A special slice of Louisiana history will now be on permanent display, thanks to the joint efforts of the Louisiana High School Boxing Association and the Iberville Parish Historical Museum in Plaquemine.
The Association’s Hall of Fame, made of 65 members, has a new home in the main exhibition gallery of the museum. More than 100 people attended the formal opening of the space at a ceremony and ribbon cutting Saturday.
Don Landry, author and expert on boxing in the state, was the driving force behind the Hall of Fame, along with the executive committee of the Association.
“I remember very well when I first had the idea,” Landry said. “About eight years ago I attended a reunion of boxers in Crowley, and it hit me that people don’t know about this sport. I made a presentation but nothing happened then — or after the next reunion in New Iberia.
“We originally planned to induct 20 boxers a year for three years, but decided on 30 a year for two years, and that number went up to 65 with ties and all,” he said.
The first 33 were inducted in 2013 and the final 32 at an event in Sunset last summer.
Landry said he did not expect for the Hall of Fame to have its own physical space because of the cost for rent and insurance, but that it would probably be a website with information about the honorees.
“Then I approached the (Iberville) museum with the idea of hosting it, and they jumped at the idea,” Landry said. “I brought the whole board here to look at it, and then we went to (former Louisiana lieutenant governor and Hall of Fame member) Bobby Freeman’s house. The mayor (the late Tony Gulotta) came there, and he was really for it. After seeing the mayor’s enthusiasm, it was an easy vote with the board.”
Museum director Elizabeth Brantley sees the Hall of Fame as an important part of the museum’s mission.
“We pride ourselves in interpreting the culture and history of the entire parish, and since boxing was such a big part of Plaquemine, we thought it was important that people know what happened here. Some people don’t know that it existed, and that it was such a big thing in our parish,” she said.
Brantley said the boxing is the first step in a major overhaul of the main exhibition gallery.
And just how big was boxing in Plaquemine from 1931-48?
“Boxers weren’t just big men on campus, they were big men in the town,” said Hall of Fame member Donald Gascon, who won a national championlship without ever winning a state championship, although his brother Tommy was a four-time state champion.
Plaquemine High School won nine state championships during this period along with runner-up finishes in two national tournaments, and Gascon said bouts drew capacity crowds to the school gymnasium.
Landry said he did not want to see artifacts from the era end up in attics or at garage sales — things like a pair of boxing gloves worn by national champion Donald Fourroux in 1947 or the carefully compiled scrapbooks of four-time state champ Frank Scimeca of Istrouma.
Landry said the entire cost for the project was around $7,000. He worked with the museum staff, volunteers, and graphic designer Ed White of LaFleur Printing on arranging and hanging the exhibits.
One of the highlights is a huge mural with photos of the Hall of Fame boxers.
There was plenty of white hair and many sparkling eyes at the ceremony Saturday — white hair because the former high school stars are in their 70s and 80s, and bright eyes because many have retained their youthful enthusiasm. There was even some mock shadow boxing along with the handshakes as the old friends and foes greeted one another.
A good representative of this segment of the “greatest generation” is 80-year-old Jack Franklin of Plaquemine.
“The Hall of Fame is a very good thing,” he said. “Boxing is a good thing, because it teaches you how to protect and take care of yourself. There are only three people in the ring, and you don’t have teammates like you do in other sports.”
Franklin is the subject of many of the stories the boxers tell because one of his victories was over a 19-year-old from Kentucky named Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali, in an AAU match.
“You don’t want to be remembered for just one fight you won,” Franklin said. “I’d rather be remembered for the 15 Habitat (for Humanity) homes or the 30 or so churches I’ve help build.”
That was a theme echoed by Iberville Parish Brett Stassi in his remarks.
“These were not only good boxers,” he said, “but they’re great citizens who stand for the right things. If we had more people like them, I wouldn’t have to put as many school resource officers in the schools as I do today.”
The Iberville Parish Historical Museum is open from 10-4 Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children.