|Orvis Sigler (photo from Facebook)|
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.
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.
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)
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." http://www.shreveporttimes.com/story/life/community/2014/12/03/fought-world-war-ii-heroes/19863659/
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|