NATCHITOCHES — New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson was unable to attend the induction ceremony at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, instead appearing via a brief, pre-taped video message.
“Thank you for inducting me into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame,” the 87-year-old said in the message.
Dennis Lauscha, president of both teams, filled in plenty of gaps.
“He said he’d be short — and he was short,” Lauscha said, eliciting a laugh Saturday night at the Natchitoches Events Center.
But Lauscha quickly turned serious, lauding the vision, will and kindness Benson displays on a regular basis.
“He’s a man who really doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves with the NFL and on the national level,” Lauscha said. “He became chairman of the NFL finance committee and helped build the foundation for success the league is having today. He is a man of great vision, but it’s his will to see those things through that is so special.”
Lauscha offered Benson’s congratulations to the other inductees and his thanks to the selection committee.
A New Orleans native and self-made millionaire, Benson started as a car salesman and built a business empire that allowed him to purchase the Saints in 1985, preventing the team from leaving the Crescent City. He stepped in again in 2012 and purchased the New Orleans Hornets, now known as the Pelicans, preventing a second professional team from leaving the city.
Benson was one of eight inductees to the Hall of Fame, which began in 1959 and now has 330 members.
LSU and NFL offensive lineman Alan Faneca and Tulane and NFL defensive back Lionel Washington were the other members of the first induction class since the opening of the Hall of Fame museum with strong New Orleans area ties. Washington, now an assistant coach at Tulane, is a Lutcher native and former LHS star; Faneca grew up on the West Bank of the greater New Orleans area.
“No one ever set any limitations on me,” Washington said, after being introduced by his Lutcher High football coach, current St. Charles Catholic coach Frank Monica. “The only person who could do that was me. I’m still driving and striving to be the best I can be. Something really special just happened to me, and I’m thankful to have so many people here to share it.”
Catholic High-Baton Rouge track/cross country coach Pete Boudreaux, Louisiana Tech and 1996 Olympic basketball standout Venus Lacy, and Major League Baseball pitcher Shane Reynolds, a Bastrop native, also spoke during the ceremony.
University of Southwestern Louisiana men’s basketball coach Beryl Shipley, who broke the color barrier in the mid-1960s, and Cottonport native Richard “Moon” Ducote, a pro football pioneer in the 1920s who later coached at LSU and Loyola, were inducted posthumously.
Also honored were Dave Dixon Leadership award winners Wright Waters, the former Sun Belt Conference commissioner and director of the Football Bowl Association, and Tynes Hildebrand, a former Northwestern State coach who is a NCAA Division I regional basketball officiating adviser.
The Advocate’s Joe Macaluso received the Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism.
Faneca was a two-time All-America selection at LSU and was selected for nine consecutive Pro Bowls after being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1998. He helped the Steelers win the 2006 Super Bowl and later played for the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals.
Washington, a standout in football, basketball and track at Lutcher, played at Tulane from 1979-82 and was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1983. He went on to play 15 NFL seasons with the Cardinals, Raiders and Broncos.
Catholic’s Boudreaux is the first high school track coach inducted. An SEC champion and record-setter in the pole vault for LSU in 1965, Boudreaux has won 41 state titles at his high school alma mater: 16 in cross country, 14 in outdoor track and 11 in indoor track. His teams won Division I indoor and 5A outdoor titles in 2014.
Lacy averaged 20 points per game and grabbed 1,125 rebounds in three seasons at Louisiana Tech. She was a Kodak All-American and National Player of the Year in 1990. She played professionally for a decade and won a gold medal with the 1996 U.S. Olympic team.
Reynolds pitched in 13 major league seasons with a career record of 114-96. He pitched for the Astros from 1992 to 2002 and later for the Braves and Diamondbacks. He won 10 or more games six times and was 19-8 in 1998 with the Astros.
Shipley was 293-126 in 16 seasons from 1957-73 and led the school, then known as the Bulldogs, to prominence first in the NAIA, then on the NCAA level. His last two teams each finished 23-3 and were ranked in the top 10 nationally.
Ducote played football at Auburn from 1915-17 as a halfback, fullback and kicker. In the early days of pro football, he earned comparisons to Jim Thorpe by legendary Chicago Bears coach George Halas. Ducote later coached baseball and basketball at LSU.