Not winning a championship may be one of the toughest things in our society today.
When you win it all, you’re the top dog. If you’re second, like the Alabama football team, the Denver Broncos or the Miami Heat, for example, you just get dogged.
Coaches and parents console high school players whose teams lose deep in the playoffs by telling them “You’ll appreciate what you did years from now.” Those words often seem hollow.
Members of the 1963-64 Istrouma High School boys basketball team validated those words with a Saturday reunion at Central’s St. Alphonsus Knights of Columbus hall.
The Indians lost to Lafayette High in the Class 3A semifinals in 1963 with coach Leon McGraw. Istrouma returned to the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s Top 20 tourney in Shreveport in 1964 with higher hopes and a first-year coach, John Hutchison, a graduate of rival Baton Rouge High graduate and a former Mississippi State player.
There was no title celebration. The Indians again lost in the semifinals, this time to Shreveport’s Fair Park 65-62.
Yet there were smiles all around as the teammates recalled the semifinal loss, including a pass from Charlie Parker that bounced off the knee of post player Ellis Boyd in the final seconds. Boyd (McNeese State), Parker (Southeastern Louisiana), Don Hutchinson (LSU) and Irwin Felps (LSU baseball) went on to play in college.
“There’s plenty of memories here,” Felps said, looking at tables filled with black-and-white photos, yellowed newspaper clippings and yearbooks. Two pristine letterman’s jackets hung on display.
The 6-foot-4 Boyd, a retired educator, weathered accident-related detours to travel from Orange, Texas. Hutchison, 76, was greeted warmly by everyone.
“(Hutchison) was the man,” Felps said. “He was the best coach around. Whatever he told us we believed.
“Even though we were behind at the end, I was convinced we would win.”
It was the only season Hutchison would coach the Indians.
“I got paid $5,100 that year,” said Hutchison, who taught science. “I got $800 for coaching and I think that worked out to about 30 cents an hour.
“But I loved it. This was a special group.”
Hutchison was offered a job as an assistant at Louisiana Tech by future New Orleans Jazz coach Scotty Robertson. Instead, he went to work for Borden dairies at a higher salary. He did serve as an nonfaculty assistant when his daughters played at University High just over a decade ago.
“I’ve always been successful in business,” Hutchison said, “but basketball … I had a passion for it.”
And so did the players, many of whom still live in the Baton Rouge area.
Boyd likened the Indians to the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs. “That’s what we were, a team.”
Former Baker High Principal Wayne Messina, a reserve on the team, surveyed the group and smiled.
“You know, we were awfully good,” Messina said.