Thursday, April 28, 2016

Honoring those who served -- always a good thing

       The annual ceremony honoring the young men -- once students at Woodlawn High School in Shreveport -- who gave their lives in the service of our country will be this morning at the school.
     It is a tradition that dates to 1969, and many of us have seen the ceremony and appreciate the meaning. We should.
     It is a gripping ceremony -- poignant, sad. I have written about it previously and published a few stories/columns dealing with it (links below).
     We know the first four names on the stone monument in the middle of the school quadrangle; don't have to look them up: Glenn Ogburn, Trey Prather, Harold O'Neal, Edward Cox Jr. 
     My point in this piece is that this ceremony has a deeper impact, or should have. It is not just about these kids who died far too soon in a faraway country we'd never heard of before the early 1960s.
     It is about the young men who served there and came back, but because of the circumstances -- a woe-be-gone war and its effects -- were forever changed. In many cases, their health was damaged; their memories affected.
     More on this in a moment.
     (I know of at least five 1960s Woodlawn football players who served in Vietnam; there are likely others. All were my friends. One died last year; three others still are my friends.)
     Even deeper, the ceremony is about all the once-Woodlawn kids who served in the U.S. military. We salute them, but especially the Vietnam veterans, many of whom were neglected and even treated with scorn after returning home.
     We recognize that the military, in so many cases, had much more purpose than just helping to keep this country (and other countries) safe. It gave -- gives -- so many a direction in their lives. It is a stepping stone, or often provides a long career.
     Here is what led me to this blog piece ...

     As I was gathering information (still in the process) to write about the three other Woodlawn boys who died in Vietnam -- other than Trey, who I've written about often -- I was reminded  about those who returned but suffered for years from exposure to Agent Orange and those who suffered from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
     About Agent Orange ... if you're not familiar (truth is, I had to go research as a reminder). From the website
     "Agent Orange was a powerful mixture of chemical defoliants used by U.S. military forces during the Vietnam War to eliminate forest cover for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops, as well as crops that might be used to feed them. The U.S. program of defoliation, codenamed Operation Ranch Hand, sprayed more than 19 million gallons of herbicides over 4.5 million acres of land in Vietnam from 1961 to 1972. Agent Orange, which contained the chemical dioxin, was the most commonly used of the herbicide mixtures, and the most effective. It was later revealed to cause serious health issues–including tumors, birth defects, rashes, psychological symptoms and cancer–among returning U.S. servicemen and their families as well as among the Vietnamese population."        
A young couple in love:
 Joan and Mickey Martin
     It was brought to my attention by Joan Slay Martin (Woodlawn Class of '70), whose husband Mickey Martin (Class of '66) died last July 15 at age 67. Because there was evidence that his health problems, and death, were the effects of diseases caused by his exposure to Agent Orange while he was in Vietnam, she now receives benefits (a pension) from the Veterans' Administration.

    She feels that the Woodlawn ceremony and monument should reflect how Mickey and others died. Don't know who makes that call, but it led to this blog.
    Mickey served four years in the Air Force (chief crew mechanic on F-4 jets) and was honored with medals and certificates. And in a way, he and Joan lived a charmed life.  
Mickey Martin, Air Force
during the Vietnam era
    "I met Mickey when I was 12," she remembers. "He thought I was older and we fell in love immediately. He asked me to marry him then; I told him I was pretty sure my Mom would not agree just yet.
    "He asked me every year after that and my Mom said I could if I made sure I graduated [from high school] that last year. I was 17 then."
     He came home on leave and they married in Shreveport in July 1969. He was sent to a base in North Carolina (Joan went with him); he went on a secret mission to North Korea (involving the infamous Pueblo incident), and she returned home to Shreveport to graduate from Woodlawn.
    Two sons, two daughters, 10 grandkids, three great-grandkids, a full family. He worked in the trucking industry for years, was a pastor of several churches, he and Joan were houseparents to boys -- abused and neglected children -- in Texarkana, Ark.; he had
Mickey enjoyed his winding-down time
an environmental services business for two decades, and he was an LSU and New Orleans Saints fan.

    "He never met a stranger," Joan said. "He was the kind of guy everyone just loved and respected.
    "We were married 46 years on July 12; he died four days later. I think he was trying to hold on for our anniversary."
    Quite a life ... despite Agent Orange and the health problems.

    Then last week we saw the obituary of Johnny Saffel (Class of '65, my class) -- a guy we knew and liked who played football for a while and whose older brother Lane was the first sprinter (a good one) in school history and a darned good football player, too.
    Johnny was 69. His obit read, in part:
Johnny Saffel
        "[He was]  a retired Captain with the Shreveport Fire Department. He was also a veteran of the U.S. Navy and served two tours of duty in the Vietnam Conflict. During his duty in Vietnam, he suffered exposure to Agent Orange which caused serious damage to his heart [and] ultimately led to his death. He gave his life for his country even though he did not die on the battlefield."
     Some of the responses to a Facebook post about Johnny's death included:
    Daniel Johnson: "Thanks for your service in the U.S. Navy. U.S. Army said that. Agent Orange has taken its toll on me also."
    Marcia Landers Wiseman (widow of Larry Wiseman, Woodlawn defensive tackle, 1963-64, good guy, our longtime friend who died last fall, U.S. Navy in Vietnam): "Agent Orange took its toll on Larry."
    And from Lynn Chance: "It's a tragedy that Vietnam is still taking our friends."
    Then there is my friend -- a star football player at Woodlawn, a kid from our neighborhood part of our little group -- who was in the U.S. Army in 'Nam, a foot soldier affected for years and years by PTSD.
    I've heard him tell about the nightmares, the shell-shock, jumping at loud popping sounds, feeling the fear all over again. 
    I'm proud of him, and so glad he's had a good life with a good family. In a way, he's been lucky. And so it was with those who did live into their late 60s. They were, I think, owed some luck.
    Let's not forget their service and that they did pay a price. It wasn't the ultimate price -- the one paid by Ogburn, Prather, O'Neal and Cox. It was, though, a price we should remember and acknowledge.    
    (There are others from Woodlawn who served and were affected, and if you'll let me know, I will be happy to publish your comments and part of their story.)
    Other than the actual buildings and the beautiful quadrangle area -- site of the ceremony -- much is different, obviously, about Woodlawn than in the 1960s. In its sixth decade, it no longer, technically, is a high school; the name is "learning academy."
    The memorial service, for years, was on the first Friday in May and it began at sunrise, or even moments before.
    Today it's Thursday in late April, and it's a 10 a.m. start. But the ceremony -- the tradition, for the 48th time -- carries on.
    And we're grateful. We honor the young men whose names are on the monument, and we honor those who served and suffered, and all those who served -- Vietnam and elsewhere.
    God bless them all.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Rose, the Holocaust ... and poetry

      Mom -- Rose Van Thyn -- wrote and spoke extensively about the Holocaust and her experiences in it, and the stack of material she left included a dozen poems.
    I was reminded of that when I received an e-mail this week concerning the 33rd annual Holocaust Remembrance Service in Shreveport-Bossier on Sunday, May 1 (3 p.m., St. Mary's of the Pines Catholic Church, 1050 Bert Kouns Industrial Loop, Shreveport).
    The e-mail was about one of the winners of the literary competition -- in this case, a poem -- for high school students. Mom would have liked that.
    One aspect of her "mission" to speak about the Holocaust was to educate the young people. So she always approved of the literary contests -- essays or narrative poems -- for middle school, high school and college students that are part of the annual event in Shreveport-Bossier.
     In a recent blog piece, I shared Mom's "Silver Linings" story. Here, because we've mentioned poetry, I am sharing a few of her Holocaust-related poems. 
     First, two poems that were published in The Shreveport Times in January 1981 with Mom's story marking the 25-year anniversary of our arrival in Shreveport as immigrants from The Netherlands in which she tells of her Holocaust days (and Dad's), and the aftermath.

I often sit and think
Of times gone by.
When days were sweet and good,
My childhood, my parents, my sister
My family and friends.
The fun, and also the pleasures
It's all so dear to me.
I thank the Lord for all of it
and for the memories.

Then came the darkness.
It was darker than night.
The clouds were dark and black.
The tears, the fear, the anguish.
The sorrow, but mostly the pain.

The great tragedy,
Out of the dark,
They never came back,
The ones I loved so dear.
I could not understand,
I felt so alone.
My soul was torn apart
But I still thanked the Lord
For letting me be.
I still had my memories.

Then back came the sun
And with it the light.
The sky became blue again,
Life anew, a new family,
Hope in my heart once more.
A chance at life.
To live one more time
With people so dear to me.
What a joy, to see my children grow
And the love I receive in return.
I thank the Lord
Time and time again
For letting me be.
I still have my memories.
In the dark,
Hearing trains
Children voices,
Stepping boots.

Where to? Where to?
Out of our restful life
With nothing left but hope
Into the unknown.

Oh, Dear Lord,
For what reason
Do we have to go?
     At the end of her interview for the USC Shoah Foundation, done in 1986, she put on her glasses and read a poem.
    Here is the video:
      And the poem ...

(This poem I wrote and dedicated to 1 1/2 million children so barbarically exterminated)
They were too young for their lives to end
Without any compassion to the gas chambers they were sent

Because they were Jews, a danger to the Nazis' plan
All murdered by fanatic, sadistic, vicious men

The babies who could not yet talk,
The toddlers who had just learned to walk,
The teenagers with their spirits still high
Could not accept they would shortly die

I often wondered what the children thought
Of this devil's place where they were brought

Each one had feelings and a beating heart.
Did they realize their lives were torn apart?

They could not understand why all the hurt
They try desperately to hold onto their mother's skirt

They were confused and so very scared
It seemed that no one in the free world cared

Why did they have to leave the house where they felt safe?
Were they being punished, did they maybe misbehave?

They were no more allowed to play games they enjoyed
Everything around them would be destroyed

They were denied an education
Many died of disease and starvation,

For experiments they were used.
They were kicked and beaten and criminally abused.

Their heads were shaved, they were so cold.
They soon would be hot, they were simply told.

There were naked people, waiting in rows.
Were they waiting for food, or maybe new clothes?

Why were their moms and dads suddenly gone,
and left them, the children, all alone?

What did it all mean, what was it all for?
Did they not love their children anymore?

What terrible sights their young eyes had to see.
Too much sadness, grieving and cruelty.

Not a chance to win this horrendous battle.
They were all thrown together like herds of cattle.

I think of the children day by day,
especially when I see other children at play.

Not enough of the children can be said.
History must not be allowed to forget.

We must all remember them all --
the wide-eyed teenagers, the toddlers, and the very small.

I carry them all in my heart with me,
wherever I go and wherever I will be.

Now they are at rest, no more pain and misery.
Dear God, grant them peace in eternity.
    Finally, one more poem, which is untitled. She wrote it in 1990 and it sums up why she felt her Holocaust education role was important.

I was there and I saw it. I can still feel my eyes burning.
I was there and I felt it. My body still shivers at the thought.
I was there and I heard it. My ears are still burning.
I was there and I smelled it, and I almost choked.
This unbearable pain is always there.
It is all engraved in my subconscious.
Often, suddenly, a sound, a word, a smell.
That overwhelming feeling of emptiness,
Comes back in all its severity.
Harsh, unexpected, shocking.
I hear six million quiet voices like an echo in the distance.
So heartbreaking, so sorrowful.
I cry without tears,
Deep from within my soul.
The past and present flow together,
And I know that their memory
Will be with me all the days of my life.
I vow I will tell about their suffering, over and over again
Till I will be no more.
-- Rose Van Thyn

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Tom Kerwin: the terrific "Captain Hook"

     He is 71, a retired teacher, a widower with two grown children and his first grandchild born recently, and he has lived in Pine Knoll Shores, N.C. -- a tiny place on the Atlantic Ocean coast -- since 2000.
Tom Kerwin, Centenary's "Captain Hook"
    My attempts to find out "whatever happened to" Tom Kerwin didn't work out entirely because he didn't answer repeated calls or reply to messages.
     But I can tell you this: He was one of my favorite basketball players ever. He is a legend for those of us from North Louisiana who remember him.
    Tom Kerwin was "Captain Hook." Still is to me.
    He had a unique talent -- the hook shot.
   Wherever the Centenary College Gentlemen played from 1963 to 1966, but especially in Shreveport, fans got to see the sweetest hook shot of any player I've seen, and that's 60 years worth.
   The 6-foot-7 center/forward from Long Branch, N.J., would go on to play a little pro basketball. He wasn't a great jumper, he wasn't fast, and he was thin, so he was overmatched in the pros and his game didn't excel after college.
    But I know many fans from our area and that era will agree, he was a memorable college player ... because of that hook shot.
   This was a real hook shot -- the wide, sweeping, up-and-over motion, not the "baby" hook shots you see in today's game. Yeah, Kerwin's hooks were a throwback to the 1940s and '50s; they were old-timey, even in the mid-1960s. Today, it is ancient.
   Tom also was called, if I recall correctly, "Tom Terrific" after the cartoon character created in the late 1950s. He was terrific; undoubtedly Centenary's best player before Robert Parish (1973-76).
    In fact, Kerwin was a better scorer at the small private college than the future Basketball Hall of Famer. It's true.
    Parish only once in four seasons topped Kerwin's three season scoring averages (25.2, 24.2, 27.9) at Centenary (in Division I at the time, Kerwin wasn't eligible for varsity play as a freshman). Parish had 30 points or more in 15 games; Kerwin did it 24 times.
    Even now, his career scoring average (25.8) is the best ever at Centenary, which is now in Division III athletics.
    When Parish set the school single-game record with 50 points early in his freshman year, the record he broke was Kerwin's 47. Even after Parish's sensational four years, Kerwin had six of the top eight single-game point totals (five 40 or more).
    Impressed yet? If you had seen him play, you'd know.
    Because he didn't score that often on easy stuff (dunks or layups or second-chance rebounds). He did it most often with that devastating hook shot.
    He'd set up mostly on the low right side of the lane, take the entry pass, maneuver, and -- swoop -- deliver on the hook. He was so accurate with it.
    For instance, in his greatest games, he was 20-for-26, 19-for-31, 17-for-24, 15-for-25, 12-for-16, 17-for-30. In many games, "Captain Hook" -- "Tom Terrific" -- was unstoppable.
    He wasn't the first Kerwin in his family to play college basketball in Louisiana. Oldest brother Jim, three years before Tom, came from South New Jersey to be a three-time All-Southeastern Conference guard, leading scorer in the SEC, for Tulane.
    But Jim, a longtime coach now retired and living in Norman, Okla., vouches for "little" brother (Jim was a guard, five inches shorter than Tom).
    "In all my years of coaching and playing, he was as good or better at hook shots than anyone I've seen," said Jim. "He was a great player."
     This is a common view.
     "A super guy, the best hook shot I ever saw or played against," said Barrie Haynie, Kerwin's four-year teammate at Centenary, the "Ringgold (La.) Rifle," as he was called. "We roomed together on [road-game] trips. We had a lot of fun on those trips."
      (When Kerwin set the Centenary record with 47 points in an overtime loss to Louisiana Tech in February 1966 -- the infamous "Donny Henry punch" game I've written about previously -- it was only two weeks after Haynie's record 46 points against nationally ranked Houston.)
       Orvis Sigler was Kerwin's coach at Centenary and recruited him after seeing him play once at Long Branch High School. Tom's coach there, Frank Millner, was the recruiting contact.
       "He had that shooting touch," Sigler said recently. "He could shoot the ball as well as anyone I'd seen, especially that hook shot.
       "He could turn his head to see the basket; he had the peripheral vision to line up the shot, and he was turned away so he could keep it away from the defender. He was so adept at it. He had worked on that hook shot for years."
       But he also kept working while he was at Centenary, and Sigler -- now 93 -- admits that even he and assistant Doug Mooty had little idea that Kerwin would be as proficient a scorer as he became.
       I asked Coach Sigler, "Did you think he would be as great as he was when you recruited him?"
       "Not quite," he replied. "We thought he'd be a good one, a very good one, knew he'd give us some height under the basket. But he really developed his shooting, especially as a sophomore. ... Wish he could have played all four years (on the varsity)."
      Kerwin's game wasn't all hook shots, Sigler pointed out. "He could turn and face the basket, and make the jump shot, or he'd duck under [the defender] and make a move toward the rim, but mostly he went to the hook ... played with his back to the basket mostly."
    Like Parish, Kerwin was drafted in the NBA by the San Francisco [later Golden State] Warriors -- third pick, fifth round, 43rd overall, 1966. He chose instead to play semipro ball, with the Phillips 66 Oilers (Bartlesville, Okla.), where Jim Kerwin had gone after Tulane and was still on the team.
      "He was our highest-paid player," Jim recalled. "A two-year contract at $17,000 a year; that was big time for that league."
     That low-post presence also was noted, Jim Kerwin recalled, by the Phillips 66 coach, Gary Thompson. "He told me," said Jim, "that of all the players he coached, Tom posted up better than anyone."
    But a broken ankle, placed in a cast, sidelined Tom for 3-4 months and the next season, the semipro league began fading with many of its top players, especially the big men, heading for the new American Basketball Association. Tom was among them.

     He went to the Pittsburgh Pipers, but played only 13 games, 68 minutes, with 14 points and 20 rebounds. It was a championship team that first ABA season, led by Basketball Hall of Fame forward Connie Hawkins.
     What Sigler appreciated most about Tom Kerwin, other than being the scoring leader of probably the best team Orvis had in his 10 years as Centenary coach (16-8 against a competitive D-I schedule in 1963-64), was Tom's attitude.
     "He was a good kid," Sigler said. "He did what you asked him to do; he worked hard. I stayed on him pretty hard sometimes, but he responded to it well. I couldn't have asked for a better person to coach."
     Haynie remembered something else.
     "He liked to sleep," he said of his road roomie. "He didn't like to get up early. I'd get up and get going, but Tom, he'd stay in bed another five hours. ... He liked to read, and he was a good student. All of us could have done better [in school] probably, but he had no problems."
     Jim Kerwin probably was the first to see the Tom Kerwin hook shot ... when they were kids in Long Branch.
     "He wasn't strong enough [early on] to shoot a jump shot, so he would shoot hooks," Jim recalled.
     And then he joked, "Anytime he tried to shoot jump shots against me, I would block them."
     They lived in an area with plenty of future athletes, on a block with only four homes together, next to a Catholic school with a playground and basketball goals and also next to an alleyway with a goal that was in much use, even with a spotlight hung for night practice. How many hooks shots did Tom fire up there?
     There were six kids in the James and Margaret Kerwin family, all achievers and eventually recipients of college scholarships. They were an Irish family -- all four of the kids' grandparents were immigrants from Ireland (Tom has made a number of trips to that country) -- and they were sports-minded.
Tom, as a high school player
(from the Asbury Park Press)
     Both parents were athletes as youngsters (the mother was a high school basketball player) and their sports interests carried on.
     From the Internet: "The Margaret M. and James J. Kerwin awards are given each year to the outstanding male and female basketball players in the Jersey Shore. These prestigious awards have been a Shore fixture since 1974 and are given in honor of two great Jersey Shore sports legends."
       Jim and Tom would become legends, too, in basketball. Earlier this year when the Asbury Park Press had a series on the Jersey Shore's top players (by decades), the Kerwins were among the stars of the late 1950s/early 1960s.
       Jim was the big shot in high school, averaging a state-record 40 points a game as a junior and then more than 36 a game as a senior when he led Croydon Hall, a private school in nearby Middletown to the independent school New Jersey state championship in 1959.

      They were teammates that season, Tom as a freshman. Jim Sr., a prosecutor in Newark, N.J., until a heart problem forced him to change professions, was the Croydon Hall athletic director.
      Tom eventually went to public school (Long Branch High) and kept growing ... and shooting hook shots. He was a high 20s points-per-game scorer and first-team All-State, all classes, just as Jim had been.
      Heavily recruited ("we got tired of talking to people on the phone," he said), Jim originally signed with West Virginia, where Jerry West had just finished his college career and the team lost the NCAA title game by one point to California. But in those days, players could sign multiple conference letters of intent, and Jim's final destination was the SEC and the Deep South (Tulane).
      And there he scored 1,462 career points (22.2 per game) and was second in the nation in scoring in 1963.
      By then Tom was also in the Deep South, a freshman at Centenary.
      In the spring of his senior year in high school (1962), Tom had interest in Miami, and St. John's, and -- as Sigler recalled -- was thinking of going to Cincinnati, the reigning two-time NCAA champion ('61 and '62).
      But "we worked on his dad," Sigler said, and Papa Kerwin convinced Tom that Centenary, a small school playing a big, challenging schedule, was the right place for him.
      A Centenary player at the time -- and future assistant coach, then head coach and athletic director there -- was a factor, too.
      "Riley Wallace had a big influence on Tom," Jim Jr. recalled. "He helped recruit him. He was a senior when Tom was a freshman."
       "I thought [Tom] would be a very good player," Jim Jr. said, "but he needed more strength. If they'd had weightlifting, strength programs like they do today, he would have really benefited.
      "He was a really good competitor."
      And Tom was a really good college rebounder, not with power or leaping ability but because of smarts and finesse. His 748 rebounds (10.1 per game) remain among the best in Centenary history.
       But it was his scoring, his shot, that people remember.
       The second Kerwin brother, Billy -- a year older than Tom -- followed Jim to Tulane, but as a track athlete. (He died last July.)  A younger sister, Marie, followed Tom to Centenary and graduated there. 
       Basketball became Jim's career. Drafted by an NBA team (New York Knicks), he wound up with the Phillips 66 Oilers for four years and then embarked on a long coaching career, much of it in Oklahoma.
       He was the top assistant coach to Billy Tubbs at University of Oklahoma in the 1987-88 season when a great Sooners team rolled to the NCAA championship game, only to be upset by Big Eight rival Kansas.
       In 1992, he began an 11-year stay as head coach at Western Illinois. That included five consecutive winning seasons before a decline.
        Meanwhile, Tom was out of basketball after the brief ABA stay, but he found a home, a teaching job -- and a wife -- in Pittsburgh.
       Gwen Grant was a University of Pittsburgh graduate and teaching public school when she met Tom. They soon married, and their two kids grew to be college basketball players -- Kevin, a four-year letterman at Holy Cross, and Bridget -- known as Bree -- for a year at the Naval Academy.
       Kevin now is a film producer/director based in Cleveland. Bree is a sustainability specialist for the City of Kernersville, N.C., and a recent new mother.
       Tom and Gwen were married for 43 years until her death in early September 2011. In 2000, Gwen -- lover of the ocean, according to her obituary -- must have convinced Tom to make their home near the Atlantic in North Carolina. 
     Jim Pruett, a very good shooter of the basketball who starred at guard for Fair Park High's 1963 Class AAA state champions and then at Louisiana Tech University, saw Kerwin play for Centenary -- up close -- and here is what he remembers:
     "Tom Kerwin was just terrific. That hook shot was a thing of beauty. Never understood how anyone could make that thing, but he definitely could."
      As Pruett noted, "After he shot, all we did was take the ball out of the net."
      No question, as basketball fans, Tom Kerwin had us all hooked. He was our Captain Hook.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Orvis: a sports community's MVP

Orvis Sigler (photo from Facebook)
     A recent phone call and a photo posted on Facebook earlier this week made me think again about one of the most valuable sports contributors in Shreveport-Bossier and beyond: Orvis Sigler.
   The man hasn't coached in 43 years -- he is, after all, two months short of 94 -- but he always will be "Coach Sigler" to me and many others.
   He came to Shreveport-Bossier in 1958 -- as head basketball coach and athletic director at Centenary College --  so it's been 58 years since he became involved in athletics in that community and Louisiana. He's done and seen so much, and he's still out and about.
   His old bones make it difficult to get around. But the photo posted by his daughter Sally this week shows his appetite is good and when I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago about his greatest player at Centenary, Tom Kerwin (I'm planning a blog piece on him), I can assure you his mind and memory are just as sharp as a 93-year-old's can be.
    Long before and long after Coach's 15 years at Centenary -- the first 10 as basketball coach, the last five as fulltime AD (and baseball coach the last two years) -- he was an achiever.
    The man from Missouri has had a remarkable journey.
    It wasn't all athletics. The military, serving his country, was a big part of Orvis U. Sigler Jr.'s life. He was a Navy man ... and then an Army man. True.
Navy pilot
    Eight months after Pearl Harbor, after his sophomore year in college (at Drury University in Springfield, Mo.), he joined the Navy.
    He became a Navy dive bomber pilot in World War II. He flew missions to take out enemy planes and targets; as so many, he put his life out there repeatedly. Lt. Sigler walked on Japanese land the day after WW II ended.
    A decade later, he joined the Army ... sort of. He joined the coaching staff at the U.S. Military Academy -- West Point.
    For four years (1954-58), he was a football assistant coach -- to the legendary head coach, Earl "Red" Blaik -- and head basketball coach at Army. (Later that would be the head coaching starting point for basketball legends Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski.)
     From there, it was -- of all places -- Centenary and Shreveport. He came to town, and stayed. Like many of us, he had to readjust his life several times.
    • He took Centenary, a small, private school, respected small-college basketball program but mostly regional, into the big time -- Division I. And there it stayed -- often the smallest school in D-I, a financial and competitive challenge -- for 50 years.
     • He was influential in convincing the powers in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association to begin a state basketball tournament. That began in March 1961 at Shreveport's Hirsch Youth Center (then the site of Centenary home games).
     What was the "Top Twenty" then -- four semifinalists in five classes -- is the "Top 28" now, 56 years old. (There is a separate girls tournament.)
Centenary College athletic director
and head basketball coach, 1960 photo

      • He was one of the first, if not the first, area college coach to have a summer basketball camp for kids.
     • As athletic director, he helped visualize a new home for Centenary basketball and athletics and guided the construction of the impressive Gold Dome, which is still eye-catching as you drive by on Kings Highway.
      • Phased out as fulltime AD at Centenary, he soon -- within a week -- went to school boosters Tommy and Taylor Moore with the idea of going into the sporting-goods business. They made one bid (rejected), but found a willing seller in Crawford Womack, and Womack's became Sports World in the summer of 1973. It was popular, and is still in operation.
       • After selling out of Sports World, Coach Sigler went into speciality advertising before retirement.
       • He was at one point head of the Shreveport Sports Authority, bringing events to the area and promoting them.      
       • He was an active member of the Independence Bowl committee since the game's inception since 1976, one of the most visible "redcoats." While some on the committee were there for self-interest and self-promotion -- my opinion -- Coach Sigler was a studied, well-connected voice of reason.
      He was dedicated to the task -- the game chairman in 1991 and '92 -- and among those why the bowl has survived and is -- despite some ignorant national views -- a good show.
     "He is still a [committee] member, still comes to social functions and meetings from time to time," said Missy Parker Setters, the bowl executive director. "Still buys his tickets. ... We love Orvis and what he means to this bowl. It is a treat for us when we get the chance to see him."
      And, Missy adds, "Still feisty as ever, too."
      Yes, Orvis Sigler was a competitive athlete and then a competitive, fiery -- feisty -- coach. He could be outspoken, even disagreeable, and he could be tough on his players and -- OK -- the officials.
      He was a winning high school coach -- remembered fondly by his players at St. Agnes Catholic in Springfield, Mo. -- and his college coaching began as an assistant to Bob Vanatta when Southwest Missouri State won NAIA national championships in 1952 and 1953 -- a prestigious tournament then.
      He followed Vanatta to Army; Vanatta was there for one season, moving on to more success at Bradley. (Some 25 years later, when Vanatta became first commissioner of the Trans America Athletic Conference, Centenary's first league affiliation since the early 1950s, he set up the league office in Shreveport. I'm guessing Orvis might have influenced that, too.)
      Sigler was not a winning college coach, by record -- 39-47 in four years at Army, 122-134 in 10 years at Centenary. That is not a fair assessment; those were tough coaching jobs.
      Army, in the 1940s and '50s, was a football power. But in basketball, because of height limits for U.S. Military Academy recruits, was a challenge. Orvis made the best of what he had.
      And I can tell you -- from first-hand viewing -- that Centenary basketball was a great deal of fun to watch in the late 1950s and the early 1960s.
Coach, with one of his mid-1960s
star players at Centenary, Barrie
Haynie of Ringgold, La.
      Because of his connections, he ramped up the schedule to include a lot of "name" schools as opponents, many of them coming to Shreveport (including the competitive eight-team tournament near Christmas time each year). He broadened the recruiting, with his contacts in the Midwest (Illinois and Missouri became fertile territory for Gentlemen recruits), and was able to attract some very good North Louisiana talent, too.      
      Centenary was always a small fish/big pond basketball situation, but it was entertaining for fans (I was one). Games on radio, with Irv Zeidman on play-by-play, were a treat. In the early 1960s, home games were replayed late at night on KSLA-TV. Fun to watch.
      Two Sigler teams were outstanding -- 17-9 in 1961-62 and 16-8 in 1963-64. A star of both those teams was 6-6 forward Cecil Upshaw, from Bossier High School and future major-league pitcher. Tom Kerwin, the great hook shooter ("Captain Hook") was a sophomore and leading scorer on the '63-64 team.
      Sigler's teams at Centenary were 18 games above .500 until his final (subpar) three seasons. But to me, he was a winner in so many ways. He was so deserving to be selected "Mr. Louisiana Basketball" in 1989 and the lone inductee in the Centenary Athletics Hall of Fame in 1994.
      One of the ways he won was with family -- two families.
Coach and his two girls -- Susan
and Sally (Facebook photo)
      He and Doris -- the girl he married soon after returning from World War II (they were engaged when he joined the service) -- had two daughters, Susan and Sally, and a son, Steven Orvis (who died in 1998).
       Doris died in Shreveport in the late 1960s. Then Coach met Joanne Sherrod, who also recently had lost her spouse. They soon married, and combined lives and families.
      She is 10 years younger and she is a match -- a tall, silver-haired, lively woman, a character, a sports fan. One friend says she can outwhistle anyone. She is not bashful.
      For 7 1/2 years,  she was a guest columnist for The Shreveport Times on a variety of "throwback" subjects. Her final column -- Dec. 3, 2014 -- is headlined: "All Who Fought in World War II Are Heroes."
      One of those heroes, the one she knows best, the star of this column, is Orvis U. Sigler Jr.
      You don't often see Coach without Joanne, and that's been a pleasure for all of us all these years. They are among Shreveport-Bossier's treasures.
      Links for more information on the Siglers:

The Coach, with Joanne and their extended family