Mentors and games all come together this week – Crescent City Sports

Jerry Pierce
Jerry Pearce died this week at the age of 83.

NEW ORLEANS – Several news stories — one positive and one sad — in the last seven days brought back some memories this week.

First the positive news.

For the first time since 1949, the ranked Tulane football team will host another ranked team on Saturday when the No. 17 College Football Playoff-ranked Green Wave take on No. 22 UCF at Yulman Stadium at 2:30 p.m. The American Athletic Conference Championships are in play.

ML Lagarde would have been a student at Tulane in November 1949 when the No. 10 Green Wave hosted No. 13 LSU for the Southeastern Conference Championship.

He certainly didn’t like the Tigers’ 21-0 win that day at old Tulane Stadium. One can’t help but wonder what the football campus is thinking now that it’s back and flourishing under Willie Fritz.

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ML would become a Tulane lifer – covering the Times-Picayune staff and joining the administrative staff as sports information director in 1974, eventually rising to assistant and assistant coaching positions. While at the university, he handled countless tasks, from managing facilities to massaging the political landscape to running the athletic department’s courtesy car program.

About 40 years ago, he hired this teenage girl in his department and started a lifelong pursuit of sports.

Before his death in 2011, ML received numerous honors including the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism and induction into the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame.

In 1984, he was the second recipient of the Louisiana Sportswriters Association’s annual Mack Russo Award, given “to someone who has contributed to the advancement, ideals and friendships of the NFL.” (More on this in a moment.)

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Which brings me to the sad news of the week.

On Tuesday we learned of the death of Jerry Pearce, whose name, while not as big in New Orleans as it is in Natchitoches, is still significant across the state.

You see, Pierce was the man responsible for bringing the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame to our state’s oldest city in 1972. He provided space at Northwestern State University’s Prater Coliseum to host exhibits for more than 40 years, and finally in 2013, a permanent home for the auditorium was completed on the banks of the Seine River. He deservedly earned the nickname of Hall of Fame father.

Reading the long list of career accomplishments of Pierce, a Northwestern graduate, lifer, sportswriter, athletic and university director, friend and mentor to many, brought me back to my teacher.

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But there were more connections.

Both loved tennis. Pearce played until her last years, while Lagarde had to give up the game due to a heart condition at a young age.

In 1983, he became the first recipient of the Pierce McRusso Award.

Another case could be that Northwestern has a chance to win Saturday’s Southland Conference championship in Hammond, just hours after Pierce’s funeral in Natchitoches and 90 minutes after the Tulane-UCF Uptown showdown. The Devils face southeast Louisiana.

Maybe, just maybe, both the Green Wave and the Devils will win. And ML Lagarde and Jerry Pearce can smile and maybe share a toast.

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