Video: Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame inductees remember importance of home

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NEW ORLEANS – Tom and Gayle Benson traveled the world, but one constant remained wherever they were – he always brought up his hometown.

“Tom’s true passions were indeed for his hometown,” Gayle Benson said Saturday night in accepting induction for her late husband into the Allstate Sugar Bowl Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame. “He enjoyed winning. He used to always say, ‘Can you believe how great the fans were?’ Truly, his greatest joys were in seeing the fans following wins.”

Benson was joined by former football standouts A.J. Duhe and John Fourcade and former University of New Orleans basketball star Ervin Johnson in the 2018 induction class, and the look back on their home was a common thread in acceptance speeches.

Duhe told a story from his time at Leon Godchaux High School (now East St. John) about how you needed to be prepared when opportunity presented itself.

“I was recruited accidentally to go to LSU,” Duhe said. “They were recruiting an offensive linemen from Hammond, and I just happened to have a phenomenal game.”

Duhe even needed to take a break to get a bottle of water.

“As you can tell, I wing it,” he said. “That’s how I played.”

Fourcade acknowledged his family – especially his brother Keith, who was his teammate from pee-wee football up to one year with the Saints – but gave special thanks to his high school coach at Archbishop Shaw, Joe Zimmerman, who named him the starting quarterback as a 13-year-old freshman in 1974.

“One of the greatest high school coaches ever to be around this city,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here without Joe Zimmerman.”

Fourcade recalled a moment during the NFL strike season of 1987 with the Saints when he scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery after he had thrown an interception – a play named one of the greatest touchdowns in NFL history.

“This is an award I’m receiving basically for my high school days,” Fourcade said. “I’m not a legend in the NFL, but they’re not going to take that (play) away from me.

“People called me a scab (for playing during the strike). I said, ‘Yes I did, but it gave me an opportunity to play for the New Orleans Saints.'”

Johnson’s rags-to-riches story went from Jonesville to a grocery store worker to the University of New Orleans to a 13-year NBA career. He recalled the story of how he ended up on the Lakefront.

“Tim Floyd … he changed my life,” Johnson said of his former UNO coach. “I remember this day like it was yesterday, stocking shelves at an A&P in Baton Rouge, and a little voice said, ‘Go back to school.’

“I walked into Tim Floyd’s office the next day, he asked who it was, and I said ‘Ervin Johnson.’ He got up from his desk and thought it was Magic Johnson.

“I trusted (Floyd) so much, but more importantly, I trusted God.”

The James J. Corbett Awards, given to the outstanding amateur athletes in Louisiana, stayed within the sport of track and field: Lafayette High School world-record holder Armand “Mondo” Duplantis and former McMain and LSU sprinter Aleia Hobbs.

The Eddie Robinson Award, given to an individual or team for succeeding while maximizing the use of limited resources, was presented to St. Katharine Drexel Prep’s athletic department, which won state championships in girls basketball and track and field.

“I had an idea we were made for the big stage,” said St. Katharine Drexel athletic director and basketball coach Terry Wilson, who was recruited to Grambling by Coach Robinson, “but I didn’t know it would be this stage.”

2017-2018 Allstate Sugar Bowl Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame Award Recipients:

Inductees into Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame:

Tom Benson (Owner of New Orleans Saints/New Orleans Pelicans (1985-2018)

A.J. Duhe (Leon Godchaux High 1971-1974/LSU 1974-1977/Miami Dolphins 1977-1984)

John Fourcade (Archbishop Shaw 1975-1978/Ole Miss 1978-1981/New Orleans Saints 1987-1990)

Ervin Johnson (UNO 1989-1993/NBA with Seattle, Denver, Milwaukee, Minnesota 1993-2006)

James J. Corbett Award winners:

Aleia Hobbs, LSU Track & Field/former McMain star)

Armand Duplantis, Lafayette High Track & Field)

Annual Award winners:

Outstanding Boys’ Prep Coach, Greater New Orleans: Jeff Curtis, John Curtis Christian Baseball

Outstanding Girls’ Prep Coach, Greater New Orleans: Danny Tullis, Pope John Paul II Volleyball

Outstanding Male Amateur, Greater New Orleans: Anthony “Pooka” Williams, Hahnville Football

Outstanding Female Amateur, Greater New Orleans: Aleia Hobbs, LSU Track & Field

Outstanding Boys’ Prep Team, Greater New Orleans: John Curtis Christian Baseball

Outstanding Girls Prep Team, Greater New Orleans: Pope John Paul II Volleyball

Outstanding College Coach, Louisiana: Tim Rebowe, Nicholls Football

Jimmy Collins Special Awards:

Joe Este, Bonnabel High School, Tennessee-Martin

Brittany Grunberg, 50 Legs Foundation, St. Charles Catholic

Eddie Robinson Award:

St. Katharine Drexel Athletics Department

Amateur Athletes of the Month:

June, 2017: Jared Poche (LSU Baseball)

July, 2017: Cyle Clayton (Pedal Valves Cardinals Baseball)

August, 2017: Christopher Turpin (New Orleans Boosters Baseball)

September, 2017: Julien Gums (De La Salle Football)

October, 2017: Devin Brumfield (Covington Football)

November, 2017: Anthony “Pooka” Williams (Hahnville Football)

December, 2017: Alexis Lavarine (Fontainebleau High, Boxing)

*January, 2018: Randi Brown (UNO Basketball)

*January, 2018: Jared Butler (Riverside Academy Basketball)

February, 2018: Kourtney Weber (Ursuline Basketball)

March, 2018: Mariia Barodii (Xavier University Tennis)

April, 2018: Erin Burkart (Academy of Our Lady Bowling)

May, 2017: Aleia Hobbs (LSU Track & Field)

*Co-winners

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Lenny Vangilder

Lenny Vangilder

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Lenny has been involved in college athletics since 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;…

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