This is the second in a series of highlights by UL of the 2018 Louisiana Athletics Hall of Fame Class.
By: DAN McDONALD
It was only fitting that Tiffany Clark Gusman found out about her selection to the Louisiana Athletics Hall of Fame in front of a crowd. After all, she wowed the rabid softball fan base at UL’s Lamson Park for four years with her hitting ability.
This time, though, the crowd consisted of her eighth-grade class at Earhart Middle School in Riverside, Calif., last month, when the school principal and her husband – former Ragin’ Cajun baseball player Dan Gusman – walked into her classroom to hand her a cell phone and make a surprise announcement.
“I had no idea what was going on and the class didn’t know what was going on,” Clark Gusman said. “I only remember (Hall of Fame committee member) Ken Meyers saying he wanted to congratulate me for being in the Hall of Fame, while my husband explained it to the class. The principal then got on the intercom to the whole school, and you could hear the rest of the building erupt.”
Cheers were nothing unusual during Clark Gusman’s Cajun career, one that made her one of only a handful of three-time All-America selections by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association and made her the very first Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year when the league began softball in her 2000 senior season.
Almost two decades later, she still holds the school record for career hits (288) in a storied program that has had more than its share of standout hitters. That alone was good enough for selection into the Louisiana Athletics Hall of Fame, with her induction part of the university’s Homecoming activities this week.
Clark Gusman will be honored along with fellow former student-athletes Damon Mason (football), Anna Petrakova (women’s basketball) and Scott Dohmann (baseball), and Lifetime Achievement recipients Yvette Girouard (softball) and Gerald Hebert (administration) as the newest Hall of Fame members.
The group will be inducted into the Louisiana Athletics Hall of Fame on Friday at an evening reception, will be honored during the university’s annual Homecoming parade Saturday morning, and recognized during halftime activities of Saturday’s Homecoming game against New Mexico State at Cajun Field.
It didn’t appear that way, especially after Clark Gusman’s first year when she was the Sun Belt’s Freshman of the Year, but the San Bernardino, Calif., native was the epitome of a late bloomer. She never played softball until she was 14, and three years later she had a scholarship offer from Cajun coach Yvette Girouard – who herself is a Hall of Fame honoree this year.
“In that short amount of time, I’m hitting in front of someone like Stephanie DeFeo and playing with an All-American in Lana Jimenez,” Clark Gusman said. “It was Girouard that built my confidence in hitting. Putting a freshman in the three hole, that’s a huge statement she’s making, not only to me but everybody else.
“Girouard and I have a very special bond. Being all the way from California, I relied on her a lot.”
That lineup move turned out to be a solid one. Clark Gusman became the state’s Freshman of the Year that first season, a year that the Cajuns hosted UCLA in the NCAA Regionals. The Cajuns lost that best-of-three matchup, but Clark Gusman never forgot the opportunity to play a legendary program located an hour from her hometown.
“Going up against a UCLA team I never thought I’d get to play, being from California, I remember beating UCLA and what a thrill that was,” she said. “I made such a great choice by coming here. The people, the fans … the one thing I remember and the first thing I think of is that field. Being an outfielder, all I can think of is that green grass and that red wall.”
That wall took some shots off Clark Gusman’s bat. Before she was done, she rewrote the career record book with then-marks for runs scored (200), RBI (203), doubles (63), batting average (.391), total bases (468), extra base hits (106) and walks (100). She started 239 of a possible 240 games in her four-year career on the way to winning the three All-Regional and All-America honors.
“I never minded putting in extra hours hitting,” she said, “but I knew I had a ways to go as an outfielder. That’s where I had to put in a lot of extra hours and really had to focus on.”
She also had the honor of playing on Girouard’s final four Cajun teams, before the Hall of Fame coach accepted the head position at LSU following the 2000 season.
“Somewhere in the back of my mind I thought, she better not leave me,” Clark Gusman said. “She was so instrumental. After I graduated and she went to LSU, I was just so thankful that she was there to the end for me.”
Clark Gusman taught and coached for two years at Crowley High, during which time she and Gusman were married. The two then returned to their California home state, and Clark Gusman has been teaching at Earhart since that time. But she has a whole wall of Cajun memorabilia hanging in that classroom, including one of her All-America plaques, as a reminder of her collegiate days.
“My husband’s old jersey, my jersey, they’re up there so the kids are very familiar with it,” she said. “That’s why they knew exactly what that announcement meant to me. They were all coming up and telling me how awesome it is.”
The Gusmans hadn’t journeyed back to South Louisiana since that 2003 move – until last summer when they made a return visit with 10-year-old daughter Gianna in tow.
“I wanted to bring her back to show her around,” Clark Gusman said, “but my husband and I both came back so fulfilled from that trip. We met a lot of the softball people and had some get-togethers, but the best part was driving to the field. I got out of the car and I just started crying … it was just such a cool feeling.”