by then-Gulf South commissioner Stanley Galloway to hold a tryout for black athletes before they could be a part of the team. Shipley knew the African American players would be better players than their white counterparts, but he went along with the charade.
And was turned into the governing body for holding an illegal practice. The program was placed on probation and set the stage for its demise in 1973.
There were sportswriters in the state of Louisiana who never forgave Shipley for his part in integration. That was their impetus for working hard to keep the Tennessee native out of the Hall. Oh, they used 1973 as their reason…but many in the organization knew better.
And, despite the hard work of many Acadiana journalists, most notably Bruce Brown, Dan McDonald and Glenn Quebedeaux, Shipley continued to be persona non grata as far as the highest honor was concerned. Some of the writers used the term “never” to describe the chances of Shipley ever getting their vote.
But finally, some things changed.
A few of the writers rotated off the committee. A couple of them passed away. A select few changed their minds over time. And, at long last, the vote this year went in Shipley’s favor.
Forty years after his USL career ended.
During that time a group of sportswriters chose to keep Shipley out of the hall, simply because he chose to make his basketball program available to all. And, they succeeded in their quest until the coach would not be around to acknowledge the honor.
The wrong has been righted… finally. Yet, those remain who won’t be happy when June 21, 2014 rolls round.
Shame on them.