NATCHITOCHES — Ben Sheets admitted he was a little out of his element.
“It’s different,” he said of his induction to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. “This is about telling us how great we are. I want to go pitch a game. I’ve always been more about doing something.
“I can go back home to McDonald’s, and a older lady will come up and say, ‘I remember when you pitched for St. Amant,’ and that’s always a good feeling and that’s gratifying. So this obviously has been a great experience. It’s special.”
Sheets, the former St. Amant High and Louisiana-Monroe standout who won an Olympic gold medal and went on to be a four-time All-Star pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers, has done plenty. He was part of an 11-member group lauded during the 57th annual hall of fame induction ceremony Saturday night at the Natchitoches Civic Center.
Other inductees included St. Thomas More High School football coach Jim Hightower, longtime Tulane baseball coach Rick Jones and two Winnfield natives, ex-Louisiana Tech and NBA standout P.J. Brown and former Michigan and NFL running back Anthony Thomas. Three inductees were honored posthumously: Louisiana College women’s basketball player and coach Janice Joseph-Richard, Negro League baseball standout “Gentleman” Dave Malarcher and LSU/Southeastern coach Arthur “Red” Swanson.
Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership Award winner Dr. Julian Bailes, a renowned neurosurgeon and concussion expert, and two winners of the Distinguished Service in Sports Journalism award, longtime LSU broadcaster Jim Hawthorne and sportswriter Bob Tompkins of Alexandria’s The Town Talk, completed the 2016 class.
Sheets is one of four inductees with Baton Rouge area ties. Hightower started his career at Catholic-Pointe Coupee and won a state title there in 1979.
Sheets can certainly relate to the other two. Malarcher grew up in the Whitehall community that is now known as Convent in Ascension Parish; it’s not far from St. Amant. Swanson coached baseball and basketball at LSU and also was head football coach at SLU.
Like Swanson, Sheets’ story is one of a multi-tasker: He played basketball and baseball in high school. But more than anything, he loves to compete, which he now does as an assistant basketball coach at Sterlington High.
“I’ve never worried about the hardware I’ve gotten,” he said. “The experience was always enough for me — it always has been. They could have given me nothing after the Olympics. I know I won that one. But that experience did put me in the forefront. Milwaukee saw me and thought I could pitch in the big leagues. They saw that no situation could be that much greater than what I’d faced.”
Sheets also recalled his high school days, when shooting 3-pointers was just as important to him as throwing fastballs.
“I’d go out and be part of the team and I had a big role in it my junior and senior year, but I was a basketball guy first,” Sheets said. “I learned to compete on the basketball court. I was a 6-foot shooter. A lot of times, I was outmanned on the court because you had 6-3, 6-4 guys.”
Pitching the Gators to a Class 5A state title as a senior ranks among the “big moments” for Sheets, along with advancing to the American Legion title game.
“I didn’t throw 300 innings a year back then,” he said. “People might say now they should have pitched you more, and I’ll say no. Coach (Bob) Lemons had a great system, and we were winning championships.
“Truthfully, I wasn’t the best guy in high school. In the summers, I got to be the guy because I wasn’t playing basketball.”