Lewis: Keep making room — La. Sports Hall of Fame rightfully keeps getting bigger _lowres

Courtesy Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame -- Richard "Moon" Ducote

Richard “Moon” Ducote of Cottonport became nationally famous in 1918 for kicking a field goal. It wasn’t just any field goal, nor was Ducote just any player.

It was a 41-yard field goal for a Cleveland naval reserve team that beat the mighty Pittsburgh Panthers 10-9, ending a six-year unbeaten streak by the dominant college team. News of that feat, in addition to Ducote’s football prowess from 1915-17 at Auburn, prompted Glenn “Pop” Warner to call Ducote “the greatest football player I ever saw.”

Yet the man’s acclaim in his short life transcended football — which changed one of its rules because of him. He also was a college coach in multiple sports at multiple schools, an athletic director, a college football official, a professional baseball player and an excellent golfer.

On Saturday, Ducote will be posthumously inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches.

When Ducote died of Bright’s disease, a kidney ailment, at age 39 in 1937, the Rev. Percy A. Roy was the faculty athletic director at Loyola University of New Orleans, where Ducote had served as backfield coach in 1935 and athletic director in ’36.

Roy was quoted in a column the next day by Hall of Fame sportswriter William Keefe of the Times-Picayune as saying Ducote’s “entire life could be used as a model for any youth to try and mold his own life after. I don’t think I have ever known a man for whom his friends had such a profound regard. And the better Moon was known, the more he was loved.”

“I used to hear my mother say how much fun Moon was, that it was always a pleasure to be around him,” said Madeline Jeansonne of Alexandria, Moon’s niece, whose grandmother raised Moon and who used to talk from time to time about Moon with her aunt Catherine, Moon’s widow.

“Bright’s disease ran in the Lemoine family,” said Sheldon Roy of Marksville, Ducote’s grand nephew, referring to Moon’s mother’s family. Moon’s mother, Norma, died of the disease at age 32 when Moon was 10 years old.

The 60-year-old Roy is the Ducote family historian.

“Richard always had close relationships with Jesuit priests,” he said, noting his uncle’s early years (age 9-17) at Spring Hill College Boarding School in Mobile, Alabama, to his later years as a football coach and athletic director at Spring Hill and at Loyola of New Orleans. “He was a man with a lot of character and integrity apparently, and an honest and good-natured person.”

It’s uncertain when he got the nickname “Moon,” but Roy suspects he got it because of his round face while he was at the boarding school, where he was a football and baseball star as well as the valedictorian of his senior class. By age 18, he was a 6-foot, 192-pound end at Auburn for coach Mike Donahue.

He was twice named to the All-Southern Conference team, in 1916 and ’17, and was one of the first people to receive that honor two straight years. He kicked a 48-yard field goal off the top of his helmet to beat Georgia 3-0 in 1916 and, after he kicked a 51-yard field goal against Vanderbilt that season in the same fashion, the NCAA changed its rules to limit placekicks from the ground only.

Ducote’s best work at Auburn came at fullback. He and LSU’s first great football player, quarterback George Ellwood “Doc” Fenton (1907-09), were described by the Times-Picayune as “two of the greatest football players ever produced in the South” in a Dec. 31, 1922, story about them being named assistant coaches at LSU under Donahue.

Ducote also was a three-year letterman in baseball at Auburn and later took those skills to the professional level when he played for the Mobile Bears minor league team in the Southern Association from 1919-21, playing 300 games as an outfielder and batting .250.

When professional football was in its infancy, Ducote played a game in 1920 for the Cleveland Tigers of the American Professional Football Association, which eventually became the NFL. This was just two years after his ballyhooed winning field goal against Pittsburgh, but he was married and he and Catherine had their first child, Joseph, and he chose to get into coaching at Spring Hill (1921-22).

He was the head basketball coach at LSU for one season, 1924, when the Tigers went 8-12 and 0-7 in the SEC, and he was the head baseball coach that same season, when LSU went 4-9.

He came out of retirement to play pro football in 1926 for the Southern All-Stars for just one season but, needing to provide for his family, Ducote ran a cleaning service in New Orleans from 1927-33. He returned to Spring Hill as head football coach and athletic director (1933-34), then spent time at Loyola as a backfield coach and athletic director until shortly before his death.

Ducote died March 28, 1937, at his residence at 8510 Pear Street in New Orleans.