This is the third of a six-part series on the 2018 Louisiana Athletics Hall of Fame Class.
By: DAN McDONALD
With all of his involvement in Ragin’ Cajun athletics, and his leadership role in so many Acadiana-area sports events over more than four decades, it’s sometimes forgotten that Gerald Hebert was a pretty good baseball player.
He was a two-time All-State pitcher in his hometown at Abbeville High, and followed that with two solid seasons after walking onto the then-USL program. Shortly afterward, his four consecutive weekend shutouts in a semi-pro league caught the attention of the New York Mets organization, where he spent the next six years pitching.
If it weren’t for the rest of his body starting to rebel, he’d probably still be throwing a baseball somewhere, working with a youth team or a summer organization.
“I never had an arm problem,” Hebert said.
Those early years, especially his time with the Ragin’ Cajuns, provided a form of motivation that Cajun student-athletes may not even know about, but from which they’ve been benefiting for many years.
During Hebert’s Cajun career, the baseball team – and frankly, the athletic program in general – wasn’t blessed with the resources that current Louisiana teams enjoy. The squad played on a makeshift field located behind Earl K. Long Gym, at the site of the current architecture building.
“There wasn’t much interest at the time,” he said. “It was pretty much a lack of everything, equipment, uniforms. We had two old sets of portable bleachers that maybe held 75 people. I remember H. O. Roy and “Tigue” Moore sitting under an oak tree on the third base line watching because there wasn’t much place to sit.”
Those facility and equipment shortages pushed Hebert to make things better for athletes and coaches who came later, and it’s for those efforts that Hebert is being honored with selection into the Louisiana Athletics Hall of Fame. His induction as a Lifetime Achievement honoree is part of the university’s Homecoming activities this week.
Hebert will be honored along with fellow Lifetime Achievement recipient Yvette Girouard (softball) and former student-athletes Damon Mason (football), Anna Petrakova (women’s basketball), Tiffany Clark Gusman (softball) and Scott Dohmann (baseball) 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.
Hebert’s goals to make life better for Cajun student-athletes included his service as athletic development director since 2002 and an affiliated major role in the formation of the Ragin’ Cajuns Athletic Foundation (RCAF) that raises funds for all UL sports.
He was also instrumental in the development of the university’s Athletics Facilities Master Plan, a $115 million project that was rolled out in early 2013. Since that time, his work with major donors has aided with upgrades to Cajun Field and the Ragin’ Cajun Soccer/Track Facility, a total renovation of M. L. “Tigue” Moore Field at Russo Park and the construction of the state-of-the-art Donald and Janice Mosing Student-Athlete Performance Center.
Ironically, though, a man who spent much of his life around baseball is best known in Acadiana for his work with a basketball entity. Hebert single-handedly founded the movement that resulted in the LHSAA’s Top 28 boys state basketball tournament moving to the Cajundome in 1997 and eventually making that tournament a runaway success during a storied 15-year run.
“The schools were actually losing money by making the Top 28,” Hebert said. “They had to pay for everything and they got nothing. I asked people what they thought about moving it to the Cajundome, and they laughed at me. I took that as a challenge.”
A year later, the tournament was in Lafayette, Hebert was the tournament director, and before that run was over, 12 of the 16 highest-attended Top 28’s in history came with Hebert overseeing the operation. At its peak, over 69,000 high school basketball fans were in attendance for the week-long tournament.
“It was everything in a tournament that we had ever hoped for,” said then-LHSAA commissioner Tommy Henry. “So often, it’s ‘here’s the keys to the arena, turn off the lights when you’re done.’ With Gerald, he’s there making it happen. He got the whole community involved. For us, it was a dream come true.”
Hebert was honored a few years ago as the state’s “Mr. Basketball” by the Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches for those efforts. He did play basketball as a high school student, but baseball was his first love and where his talents were best shown. And he’d still rather talk baseball than anything else.
“I had three games my freshman year that I went into the eighth or ninth innings with no-hitters,” he said. “The third game of that season (1963) I pitched against Cecil Upshaw (later a major league standout) at Centenary and we beat him 2-1. My first at-bat I doubled off the right-field fence, and I didn’t get a hit the rest of the season.
“Nobody paid much attention, but we had some really good teams. Sonny Roy and Sam Scelfo were the coaches, Harry Stelly came from Opelousas where Mel Didier had coached him in high school and he was a ‘finished’ pitcher when he got here. We had Leonard and Lionel Kleinpeter, Leslie O’Neal, John Jeffcoat. It was a great group.”
If only that group had the resources that current Cajun athletic teams enjoy. Hebert remembers those times, and that’s what keeps him going.