NATCHITOCHES — St. Thomas More football coach Jim Hightower said regardless of the subject, it’s all about motivation.
“You have to be able to communicate with people, regardless of whether you’re trying to teach them math or you’re trying to teach them football,” Hightower, who teaches algebra, said. “The only thing is, when I’m trying to teach our guys football, most of them are pretty highly motivated.
“Sometimes when you’re teaching math, your students aren’t as motivated. It can be more challenging.”
Hightower generated a few laughs and also drew applause when he spoke during the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame news conference held Thursday afternoon.
Louisiana’s second-winningest high school football coach didn’t speak about records like his career mark of 386-119-1. The California native spoke from the heart about his Louisiana roots and his love for the state.
Hightower told the group that his mother was from Baton Rouge and his father was from Summerfield, so when he came to Louisiana as a graduate assistant baseball coach at LSU, he had a network of relatives. Hightower also noted a Hall of Fame tie — his father held Summerfield’s record for most points in a basketball game with 61, until Karl Malone came along.
“People … I guess that’s what’s drawn me to the state of the Louisiana,” Hightower said. “I like the way people live their lives. I like the pace of life and values people have. They’re not afraid to talk about their religion, they love their families and their life. I’m proud to represent a of very good high school coaches up here.”
The news conference, held at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Museum, kicked off the induction weekend that includes Saturday night’s induction ceremony at the Natchitoches Civic Center.
St. Amant High, Louisiana-Monroe and Major League pitcher Ben Sheets, ex-Tulane baseball coach Rick Jones, NBA post player P.J. Brown and NFL running back Anthony Thomas, representatives for three posthumous inductees — LSU coach Red Swanson, Negro League baseball player Gentleman Dave Malarcher and Louisiana College coach/player Janice Joseph-Richard — also spoke to the media.
Neurosurgeon Dr. Julian Bailes, winner of the Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership award, and long time LSU broadcaster Jim Hawthorne, a Distinguished Service award winner in sports journalism, also addressed the group.
Hightower was up front about one LHSAA-related question he was asked.
“I have no answer for that,” Hightower said of the LHSAA’s select/nonselect issues. “The LHSAA … it’s changed too, but I don’t know that it’s been all for the better. I think it’s kind of a microcosm of what you see in society. I think in the old days when we started, just playing the game was enough. Now everybody has to win one (state champion).”
Arthur Swanson, son of Red Swanson, asked Sheets how high the mound was when he pitched. It was noted that the mound was lowered after Bob Gibson dominated hitters in the 1960s and 1970s.
Sheets quipped, “Bob Gibson ... he ruined it for all of us.”
Thomas told the crowd that he was recruited by LSU but opted to go north to Michigan, despite the cold weather. He told a story of missing class one day after it got cold.
“I told them I’m from Louisiana … all I have is a windbreaker. I don’t have a coat.”
Hightower noted the fact that Bailes’ input has taken the kickoff out of Pop Warner football.
“I really like Julian’s idea about taking the kickoff out of football,” Hightower said. “That’s one play I hate to coach. If we can move that on to the high school level, I’d really like that.”