NATCHITOCHES - No one says an induction class has to follow a theme other than excellence.
But diversity and excellence were both showcased as the 2011 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction class came together for the first time Thursday at a news conference at The Landing restaurant.
“This is a real peculiar position for myself,” Will Wilton said. “I’m sitting here amongst all these guys that played and I’ve cheered for years and I get to represent my grandfather. I thank my family for that ? it was nice of them to allow me to do it.”
Wilton, perhaps best known for his stint as director of LSU’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center, spoke on behalf of his grandfather, legendary LSU Athletic Director T.P. “Skipper” Heard, the lone posthumous inductee.
Former University of Louisiana at Lafayette softball star Kyla Hall Holas, former LSU baseball star Todd Walker, high school football coaching legend Don Shows, former Xavier University and NBA star Donald “Slick” Watts and three ex-New Orleans Saints - Morten Andersen, Vaughan Johnson and Buford Jordan - were also on hand for the event that kicked off a three-day Hall of Fame celebration that ends Saturday with the 52nd annual induction ceremony at the Natchitoches Events Center.
“I was very touched,” Wilton said of hearing that Heard, who served as athletic director at LSU from 1933-54, was selected for induction. “He would almost be 114 years old or so. I really didn’t know my grandfather too well.
“He learned to work the system pretty good. What he did for us at LSU is what many have followed to do - which is learn to use politics to create a quality of life for the people in our state.”
Holas, an All-America selection who led ULL to its first Women’s College World Series in 1993, noted the importance of being the first softball player inducted.
“I was the most shocked to learn I was the first softball player,” Holas said. “There were so many greats before me and since me. I’m excited to hopefully open that door for more softball players to come into.”
Shows, who has turned West Monroe High into a power that has won seven state titles, couldn’t hold back his feelings about being selected after winning 314 prep games.
“It was kind of like winning the lottery,” Shows said of learning about his induction. “Or you can say it’s like winning a championship ? any kind of championship.
“There’s about 15 minutes when something like this lasts in a kid’s life. It’s when they win the state championship in any sport. They have a look on their face and in their eyes that they never have for the rest of their life. That’s how I feel.”
Watts and Walker were among those who insisted Hall of Fame status was never something they sought, but were happy to attain.
“You’re asked to describe it (induction) and I really don’t know how to do that,” said Walker, an Airline High star who played 12 seasons in Major League Baseball. “I just loved to play baseball.
“When I was at the batting cages at LSU until 4 a.m., it wasn’t because I wanted to be in the Hall of Fame or even because I wanted to be in the big leagues. I just love the sport and I thank you.”
Watts was a three-time NAIA All-America pick for Xavier and played six NBA seasons with the Seattle SuperSonics and New Orleans Jazz, leading the league in assists and steals along the way.
“It is a pleasure, being up here and being thought of as a Hall of Famer,” Watts said. “I was so pleased to get this phone call coming from a small town. Once being a cotton-picker to the Hall of Fame. Only in America.”
The three former Saints teammates from the 1980s-1990s expressed their gratitude for being selected. Johnson, a linebacker, becomes the fourth member of the Saints’ “Dome Patrol” to be inducted.
Andersen, a kicker who played 13 years in New Orleans and spent 25 years overall in the NFL, scored 2,544 points. Jordan, who finished his career as Louisiana’s all-time rushing leader for McNeese State in the 1980s, was a fullback and special teams stalwart.
“I am tickled pink to be here,” Johnson said. “God had a plan for me. I went from college to the USFL. When I got a call from the Saints, I was like, ?Isn’t that the team where the fans wear bags on their head?’ ‘’
“Things worked out well. There are such great people here. I’m really excited about Saturday night.”
Andersen took a lot of healthy ribbing from the other inductees because he was a kicker.
“When I first got the call, I was ?Are you sure? I’m from Denmark and this is the Louisiana Hall of Fame,” Andersen said. “I’m honored and I’m honored to go in with my two former teammates.”
Jordan, an Iota native, talked with pride about his home town and induction.
“I don’t think too many Hall of Fames can say they have three people, three teammates, who played at the same time being inducted,” Jordan said. “This is a great honor for me, being from Iota. I didn’t have to come as far as some of these guys did to get here. I’m just happy to be here.”
DSA, Dixon winners
Also introduced Thursday were the two Distinguished Service in Sports Journalism winners and two winners of the Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership award.
New Orleans sportswriter and historian Ron Brocato and former Southeastern Louisiana University Sports Information Director Larry Hymel are the DSA winners.
Boxing official Elmo Adolph, of New Orleans, and former coach and Louisiana legislator Billy Montgomery, of Haughton, are the Dixon winners. All four will be honored Saturday along with the inductees.