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


  1. From Tom Arceneaux: A great guy and a worthy opponent [in a Shreveport City Council race] in 1982. We were the bookends. I was the youngest candidate and he was the most mature.

  2. From Jerie Shirley Black: Orvis has been in my life a very long time -- a great friend to my daddy, and he and Joanne have been assets to Shreveport for many years. Old school all the way.

  3. From Ron Hill: Excellent article. I remember him well and did not know he was still around.

  4. From Pat Booras: Tremendous. See him at lunch on Fridays often.

  5. From Tom Marshall: Good job. Coach Sigler was really nice to me during my one year as a student sportswriter at Centenary. But I never asked him this burning question: What does the "U" stand for?

    1. According to one Internet site, the answer to the "U" question is ... Utopia.

  6. From Raleigh Whitehead: Susan Sigler was able to help my brother receive his master's degree conferred on him shortly before his death in 1996. Such a gracious and caring lady. They met while he was a patient at M.D. Anderson in Houston and she was a volunteer.

  7. From Angelina Rice: Great article. I enjoyed reading about Coach Sigler, who was at Centenary when I attended.

  8. From Joe Monsour: I love Orvis! Been friends for many years. He spent every Friday in my restaurant. But enough about that great and colorful man, where is he getting that waffle?

  9. From James Manasseh: Orvis was always one of dad's favorite people. Thanks for reminding everyone of this great man.

  10. From Sydney Boone: Played in the old gym [at Centenary, Haynes Gym] a lot -- with Byrd (Scotty Robertson would have us play practice games vs. the Gents) and then as a freshman at La. Tech. Loved Coach Sigler.

  11. From Bud Dean: Nice piece on a nice man. Always liked him, but [not] most of his players.

  12. From Dick Hicks: Great article. I remember he and Dad were good friends. Dad made sure Roger and I went to his basketball camps. I think Dad said we both got to go for $50. I remember some of his drills like dribbling with plastic solid white glasses with only the top half cut off (taught you to feel for the ball vs. looking down to see the ball); also he would use ropes to tie your arms to your body and force you to "center up" the guy you were guarding with your nose -- forced you to play defense with your feet and NOT reach. All of those camps really helped me to become a better overall basketball player.

  13. From Pesky Hill: Thanks for this great piece on Orvis. I loved going to watch those Centenary teams when I was growing up in the late '50s and early '60s. Yes, Cecil Upshaw and Captain Hook, Tom Kerwin, were among my favorites.
    I talked met with Coach a month or so ago at our annual Independence Bowl meeting. We had a great visit. I kidded him about how he used to get on officials. Then he surprised me by telling me he had never been thrown out of a game. I didn’t challenge him on that, but he saw my mouth drop when he told me.
    Then he said, "Of course, back then you could get as many technical fouls as you wanted. I got five in a game at Oglethorpe (Atlanta)."

  14. From Robert Levy: Just read your Orvis Sigler blog. Great. Never knew all that about him and see that Joanne is still with him and us.

  15. When I was umpiring at Centenary in the early '70's, if Joanne Sigler was present there would be a time during the game, invariably, when I would hear a piercing voice from the lawn chairs along the third base line - "Marshall, you haven't gotten a call right yet!" It usually came after a Ray Charles call, but it was as predictable as the sun setting in the west (and just as reassuring). If I saw her today, those would probably be the first words out of her mouth.

  16. From John Marshall: LOVE those old photos of Orvis Utopia when he was a young man. Amazing guy, a real classy man and a true institution.

  17. From Dante Rebori (Springfield, Mo.): Coach Sigler took the reins of the Saint Agnes Fightin' Irish as head coach early in the 1947-48 season when coach Joe Newton left to take a job with the State of Missouri. Orvis had been the assistant coach to Newton.