The St. Tammany Farmer is producing a monthly series that reunites a well-known parish resident with a teacher who had a significant impact on his or her life. There are some amazing stories to be told about how a caring educator's past guidance positively affects us all today, and we are delighted to share them.
This month, we feature Covington City Councilwoman-elect Cody Driskell Ludwig and Bobby Thomas, who coached her in track at St. Scholastica Academy.
Good coaches need leaders.
Bobby Thomas was a good track coach. Cody Driskell Ludwig was one of his leaders.
Long before she became a civic leader in Covington, married her high school sweetheart, Nick Ludwig, and made a successful run for a seat on the Covington City Council, Driskell Ludwig was running track at St. Peter’s School in her hometown.
Although at the time students had to be in at least fifth grade to make the St. Peter’s team, she was asked to join in third grade.
That’s because Driskell Ludwig was a hard worker and a good teammate, and it certainly didn’t hurt that she was a fast runner.
Thomas was a few years removed from getting the head track and cross-country coaching job at St. Scholastica Academy when Driskell Ludwig first turned heads on the St. Peter’s track team. As a former college track coach with a pedigree, it’s fair to say he likely didn’t envision himself coaching at an all-girls high school without a tradition of good track teams.
But Thomas followed his own daughter to SSA when she started school there in the late 1990s, and he accepted an offer to become the Doves’ coach. He wasn’t sure what to expect, but he was pleasantly surprised.
“I went home after that first cross-country team was practicing for about two weeks and I told my wife ‘We’re gonna’ be good,’ ” Thomas recalled. “These girls were working hard. They were so loyal. She knew I was serious because it never took me long to size up a team.”
Thomas’ instincts were correct. SSA soon became a force in cross country, challenging for district and state championships during his six years at the school. The Doves had some good track teams, too, and the programs helped feed one another’s depth.
There was never a doubt that Driskell Ludwig would run for Thomas when she got to SSA. After all, she loved track. Short bursts of speed were her thing, and she excelled in relays.
She didn’t like cross country at all, but Thomas talked her into coming out for the squad. They had that kind of relationship — the veteran coach asking the young and talented athlete to sacrifice for the good of the program.
She always did just that, without question.
As she grew from a talented freshman running with the team’s A relays to an upperclassman and team captain, Thomas asked her to try events that weren't her strongest. When pole vault became an official event in Louisiana girls track, Thomas asked her to give it a try. She wasn’t the best vaulter, but if she earned a couple points here and there, it made the Doves better.
Every girl Thomas had could run around the track a few times, but not every girl could handle the kind of expectations Thomas had for his young leader.
“As an athlete, she could have said something like ‘Coach, I don’t want to do this. I’m much better at this other event,’ ” Thomas said. “But if she knew I needed her someplace else, she would do anything, whatever it took for the team to be successful.
"And she never complained. I knew I was asking her to do some tough things, like run in one event and then go straight into a relay with almost no recovery time. But she was always there when we needed her.”
Not that she was denied her chance to shine. She was fabulous in the 400 meters, and she helped a few SSA relays to some of the best times in school history. She also has Thomas to thank for helping push her to limits she might not have known she could reach.
“I can still hear his voice — 'Not fast enough, Cody!’ ” Driskell Ludwig said with a laugh. “There was always a very good balance of respect. He worked us hard, but when it was over, we would have a barbecue at his house with all the girls, something like that. He was a father figure, but he was our friend.”
The two still are close, 15 years after they both departed SSA in 2004. Thomas went on to coach at St. Paul’s and became principal at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Kenner. In 2017, he became a counselor at St. Peter’s, where Driskell Ludwig’s daughter now attends school.
Driskell Ludwig went on to LSU, where she earned a degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing. She married Nick Ludwig, who she dated when she was at SSA and he was at St. Paul’s.
Driskell Ludwig quickly became a leader around her hometown, much as she did for Thomas’ teams at SSA. She was Covington’s cultural arts and events coordinator for a while, and she co-founded the Covington Celtic Club, which recently organized its third annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.
She co-founded the OXtoberfest Beerfest to benefit the Boys & Girls Club of Covington, and she is a member of the Leadership St. Tammany Class of 2019. She will be sworn in as Covington's city councilwoman for District D on July 1.
Driskell Ludwig said playing organized sports, and having mentors like Thomas to push her, helped ready her for leadership roles as an adult.
“I was raised that you give everything to your team," she said. “You have people relying on you. You stay true to them.”
Hearing that is not a surprise to her old coach.
“Cody has always served,” Thomas said. “She's selfless. The city isn’t lucky to have somebody ‘like’ Cody. They’re lucky to have Cody herself.
"She’s special. I couldn’t be prouder.”