Sunday, January 8, 2017

Saying "well done" to Coach Sigler

        I want to thank Coach Orvis Sigler's daughters and his widow, Joanne, for asking me to speak at his memorial service Saturday in Shreveport.
        To be honest, I was not a close family friend or even that close to Coach Sigler. But I was a longtime admirer, I certainly appreciated what he did for athletics and other areas in Shreveport-Bossier and beyond, and perhaps because of what I wrote on the blog about him last April, I was asked to be part of the tribute to him.
         It is always an honor to be asked to do a eulogy, and it's never easy.
         I want to share a couple of thoughts by Taylor Moore, the former Shreveport Captains president and a partner in the sporting goods business with Coach Sigler.
         "Will Rogers said he never met a man he didn't like," Taylor told me Saturday before the memorial service. "Well, Orvis never met a [basketball] referee he liked."
         I remember a couple of antagonistic situations involving Centenary basketball -- and thus Coach Sigler: (1) the rivalry with Oklahoma City University teams coached by smart-aleck Abe Lemons that a couple of times erupted into free-for-alls; and (2) the refereeing of one Bill Valentine, then a controversial American League baseball umpire who also worked basketball in the Missouri Valley Conference, from which Centenary got its officials for home games.
         Saturday evening, Taylor sent me a note, saying, "I  remember Orvis telling about the days at Hirsch [Youth Center] when the player benches were on the end of the court, under the basket, and how that gave him a better opportunity to work the officials every time they passed in front of him.
        "It was a shame that Bill Valentine passed away a couple of years ago because they had some real battles. ... I am not sure both of them are in the same place for the afterlife, but if they are, I bet Valentine has already teed him up."
         Before I share my speech with readers -- it will be a recap for those who attended -- I think back to the Sigler coaching days and if you had told me then that I would be one of the people speaking at his memorial service, I would not have believed it. But repeating, it was an honor.
COACH SIGLER memorial speech – Jan. 7, 2017
      To begin, I attended Oklahoma at TCU basketball game Tuesday night. TCU has a beautiful new coliseum on the site of its old coliseum, and I was reading about the history of the old place, Daniel-Meyer Coliseum. The first game there was in 1961, and TCU beat the Centenary Gents 63-61. And I  know who the Centenary coach was that night. So it’s a small-world connection to today.
       Today we pay respect to Coach Sigler and his family, and when we talk about Coach, respect is the appropriate word.       

Coach Sigler, with daughters Sally and Susan
     I think all of us here feel as if we were blessed to have this man as part of our lives, and that Shreveport-Bossier was fortunate that he chose to make this his permanent home – and that we had him for so long.
       He already was a well-traveled coach (as many of them are) when he arrived in the spring of 1958. The man from Missouri, by way of the U.S. Navy and later the U.S. Military Academy (where he was head basketball coach for four seasons and an assistant football coach on a staff that included two legendary names, Col. Earl “Red” Blaik and Paul Dietzel), became a Shreveporter. And almost 59 years later, here we are to honor him.
         We don’t get to Shreveport-Bossier much these days, except for Holocaust Remembrance events and, unfortunately, memorial services, and that is where we saw Coach Sigler and Joanne in the past couple of years. Always good to see them, and to know that even as his physical strength declined, Coach was still super sharp. And so it was a pleasure to talk with him and then write about him on my blog last April because as I wrote, he was one of the most valuable people in Shreveport-Bossier and ­– to stretch it, Louisiana – in athletics, and in the community, over the past six decades.
          He proved to be so much more than just a very capable basketball coach.  He was a diligent, convincing recruiter, and he was as good or maybe better a promoter of the sport and of athletics than he was a coach.
          He was so wise, so knowledgeable, so well-connected in basketball and athletics all over the country, and he was a pleasant person to be around. Well, mostly pleasant. I mean, five technical fouls in one game? That will get you kicked out of 2½ games these days.
         And he was such a contributor.
         In Shreveport, you have to start with his influence in taking Centenary basketball from a strong small-college program to NCAA Division I a year after he arrived. He took the Gents to a competitive, big-time level, a challenge even though it was such a small school. He started, I believe, the first basketball camp for kids in this area. One of his biggest achievements was in 1961 helping start the state high school basketball tournament, the Top Twenty as it became known, and he was its guiding director the first several years when it became an established and popular event, which Shreveport was proud to have. It’s now about to be 57 years old and still going.
        You know, of course, about his great interest and involvement with the Independence Bowl. Others will talk about that.
        He was the Centenary athletic director who oversaw the building and opening of the Gold Dome, an impressive monument of sorts to him. You could say Robert Parish played there, but also say it is the house that Coach Orvis Sigler built.
         You think about Centenary College basketball, and that’s where so many of us first met him. It was a job that – as oldest daughter Susan told me --  Paul Dietzel recommended to him and also recommended him for it. I think you’ll agree that for the 10 seasons he coached the Gents and five more that he was the athletic director, they took on some big-name schools and helped give Shreveport a lot of big-time basketball.

     Just as with Army, it was a challenge for its coach because of limitations in size, but the Gents were competitive, they were tough, and what I remember most is they were fun to watch and to follow.
       For us kids in Shreveport-Bossier in the late 1950s and into the 1960s, Centenary was our basketball team. Dad, who was a great basketball fan, and I went games at Hirsch Youth Center many times – but not often enough for me – and I listened to IZ (Irv Zeidman) doing Centenary games on radio, home and away, as often as I could. And how about those late-night TV rebroadcasts on Channel 12 in the early 1960s? Stayed up for most of those.
       Actually, as I was thinking about this, I realized I was a Centenary basketball fan before I was a fan of LSU or Louisiana Tech (but not before the Shreveport Sports and New York Yankees, thank you).
         And so I quickly want to give you some names – my Coach Sigler-era Centenary basketball favorites, and I apologize for the dozens I can’t get to: Gerald “Tooley” Martello, Jackie Crawford, Leon Shaw, Don “Dusty” Ensley, Dale Van Bibber (Dad loved him because of the Dutch name and then we got to know him when he helped Ken Ivy coach Woodlawn to a state championship), the best-known redhead in Shreveport and the only Sigler player eventually to also be the Centenary coach and athletic director – Riley Wallace, Willard “Soup” Moore, Stan McAfoos, Jerry Butcher, “The Ringgold Rifle” from my wife’s high school -- Barrie Haynie, Larry Shoemaker, Larry Ward and John Blankenship (have to mention them together), and three Shreveport-Bossier guys (Jimmy Williams from Byrd, Andy Fullerton from Fair Park, and one of Centenary’s greatest athletes, a very good basketball player but better in baseball, Cecil Upshaw of Bossier).
         And one more name: Tom Kerwin. Captain Hook. Yes, we all loved watching Robert Parish play at Centenary, but I’m telling you that watching Tom and that fabulous hook shot is one of my favorite basketball memories.
          Kerwin’s greatest game? I was there, as a freshman basketball statistician for Louisiana Tech. I can tell you that it was very hard for me personally to pull against Centenary; I really had mixed emotions for four years at Tech. But in late February 1966, near the end of Tom’s senior season, we came to Hirsch and we had a good team, an improving team. That night we “held” Kerwin to 47 points (which set the Centenary school record; Barrie had scored 46 a few games earlier). Funny thing is, we – Tech -- won the game in overtime. That’s a story in itself, and some of you remember it.
           Coach Sigler always said that was one of his most painful basketball losses. But basketball is one thing; painful losses come in life, too. And here were some great lessons Coach Sigler taught us: You keep going; you persevere.
           Job-wise, after 15 years at Centenary, it was time to move on. He did quickly, helping start a very successful sporting goods business. Later he went into specialty advertising, and he ran the Shreveport Sports Authority. He was deeply involved in the Independence Bowl. He found new worlds.

         But real losses, painful losses: A spouse of 25 years and later his only son.  And yet he found another new world, and a whole new family.      
Coach and Joanne (photo by Roger S. Braniff Sr.)
     Coach and Joanne were blessed to find   each other and marry in 1970. Two families joined into one. A good pairing, don’t you think? Yes, Coach could be just plain-spoken, exacting and tough, but Joanne was a match – that’s an understatement -- and in this community, there were outgoing and omnipresent.
        Joanne, as many of you know, took her turn in the media world, writing columns for The Shreveport Times. After 7½ years, her last column – in early December 2014 – was probably her best, about World War II servicemen and in particular about her hero, a Navy bomber pilot from Missouri named Orvis Sigler Jr.
         And from my media standpoint, here is what I liked about Coach Sigler – no matter what the subject, but especially Centenary basketball and the Independence Bowl, he was going to address it with an honest, studied evaluation. He was going to do and say what he felt was best for Centenary or Shreveport or Louisiana.  
         After I wrote my blog last year, I laughed when Missy Parker Setters, director of the Independence Bowl, said that Coach and Joanne were still part of the scene and that he was still “feisty.”
          Yes, he was. And as daughter Sally noted last week, in his final days and the final decline, Coach could still be “strong as an ox” when he wanted something.
           We think of how good a family man he was, how good a friend, how dedicated a coach, recruiter, administrator and promoter, and how big a role he played in so many ways. We thank his family for sharing him with us.
           Mostly, thank you, Coach Sigler. We respect what you gave us.


  1. From Sydney Boone: Thank you. Coach Sigler was quite the Gent. I remember him well and would have enjoyed playing for him. Scotty [Robertson] wouldn't let him recruit me [out of Byrd High], though. Didn't know that until later. Loved the old gym [Haynes] we used to play ball in. ... Susan was in my class at Byrd and I know quite a few guys who were afraid to go out with her due to Coach Sigler.

  2. From Jimmy Russell: Enjoyed this and was not that good of a friend [of Coach Sigler's], but I told him one time that people in Shreveport did not appreciate what he did with the Centenary basketball program in playing a major schedule and getting the players who could compete at that level. They never had the depth and would play tough for a half and three quarters of a game before losing. I saw many of those games at Hirsch and people never really supported the program as they should with the teams that played in there. I think another first for him was that he was the first college coach that started a basketball camp, the summer before my senior year [at Minden High]. I did not go, but it was the forerunner of all the Louisiana coaches starting their camps. (Never will forget Scotty [Robertson]'s camp after I became a coach). I am sure he will rest in peace.

  3. From Lonnie Dunn: Coach Sigler was always a great gentleman, coach, and mentor to many.

  4. From Jim Pruett: Thank you for sharing, for all of us. Really, sadly, it's Coach Sigler that we really wanted to share with, but that's not the way the game is played. ... Having attended Orvis Sigler's camp, I felt like I "knew" him a bit. And, I really liked him.

  5. From Jim McLain: I'll always remember Orvis because he gave me the scoop that Jesse Marshall was going to play for Centenary after finishing at Tyler JC. Not a real great Gent, but he did get a NFL tryout with the Detroit Lions.

  6. From Cathy Ridley Bonds: Orvis Sigler was an extraordinary person. It was a blessing to know him.

  7. From Dr. Bob Haley: Fine job on Orvis' eulogy. I wasn't close to him, but I always enjoyed my time with him.
    I thought he became a valuable civic resource, especially in the sporting scene, which was a plus in the area's quality of life.
    Have you been designated Resident Eulogist? I find that task a tough one. It is an honor, but emotional.

  8. I attended a basketball camp at Centenary in 1965. Coach told my father that I needed contact lenses because my glasses kept getting broken battling for rebounds. My dad agreed, got contact lenses that evening and the rest is history: lettered two years at Byrd (66-68) and four years (69-73) at La Tech. He taught me that basketball is played "between your ears, as much as with your hands and feet!"

    Dale Van Bibber came over to Byrd, between my Jr. an Sr. year, to work with me on playing the post position and rebounding. Great guy and mentor.
    I attended Byrd with Sally Sigler -- a wonderful lady.

    Great job Nico!