GNOSF’s Cicero rode strong influences to Dixon Award
The influences in Jay Cicero’s life have come from the corners of Louisiana.
Being a coach’s son provided the first of those influences.
“My father (Frank) and all the people that he coached,” Cicero, the 2022 recipient of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame’s Dave Dixon Leadership Award, said Thursday. “Growing up in that atmosphere and being a coach’s son, hanging around the practices every day.”
His role as president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation for the last quarter-century provided Cicero with a front-row seat to interact with Dixon, the namesake of the award he will receive Saturday.
“What an honor to receive something in the name of Dave Dixon, who was an amazing man – incredible energy, creative,” Cicero said. “He was a man that was a force to be reckoned with but a friend to everyone.”
The influences included former Shreveport Captains owner Taylor Moore, who gave Cicero his first job in 1986; original GNOSF boss Mike Millay, who first brought Cicero to New Orleans in 1990, and Doug Thornton, himself a Dixon recipient, who brought Cicero back to the Sports Foundation after he spent two years as the first general manager of the Class AAA New Orleans Zephyrs.
Millay hired Cicero the same day New Orleans was awarded the 1992 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, an event that arguably proved to be the launching part for what the Sports Foundation is today.
Cicero had to sell a vision – Tad Gormley Stadium, which would host the event, was a half-century old facility that still had a cinder track. Thirty years ago this month, that vision became a reality.
The Sports Foundation now hosts the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl annually and continues to bring major events to the city, like last spring’s Final Four and the Super Bowl, which will return to the city for the 11th time in February 2025.
“We do all the business side in getting the events awarded to New Orleans,” he said. “If we get the event, we sign all the contracts with the organization and we become responsible to raise the funds to do everything we said we would do in the bid. It’s an arm’s race, but it’s something we take a lot of pride in.”
The next Super Bowl was originally slated for 2024.
“When the NFL expanded from 16 games to 17 games, it pushed the Super Bowl back a week, which made our date fall on the weekend of Mardi Gras,” Cicero said. “In our contract, we put in a paragraph that if there was a conflict that arose after the collective bargaining agreement, we would be awarded the next available Super Bowl.
“It’s a huge fundraising effort as well as a huge opportunity for the city of New Orleans, with the 8,000 members of the media.”
His father didn’t play favorites when Cicero was a third baseman at Loyola Prep.
“I had great hands, great instincts, but I couldn’t hit my weight,” he said. “I played high school sports, enjoyed it. My dad had a history of not playing freshmen, and I didn’t play as a freshman.
“Athletically I didn’t have it, but fortunately I fell in love with the business side of sports.”
And today, he looks to follow the influences of his father.
“Like my dad, I like to pass (advice) on to younger people,” he said. “You can do this, you can do it in the right way and be successful.”
The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction is Saturday night at the Natchitoches Events Center.
The shock came, nearly word for word, from several inductees who recounted their surprise at being selected for inclusion in the state’s sporting shrine. The awe came from their varied and accomplished careers that – as a group – span nearly a century and brought together standouts from nearly every corner of the Bayou State.
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Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…