NATCHITOCHES — The road in front of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame museum includes a lane for vehicles to pull around in a circle.
Longtime LSU broadcaster Jim Hawthorne couldn’t have asked for a better true-to-life metaphor. As he addressed the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame press conference on Thursday, Hawthorne talked about his career coming full circle.
“This is really very emotional for me,” Hawthorne said. “This is where it started.”
Hawthorne recalled the day his parents brought him to Natchitoches to enroll at Northwestern State as a freshman 54 years earlier.
Hawthorne, who is being honored as a Distinguished Service award in sports journalism, set the tone as the first speaker. The Anacoco native offered stories and insight into his 36 years as a broadcaster at LSU.
For example, Hawthorne told the group that he figured he’d spent approximately four months of his career in Omaha, broadcasting LSU games from the College World Series.
Asked what his favorite career highlight moment was, Hawthorne quickly recalled Warren Morris’ College World Series game-winning home run in 1996.
“That was the most emotional thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Hawthorne said. “If you listen to the broadcast, you could hear (color analyst) Bill Franques actually sobbing. I was about to cry. There’s never been a single play like it … a walk-off home run to win a national championship.”
The news conference kicked off the induction weekend that includes with Saturday night’s induction ceremony at the Natchitoches Civic Center.
St. Amant High, Louisiana-Monroe and Major League pitcher Ben Sheets, former Tulane baseball coach Rick Jones, St. Thomas More High football coach Jim Hightower, NBA post player P.J. Brown and NFL running back Anthony Thomas also spoke to the media.
Representatives for three posthumous inductees, LSU coach Red Swanson, Negro League baseball player Gentleman Dave Malarcher and Louisiana College coach/player Janice Joseph-Richard, provided input. Neurosurgeon Dr. Julian Bailes Jr., winner of the Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership award, addressed the group too.
Hawthorne talked about how college broadcasting has changed through the years with added TV coverage. But he calls it the greatest compliment to have fans tell him they’d watch an LSU game on TV and then listen to his radio call of it.
The news conference also gave Hawthorne the chance to pay tribute to his mentor, the late Norm Fletcher, who served as the voice for the Hall of Fame for decades.
As a college freshman, Hawthorne took over for Fletcher, who lost his voice, for a Northwestern basketball game.
“I told him I couldn’t do it, and (Fletcher) said I could,” Hawthorne said. “And he said he’d be right by my side when I did.”
- Art 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 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.”