Throughout most of Southeastern’s 97-year history, intercollegiate athletics have played a prominent role in campus life. Now, the athletes, coaches, administrators, fans and all others who have an interest in what sports
has meant to the University have a thorough accounting of much of that history with the publication of 70 Years: Southeastern Lions Athletic History by Larry Hymel.
Hymel’s book is the first full accounting of Southeastern’s athletic history published. Through prodigious research conducted over about three years, Hymel recounts the wins, losses and so much more that occurred on the playing fields, arenas, courts, tracks and courses where the athletes who chose to wear the green and gold wrote their part of the story that was sports at Southeastern for the first 70 years of the school’s history.
Hymel, who has spent almost all of his adult life on the campus, brought to his task an intimate knowledge of the University’s athletic history.
Not long after graduating from Southeastern, Hymel was hired as the school’s first full-time sports information director, a position he filled for more than 30 years. He later served as director of the University Center and ended his long and distinguished career on the campus as alumni athletic coordinator.
He spent more than 40 years actively engaged on the Southeastern campus.
Through all those years, the athletes, coaches and administrators came and went, but Hymel was always there watching the school’s sports history unspool as the years spun by. Assessing the task he brought on himself, writing a thorough history of the first 70 years of sports at Southeastern, Hymel said, “there had never been a complete history of Southeastern athletics, and for many years one of my goals was to compile an accounting of the athletics history. When I started out on this project, I didn’t necessarily know that it would turn out to be a book. However, the more I researched the history of athletics, the idea of a book began to develop.”
He said he had a reason for limiting his tale to about the first 70 years of athletics at Southeastern. “I realized at one point that, I had to stop somewhere. … After all, the story continues to be told year after year. … It is still being told almost every day on the campus. Intercollegiate athletes became part of the school about 1930, when what would eventually become a university was a small little school that was really just getting established.
“By 1999, Southeastern had grown to become a large university with thousands of students and athletics had grown with it,” he said. “I had to stop somewhere, and 1999 seemed the perfect place to stop.”
The story starts in the fall of 1930 when then Southeastern Louisiana College fielded its first football team. That team beat Amite and Independence High Schools but later lost to other high schools and junior colleges. The long story ends in chapter 9 when Hymel sneaks into 2003 when Southeastern restored football after a long, painful time for many, when the campus was bereft of football starting in January 1986 when then University President J. Larry Crain announced that football would be dropped as an intercollegiate sport at Southeastern.
Hymel offers that the loss of football for so many years, along with shutting down the basketball team for one
season, were among some of the low points in the history of sports in Lion land. However, those two chapters in sports history are offset by the many victories recorded by Southeastern athletes and the winning of conference and national championships.
Through his painstaking research, Hymel recounts the results of almost every football, basketball and baseball game. As more sports teams were added through the years, those contests found their way into his accounting of the school’s sports history. Eventually, Southeastern would field men’s teams in track, golf and tennis along with football, basketball and baseball. With the coming of Title IX in the 1970s, Southeastern, as did all other colleges and universities in the nation, hastened to bring intercollegiate athletic programs for women onto their campuses.
Hymel became sports information director in 1966 and from that point on he was, literally, “sitting on the bench”
at almost all sporting events. About the years that came before his time on campus, Hymel said that he had to dig through old accounts of athletics to learn about the very early development of sports on the campus.
“What I learned was very important to telling the whole story, and those early, formative years proved to be of great interest,” he said. “Athletic involvement at SLU started slowly in the 1930s; was interrupted to an extent in the early 1940s when World War II drew so many young men away from the campus; and rebounded with some great teams, especially in football, when the veterans returned to the campus after the war.”
Hymel’s book recounts that Southeastern was a leader in encouraging women’s athletics on campus, and the 1976-1977 Lady Lions basketball team, under the leadership of coach Linda Puckett, won a national championship. Women’s softball was started in the early 1980s, and eventually the school added women’s volleyball, beach volleyball, track, tennis and soccer.
Much of the information in the book was gleaned from copies of The Lion’s Roar, the student newspaper for many years; LeSouvenir, the University yearbook; accounts of sporting events that filled the pages of local and regional newspapers over the years; and interviews that Hymel conducted during his years of research. He recounts that he spent many hours on campus at Sims Memorial Library poring over sources related to athletics now on file in the library.
For many local athletes, Southeastern afforded them a chance to continue their athletic careers hatched and then nurtured at area high schools.
A good example of that local touch involves the first Lady Lions softball team. Glenda Gauley, of Denham Springs, was among the first to try out for the school’s first softball team. She recalls in an interview with Hymel that the team did not even have uniforms for the first year, and the girls were only given matching shirts with numbers on them. Over the next two seasons, Gauley was the only pitcher the team had, and she pitched doubleheaders on numerous occasions.
Recalling those years at Hymel’s recent book signing, she said, “I never got tired. … I don’t remember the wins and the losses that much, what I remember is the joy of playing at the collegiate level and the fun I had with my teammates. Those were some great years.” She attended a book signing for the launch of the publication with Cindy Smith and Missy Smith, also from Denham Springs, who were on that first team. Cindy Smith scored the first run ever for the Lady Lions.
The interview with Gauley is just one of numerous such interviews in the book. Hymel interviewed many of the
athletes, coaches and administrators who had a part in Southeastern’s sports history, and these interviews add a
special feature to the long account of sports in the land of the Lions.
Readers will also find the names of a number of athletes who had distinguished careers during and after their playing days were over. Robin Roberts, now host of Good Morning America, was a star basketball player at Southeastern. Jim Corbett, who will long be remembered as a successful athletic director at LSU, had his start as a student at Southeastern. DD Breaux, the legendary gymnastics coach at LSU, was a gymnast and assistant coach at Southeastern. It also covers the exploits of outstanding athletes such as All American football player Huey Husser and his fellow Southeastern stars Ray Porta and Oscar Lofton.
Among the highlights in athletic history that Hymel cites were the undefeated football teams in 1946 and 1954; baseball and basketball teams that won conferences and advanced to national tournaments; and outstanding individuals in such sports as tennis, track and golf.
Hymel has won numerous writing awards during his long career. He was awarded the Mac Russo Award presented by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association in 1994, was elected to the Southeastern Athletic Hall of Fame in the same year, and was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame for Distinguished Service to Journalism in 2011.
BY VIC COUVILLION, CONTRIBUTING WRITER FOR THE ADVOCATE
Copies of the book are available at Southeastern’s University Bookstore, along with Bayou Booksellers in downtown Hammond, or through email at email@example.com.
In addition to Larry Hymel, several alumni and members of the Southeastern Family contributed to bringing this
publication to life, including former staff member Vic Couvillion for editing, former staff member Judy Couvillion
for general assistance, alum and current staff member Randy Bergeron for photographic assistance, faculty
member Dr. Sam Hyde for historical expertise, and Sims Memorial Library staff for microfilm assistance. The
book was Published by Southeastern alum Corky Barras at Jefferson Printing and includes a cover designed by
Southeastern student Jacie Ferlandy.