Every high school sports season has feel-good stories and family stories.
The story St. Amant High and Dutchtown High share going into this weekend’s the LHSAA/Fast Pitch 56 State Softball tournament incorporates both.
“Softball was always a way of life for the Percles and Gremillions when we were growing up,” Dutchtown coach Nancy Ensminger said. “This brings it all together in a different way.”
Ensminger’s seventh-seeded Dutchtown (23-8) takes on No. 2 Mount Carmel Academy (22-3) at 4 p.m. Friday in a Class 5A quarterfinal at Sulphur’s Frasch Park. At 6 p.m., top-seeded St. Amant (26-0) plays No. 8 Denham Springs (23-8) in another 5A quarterfinal.
There’s more than curiosity about a District 5-5A and Ascension Parish rival involved.
Ensminger’s sister, Claudia Gremillion, is an assistant coach for St. Amant; and her daughters, shortstop Kara Gremillion and first-baseman Kourtney Gremillion, are two of the Gators’ top players.
Softball is the family business dating to the 1960s — before the two coaches were born.
“I was the baby, so I grew up waiting for my turn to play,” Claudia Gremillion said. “Because I was the youngest, our mother followed me, and (I) never really understood what she got out of it. Once I had my kids, I understood. I love watching my daughters play, and I love coaching them.”
As Nancy and Claudia Percle, the sisters were standout pitchers for Tara and in the Patriots’ summer softball program in the late 1980s. Both pitched at Northwestern State. Ensminger finished her career at William Carey College, where she played for former LSU and current Baylor coach Glenn Moore.
The story started in Baton Rouge’s Jefferson Terrace area. Their parents, Patsy and Herbert, were business owners who made sure their 10 children, all of whom were Tara graduates, played sports.
“Back in the 1960s, men’s fast-pitch softball was big in Louisiana and Baton Rouge,” Ensminger said. “We started playing at the park by our house and got into playing tournament ball. Our older sister, Sandy, started it, and we looked up to her.
“And you had our family and the Gremillions who lived in the nearby neighborhood. We looked a lot a like and people would ask ‘Are you a Percle or a Gremillion.’ The siblings who didn’t play followed us and coached us, like our oldest sister, Helen.”
Sandy Percle Guidry led Tara to a state title in 1982 and went on to star as a Louisiana-Lafayette as a pitcher under Yvette Girouard. Her number is retired and so is the number of Stacie Gremillion, a star UL-Lafayette outfielder and the Louisiana Player of the Year in 1987, whose brother Ken is married to Claudia Gremillion.
Kara Gremillion is UL-Lafayette signee.
“It was an interesting recruitment,” Claudia Gremillion recalled. “Stacie would send Kara pictures of herself next to her number that’s retired and in her old uniform. Not subtle.”
The connections don’t stop there. St. Amant High coach Scott Nielson and Ken Gremillion won a boys national title as a fast pitch pitcher/catcher. Nielson’s daughter, Kasey, who now plays at Southeastern, pitched and Kara Gremillion caught, just as their fathers had done as youth-league players at ages 8 and 10.
There are other connections. When she started coaching for the Patriots, Ensminger pursued a 12-year-old pitcher she’d heard about — future Central and LSU star Ashley Lewis. She asked Lewis’ uncle, Barry Ensminger, to coach with her. Several years later they married.
There have been other players through the years, including Guidry’s daughter Kaylee, who played at Walker and Northwestern State. Nieces Holly Escue and Brianna Ensminger played Denham Springs. There’s even one more player in the current mix, Zachary’s Abby Lewis, a niece of Ashley Lewis Rush.
Claudia Gremillion said it all began in the park and the family’s backyard.
“If we started something we had to finish it,” Claudia Gremillion said. “That’s just how my dad was. We had lights, so we could practice pitching at night.
“He’d have Nancy and I out there with our brothers running football plays. He made us a batting cage at his business and a track to run on our yard. We were busy. It was great way to grow up.”