When Sharon Leino graduated from Glen Oaks High School in 1969, she wanted to go to LSU. Her boyfriend, James DuBrow, wanted to get married. Young love won out, they moved to Florida a few years later and she never got to attend her favorite college.
“I did make a big mistake,” she said. “I loved him at the time; don’t get me wrong. But all during my life I have missed my chance of going to LSU, because I love the school. I love it!”
And it shows.
There are all kinds of Tiger fans. There are lifelong season ticket holders, some who travel to every road game, others are in families of multi-generational LSU graduates. Leino is in none of these categories. But it’s hard to imagine anyone who lives and breathes the Tigers more than she.
If she is out and about, you can pretty well guarantee she’ll be wearing purple and gold, except for occasions when the New Orleans Saints are playing. Step inside the apartment where she and her husband, Edward, live and the allegiance is on almost every bookshelf, wall and most furniture. And, the farther down the hallway, the more intense the LSU memorabilia, until reaching critical mass in a bedroom and walk-in closet that all but scream “Geaux Tigers!”
Posters? Natch. Photos? Sure. Plaques, pennants, paraphernalia? Check, check, check. And there are self-respecting sporting goods stores that don’t have as much Tiger apparel as she does.
“LSU is it for me,” she said.
It’s been that way since the first time she saw LSU play football on television in 1965, a year after her family moved from California to Baton Rouge, closer to her father’s St. Helena Parish roots. There weren’t a lot of opportunities to attend games, but the traditions, color and band music worked its way into her soul.
Leino didn’t attend a game until Oct. 12, 1974, when LSU beat Tennessee in Tiger Stadium, a game she remembers even more fondly because she later met Tennessee’s quarterback, Condredge Holloway, years later while working as a receptionist at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida. It was there, following DuBrow’s death in 1984, that she met and married Edward, who also worked at Disney.
They occasionally visited Baton Rouge in the fall to attend a game when they were able to get tickets, although they didn’t always pick the right games to attend. In 2003, they attended the Florida game in Tiger Stadium, the only contest the Tigers lost in a season that ended with a national championship. To add insult to injury, their Florida license plate misidentified them as Gator fans on the drive out, inspiring upset LSU fans to give them the hand signal that doesn’t mean, “You’re No. 1.”
After both were laid off from Disney in 2007, they moved to Baton Rouge permanently. In looking for a place to live, they chose the first apartment they found, she said, because it had an LSU mat at the front door.
“I said, ‘That’s it! It’s a sign. We’re supposed to move here,’” she said.
After working at a Hallmark store — which she enjoyed because of its LSU items — she retired, and last year she worked at LSU home games at Tiger Stadium, first as a ticket-taker, then as a guard at Gate 9, near where the visiting team enters. She said she’s enjoyed getting to interact with opposing teams’ fans. At last year’s Florida game, she took a quiet moment to indulge her passion.
“I had one opportunity to sneak away from my post, and I said, ‘I’m going to go see what it looks like.’ I’d never seen LSU at night,” she said. “I sneaked up on the platform and I was totally mesmerized because all you could see was purple and gold and little flashes from cameras. I couldn’t believe it. That was the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen. … I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It was so beautiful.
“I’m an LSU fan first, last and always.”