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|Never count out family|
EDITOR'S NOTE: This column was first published in The Ouachita Citizen on June 28, 2007.
Any time you hear of a successful organization, whether it be a business, church, club or a sports team, you will hear the word family. Which begs the question: "Do you get close because you win, or do you win because you get close?" I do not think a team can win if it is not close. And yes, you will even hear the word love mentioned. Now is this corny, just some platitudes, or is it a legitimate question?
I will use my father's football team as a reference for an example of team success due to a family atmosphere. One of my father's most amazing teams that represent the concept of family was the 1956 team at Northeast State College, now ULM.
This team came together in the third year of my father's brief coaching career at Northeast brought to an unexpected close by his death in March of 1958. Starting with a team in 1954 with 24 freshman and only two seniors, and adding two successful years of recruiting, the 1956 team became one of the most outstanding teams in Northeast history with an 8-2 record.
The 1956 team became such a close-knit group of players that they are still having reunions over 50 years later with a turn out of 30 or so representatives, even with a number of them having passed away.
The leaders of this team were high school coaching legend "Chick" Childress, future educators, coaches and superintendents like Billy Laird, Zeke Zemetto, Gerald Elkins, Tommy Leos, Robert Earle, Nick Lassiter, Lloyd Williams, Robert McGough, and "Sleepy" Reynolds, who became a coaching legend in the Texas high school coaching ranks. And, Jim Wharton, who became Dr. James Wharton, president of LSU, and Jerry Head.
Quite a few became very successful businessmen. Tony Peccon. Tony Hartsell, Jim Laudadio, John McClendon, Harvey Ferguson, and Claxton Mayo are some of these men.
Joe Driskell became Northeast State's first professional football player who became one of the stars of the old St. Louis Cardinals. Joe also left the professional ranks for a successful military career, in which he rose to the rank of General. This group of men formed the close knit group that excelled as one of Northeast's best teams.
I coached a team at West Monroe High School in 1978 that had only two starters returning from the team of 1977. We were not supposed to win many games, but we coaches began preaching family from the very first day. And yes, we wanted our players to love each other because family members should love one another. Our season hit a high point when we defeated No. 1-ranked Ouachita — and we were not even ranked. We won 21 to 7. We finished the regular season at 9 and 1 and entered the playoffs for only the second time in the history of West Monroe High School.
This 1978 team proved it was a family on this particular evening while we were returning to our stadium. I remember the exact location of our bus. We were on the I-20 directly above the Ouachita River. It was if fate was marking this spot. We had just entered Rebel territory at that very moment when I felt a cold sweaty pair of arms reach around my neck and say, "Coach Payne, I love you."
This one jester started a chain reaction that began a period of players and coaches exchanging hugs and expressions of love just as sons do with their fathers. Yes, we won because we got close. And yes, we had become a family. Before the season had begun we were considered as also rans, but never underestimate the power of a family.
Robert Charles Payne is an inspirational writer who lives in West Monroe. He can be contacted by e-mailing email@example.com.