Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories on the 2011 inductees to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches. For more information or to purchase tickets to the June 25 induction ceremony, call (318) 238-4255 or visit www.lasportshall.com
Finish what you have started.”
The words might as well been 10 feet tall and highlighted in red as Don Shows left his home one morning en route to West Monroe High School.
He couldn’t help but notice them, and particularly so on this day when thoughts of not completing what he had begun circulated through his mind.
“Finish what you have started,” Shows recalled about the words on the sign outside the Good Hope Baptist Church. “Those words weighed heavily on me as I made my way to school.”
How couldn’t they?
Shows had just completed his first year as head football coach at West Monroe in 1989 and the Rebels had gone 5-5.
Given the struggles of so many Rebels’ squads before his arrival, that record was tantamount to winning a district championship or - heaven forbid - a state title.
Still, Shows wasn’t so sure what he was getting into when he accepted the job after a three-year stay as an assistant coach at Northwestern State.
“West Monroe had not won a district game in the previous five years,” he said. “The first meeting I had as a head coach there, only 33 players showed up. I went home and told my wife (Daune) that I might have made a mistake taking the job.”
But then, there was that sign.
And so, in a decision that would significantly alter the sport in his program and the state, Shows opted to remain at West Monroe.
Over a 22-year stay as the architect of the Rebels’ rags-to-riches script, Shows has compiled a 252-40 record and won seven state titles.
There have also been 15 league championships, a 66-12 playoff mark, six state runner-up finishes and 15 consecutive years of double-digit victories.
There’s been no fewer than 12 wins on 12 occasions and the last time a West Monroe team suffered more than one loss in a season was 2003 when the Rebels went 12-2.
Shows’ 321 victories over a 31-year coaching career rank No. 4 in state prep history behind only J.T. Curtis Jr., Alton “Red” Franklin and Jim Hightower.
So little wonder, then, that Shows will be among the 2011 induction class of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame on June 25 in Natchitoches.
“Don is certainly deserving of the honor,” said longtime friend and coaching adversary Billy Laird of Ruston High. “It’s amazing what he’s been able to do, and he’s remained true to his principles and what has helped make the program at West Monroe successful.”
Whatever success has followed in the footprints of Shows, he’ll quickly credit the influence of one man in his life: the late L.J. “Hoss” Garrett, his football and track coach at Ruston High and a Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer.
“The thing that sets him apart is that I always wanted to please him,” Shows said. “If you played for ?Hoss,’ you had the utmost respect for him. And for me, there was nothing better than to just be able to hear some words of praise from him. I always wanted to do well and succeed for him.”
Shows got a double dose of the “Hoss” philosophy by running track and playing football - and was also on the basketball team.
While Shows chose forestry as a major while attending Louisiana Tech, the seeds were being planted for a career in coaching.
His first head coaching job was at Farmerville in 1976, when the team went 3-7.
One year later, he took over at Jonesboro-Hodge, a proud program which had struggled through a slump.
Shows took a team that had gone 1-9 with 18 players ending the 1976 season, got nearly 60 players dressed out and completely turned around the Tigers, who went 13-1, won a district title and finished as state runner-up in 1977. After a 10-2 mark the next year, Shows moved for another challenge.
His seemingly magical touch made a major imprint at Pineville High, which went 43-21 and won five district titles in six seasons from 1979-84.
Following a 10-1 record and district crown in 1984, Shows coached at Northeast Louisiana for one year and Northwestern State for three.
And while he enjoyed his stay with the Demons, a daily trek from Pineville to Natchitoches began to wear on Shows and his family. After a 1988 Southland Conference title, West Monroe principal Frank Machen called with a job offer.
“I told Daune we needed to move to Natchitoches so we could end that daily drive from Pineville, or call West Monroe High back and tell them I was going to take the job there.” Shows recalled.
Shows, 71, took the Rebels’ job, beginning a path that would lead him and the once-hapless program into one of the most remarkable runs of any high school coach in history.
And forget about any discussion of retirement. That can wait.
After all, he has to finish what he started.