Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Fletcher Articles

For The Shreveport Times
Date night in Haynesville Online Version
By: Tim Fletcher

Pulling into Haynesville this foggy, Friday night, there is no need for signs directing us to Red Franklin-Memorial Stadium.  Above the pine trees we spot a glowing, vapory mushroom-stadium lights limited in reach by the low hanging clouds.

Pulling off the main highway, nosing toward the shining mist, we curve around the neighborhood that hugs the stadium.  Yards and houses decorated with Christmas lights serve as the 12th man, welcoming us to a place that is home for Golden Tornado football and their faithful following.

To our left, the stadium appears, crystal clear as the fog drifts upward above the lights.

“How beautiful,” my wife, a first time visitor to the stadium gasps.
“Do you want me to let you off near the stadium?”
“No.  I’ll walk.”

There is no parking spot close-by less than twenty-minutes before kickoff. Especially tonight: State semifinal pitting the second-seeded Tors against the #3 seed West St. John Rams.

Three minutes later, parked close enough to the Arkansas state line to hear a hog call, we make the trek. 

Aly voiced her only regret of the night, “I should have gotten out earlier.”

While I grabbed a pair of tickets, Aly was already chatting up the cheerleaders and clutching our soon-to-be well-used game program.

We entered the stadium visiting with our friend, Kevin, who also made the trip. “My neighbor is a Haynesville alum and I’ve been telling him that I wanted to go to a game one day. What better game than Number 2 vs. Number 3?”

Kevin was decked out with a black cowboy hat, gold long-sleeve shirt over a black t-shirt.
Aly had a gold fleece jacket over a black t-shirt.  I wore a black sweatshirt. 
Three out-of-towners appeared on the doorstep of north Louisiana’s football kingdom dressed appropriately. 

Once inside, Aly said, “I forgot to bring something to dry off the bleachers.”  A lady three rows back handed us a garbage back to sit on. Family looks out for family.

Quick demographic check of those surrounding us: White, black, old, young, male, female, repeat.

Blood-type: black and gold.

On come the Tors! Bursting through the paper sign, third-and-fourth generation Golden Tors experience the magical transformation from an unknown chanting, bobbing mass to “our boys”, hell-bent on doing their daddies, brothers, uncles and grandpas proud by punching their ticket to a 24th state championship game.

It didn’t take long for the elements to make its presence felt.  Haynesville’s first of nearly ten fumbles ended a promising drive at the Rams 30 yard line.  The Tors’ defense clamped down on the visitors from south Louisiana throughout the early portion of the game, limiting the Rams to -1 yard on their first 12 plays. 

Public Address announcer Tommy Franklin (Red’s son and head coach David’s younger brother) voiced his genuine concern for the visitors with specific instructions on the location of the women’s restroom, the men’s restroom, the visitors’ concession stand as well as the gumbo hut near the home concession stand.  He banged the drum for the voters in the crowd to hit the booth on Saturday---an important millage for the school system is on the ballot. 

On the final drive of the first half the Rams found traction in the Claiborne parish muck.  Lamore Boudoin (Franklin pronounced it Boo-DAN… I would have done the same. He’s a south Louisiana kid for crying out loud) gained 11 yards; the Rams sent another running back on the same path and he chewed up 13 yards.  The home crowd yelled. They rattled their two-liter bottles filled with beans. A cowbell clanged from up above us.  Nothing worked. On 4th and goal from the 1-yard line, Boudoin balled into the end zone. The Rams grabbed a 7-0 halftime lead.

‘Preacher Man,’ a frequent caller to our radio show found us at the half telling us he wasn’t worried. “David says, or does something at halftime that transforms those boys.  He’ll drop a dang-it and a durn-it but that’s as bad as it gets.”

Led by star quarterback, Kendrick Jackson, the Tors had some fire in their bellies in the third quarter. The hulking 240-pounder will be a linebacker on Saturdays but he is the heart and soul of the offense on Fridays.

He has plenty of help though. Keandre Harris narrowed his body to squeeze through a small crease and then jetted toward the Haynesville sideline. 18 yards later a Ram defender banged him out of bounds into the roux of mud and sweat beneath the Tors cleats.  That play is what turned the tide. 

The octogenarian school-teacher, who has enjoyed the same box seats for decades near midfield clapped in delight. The crowd roared their approval as Harris slid, belly-side up clutching the ball like he was rescuing the pigskin from a burning building. When he stood up, the “44” on the back of his jersey was a secret, hidden by layers of muck.

Harris punctuated the drive on a touchdown gallop that looked like a carbon copy of his mud run, minus the gleeful slide. Success on the 2-point try turned the scoreboard into a hometown delight with the Tors on top 8-7.

Demarcian McCutcheon’s 80-yard lightning bolt early in the 4th quarter featured a stutter step in front of the Haynesville bench that froze a Ram like a set of high-beams.  It provided just enough breathing room when McCutcheon geared back up to stave off the defender.  More bottle-shaking, cowbell-clanging and shrieks of joy. 

West St. John cut the lead to one with a score on their next drive but a heavy dose of Harris, Kendrick Jackson and James Jackson left the guests on the short end of the 26-13 decision. 

Our well-worn program, with dollops of chili dog, Sprite, rain and mud, will serve as a constant reminder of a night under the lights in beautiful Haynesville, Louisiana.  We arrived as guests but were leaving as brethren.

We began to stand when a larger than life cowboy sat on Aly’s purse, pushed back his big black hat and engaged us.  “When you showed up, I mentioned how other schools in Shreveport get the ink and attention.  I said y’all didn’t cover us enough.  I’m just proud of these kids and these coaches. Here in Haynesville, we do things right. Have y’all seen ‘Dances With Wolves?”

This caught me off guard, “Uh, sure.”
“’Do you see that I am your friend? Can you see that you will always be my friend?’ Do you see that this is what football is about? Do you see it’s not about recruiting, it’s bringing together kids that grow up here, live here and play in your hometown.”

This Golden Tor devotee and local attorney, Jack Slaid obviously knew how to drive home a point and left us with a smile and a handshake.

Aly and I strode out of the stadium, arm-in-arm, relishing our time with company that knows no strangers. In the dimly lit area where we parked, a young man who was next to our vehicle asked quietly, “Sir. You interested…”

I didn’t quite understand him. 

“We have turkey legs for $8 and sausage for $2.  You interested?”

The grill was still smoking with meat as I saddled next to his tailgate. Presented hand sanitizer, a loaf of white bread and a bin of steaming hot sausage, I handed the man $5; sanitized my hands, grabbed four slices of bread and two sausages. 

The night, complete with entertainment, friends and dinner, was a success.

Fletcher Articles

For The Shreveport Times
Dak Prescott You gotta have faith
By: Tim Fletcher

Dak Prescott was on top of the college football world midway through the 2014 season.  

The Haughton High School alum and Mississippi State quarterback had performed at a level that pushed his name to the forefront of Heisman Trophy talk and his teams’ play landed them atop the College Football Playoff rankings. 

But then, Alabama happened. The Dogs dropped from the top spot and Dak’s name disappeared from Heisman discussion.  

Two weeks later, Ole Miss took it to MSU, ending any hope of a slot in the first college football playoff among the Football Bowl Subdivision. 

Where is the motivation at this point? What drives Dak when lofty goals, close enough to lower the helmet and bull through, disappear? The same place it’s been for over a year now.

He looks to his wrist. 

“I tape my wrists before games and before practice,” Dak explained. “I simply write ‘Faith’ on there for the faith that my mom showed me; the relationship we built from the faith we had and my faith in God. I write another little note that changes every day based on how I’m feeling. ‘I miss’ her, or, ‘I love’ her. I’ll write something like that on there.  But I talk to her through the day. It’s just something that makes me feel better, knowing she’s right there listening. She’s with me in everything I do—the good and the bad.”

Dak and his brothers Tad and Jace, lost their driving force in life, Peggy Prescott last fall when their mother succumbed to cancer.  Peggy drove the boys to succeed at any task attempted.  As a single mom, it was her duty to push hard rather than always coddle them.  But she was still a Mom---a caring, loving, Mom whose presence is greatly missed.

“Mostly during the hard times,” Dak said. “The easy times it’s easy to have people around you. When we’re winning, having success… of course I wish she was there and could celebrate with me in physical form; to see her smile and listen to her tell me how much she loves me and how proud she is of me; but through the hard times, she’s the one that I would talk to. After losses or after something bad happens, she would make me feel better. In situations like that, I talk to her in my head and feel her the most.”

Peggy must have been smiling ear-to-ear on September 20th.  That’s the night Dak and the Bulldogs pulled back the curtain in Baton Rouge, revealing just how dangerous they could be.  He ran for 105 yards and a score and blistered the Tiger secondary for 268 yards and a pair of touchdowns.  Prescott’s humility prevented him from saying, ‘How ya’ like me now?’ but it was noticeably enjoyable.

“To be able to beat LSU like that in Death Valley, in front of friends and family as well as people who don’t normally watch me because they’re usually watching LSU...for them to watch me as well as the team I play for was special.”

Making it even sweeter for Prescott? LSU’s recruitment of the home-grown talent was awkward from the start.  “Early in the recruiting process, they were trying to recruit me as an athlete I went down to the camp and they put me in at tight end for a route or two. That really pushed me away from them. They came around later saying they wanted me to play quarterback, but still knowing they could easily switch and put me in a different position.”

Mississippi State head coach, Dan Mullen never wavered with the decision to keep the physically imposing Prescott at quarterback.  That choice helped MSU win their final three games of 2013, including the Egg Bowl, as well as enjoy unprecedented success this season.  The coach’s faith in Prescott also helped make Mullen a popular name to drop during conversations about head coaching vacancies around the country.  Dak’s not buying what “sources” are selling.

“Coach Mullen loves Starkville and what he’s doing with this program. It’s his program. I don’t see him leaving. He wants to be the best coach in Mississippi State history.”

Dak has faith in his coach to remain with the Cowbell Clanging Crew…will Dak be back for a final run with the Dogs? He graduated earlier this month with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Psychology and Physical Training.  His skill set certainly fits what NFL teams like to see from the position.  However, there is the possibility the 2015 Bulldogs could be better than this batch.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys that didn’t play or saw minimal reps that will come in and get better. We’re a talented team with a bunch of underrated freaks that can gets things done and win in this conference.”

“Underrated Freak” is a way to describe what Haughton head coach Rodney Guin and his Buccaneer coaching staff helped create in 2009 and 2010.  Only TCU joined LSU and MSU with scholarship offers from a “Power 5” team.

Guin was much more than a molder of football talent, though. Without a father around on a regular basis, Guin grew into the role for Dak and remains there to this day.   “

He’s always been there, even before I started playing for Haughton High because of the relationship I built with him when he coached my two older brothers. He’s everything a young man needs in his life; just being the great man he is today, that gives me and others a standard to live by.”

Imagine the feeling for Prescott, months after losing his mother when he found out his high school coach and role model suffered a massive heart attack.

“It was shocking, mind-blowing. I immediately tried to contact his family and the other coaches to see what was going on. The condition he was in when I got the news wasn’t comforting. Knowing the person he is, I never lost faith that he would fight through it and make a full recovery.”

This past season, when Mississippi State bounded off the bus at Davis-Wade Stadium on game day and made their way to the locker room through the crowd as part of their game-day ritual, Prescott had his eyes peeled for one man in the throng to deliver a bear-hug: Rodney Guin.

“That’s just the hug of love and being proud and thankful for the moment and thankful to him for helping me get to this position.  Being able to give him a hug to say, “thank you,” before I go play the game that I love.  He actually helped me get to this university…that’s a special moment each time I get to do that on the Dog Walk.”

The special moments on the field make an incredible highlight tape. The special moments from life make a message on a piece of tape around Dak Prescott’s wrists, the highlight of his day.

Fletcher Articles

For The Shreveport Times
Chief reasons for departure
By: Tim Fletcher

It seemed strange, those reports and rumors that wafted our way from Baton Rouge a few weeks ago.  LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis was being courted by Auburn and Texas A&M to handle the same duties on The Plains or in Aggieland. 

Tiger fans were curious, but not worried.

“Why would he leave future NFL studs and a comfortable situation for either of those?”

“Chief (Chavis’ nickname, owing to his Native American heritage) loves Les and LSU.  He is not going to start over from scratch… especially in the same division of the SEC!”

When Auburn unloaded a truck full of money at deposed Florida coach Will Muschamp’s front door, one rumor stream was dammed up.

Reports of an unsigned contract extension lying on Chavis’ desk in Baton Rouge persisted, even though other assistant coaches on Les Miles staff signed their deals. 

The imagination soared with the possibilities:
*Did Les sneak into Chief’s office each morning and place the contract extension on top of the stack of papers on his defensive coordinator’s desk?
*Did Les have his assistant ‘buzz’ the Chief on an hourly basis to remind him of ‘Some important paperwork he needs to sign”?
*Was there a homemade sign in the men’s room near the coaches offices: “Employees must wash hands before returning to work, where its pertinent you must sign any contract extension”?
*When Chavis walked out to his vehicle after the workday was over, was the contract extension held in place on the windshield by a wiper, like a Tent Revival invitation?

As the Tigers prepared for Notre Dame, the contract extension remained lonely, unsigned, presumably gathering dust.  The team departed for Nashville and the Music City Bowl. The contract, like Kevin from “Home Alone,” a forgotten puzzle piece left behind to fend for itself.

Game Day arrived.  December 30th… Chavis and his charges would take down Notre Dame and he would sign the contract extension during a victorious celebration in the Tigers locker room!

First things first. Destroy the Fighting Irish! “Let’s goooooo!!!” We all, in spirit, run onto the field with the Chief… wait.
Chief spends the game in the coaches box, not on the sideline. We tone it down and wait patiently for the elevator to escort us, spiritually, to the coaches quarters high in the sky. This is where we will witness Chief’s intelligently designed defense throttling a quarterback making the first start of his career.

(Fast forward three-and-a-half-hours later).

Whew! That escalated quickly. 

How in the world did Notre Dame rack up 450 yards of offense with a redshirt freshman quarterback? 11 for 17 on third downs? Was Chief’s plan to “tackle poorly” and “leave receivers more open than Texas A&M’s checkbook”?

During the game, reports from Baton Rouge indicated Chavis-to-Texas A&M was a done deal.  The questions after the 31-28 loss to Notre Dame steered toward Chavis’ employment status, not the results of the just-completed Music City Bowl. Chavis insisted he only wanted to talk about the game.

Why? If I’m standing in his school-paid-for-Nikes, I am willing to talk politics, religion, in-laws… anything but that train-wreck of a defensive effort.  

Eventually, Chavis grew a tad testy when the Aggie inquiries continued, “I’ve said three or four times, I wasn’t going to talk about that. I’m going to be nice…but at some point, I can be an ugly ass and I don’t want to be that tonight, so I’m not going to be that. Thank you.”

A)     What a great line to use in a debate for future Presidential, Gubernatorial, Mayoral candidates.

B)      Chief. You’re leaving behind a treasure-trove of talent at LSU, working for a man who sure seems like a good guy to have as a boss.  You have little competition to refill the talent pool, outside of Alabama’s regular raid of northeast Louisiana and the occasional I-10 corridor export outside the state.  You were making $1,300,000 per year to coach football---and that’s it. No banquets; no media obligations; just coach.

C)      Answer the darn questions.

On Wednesday, Chavis touched down in Texas, stepping off a private jet wearing nifty cowboy boots, joined by A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin.  The only thing missing from this cliché’ was Chavis carrying “Reveille” under one arm while whistling the Aggie War Hymn.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Chavis said, “I’m excited to play with a great offense, and certainly looking forward to helping the defense get better.”


Now he answers questions!  A “great offense” and a $200,000 salary bump in 2015 is all that it took to pry him away. That increase could turn into a $200,000 deficit if LSU gets its way by making Chavis pay a $400,000 buyout.

LSU will hire a solid defensive coordinator to replace Chavis, whose defense was often highly rated and feared.  We will soon see if it was his “X’s and O’s” or the Jimmies and Joes that deserve the bulk of the credit.

Hopefully Tiger fans wish Chavis well in his new venture.  However, more than anything they would prefer LSU extend the recent dominance over the Aggies, this time at Chavis’ peril.

A little advice for you Chief… you may want to cure your talented defensive end from crashing inside on every read-option.  Also, the grass isn’t always greener on the other sideline---and it sure doesn’t taste as good.

Ask Les.

Fletcher Articles

For The Shreveport Times
Holtz and Louisiana Tech hope lightning strikes twice with another transfer at quarterback
By: Tim Fletcher

Quarterback Jeff Driskel was named Gatorade High School Player of the Year for the state of Florida in 2010.  “He was a man among boys. He ran all over them and threw it where he wanted,” former Bright House Sports Network (Tampa/Orlando) anchor Joe Girvan recalled.

Somewhere between that award winning senior season at Oviedo Hearty High School (Fla.) and his transfer from the University of Florida to Louisiana Tech this past week, the Jeff Driskel career arc went from “can’t miss” to “what happened”?

Driskel committed to Florida when Urban Meyer was still the head coach and Steve Adagio the offensive coordinator. The pigskin hierarchy changed when Meyer resigned for health reasons and the Gators brought in Will Duchamp as head coach and Charlie Weis as the offensive coordinator, the first of three play-callers during Driskel’s time in Gainesville.  

None were able to squeeze 5-star play from the former 5-star prospect.

In 2012, as a “good game manager,” Girvan said, “who handed off to a stable of running backs,” the Gators won 11 games before losing to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl.

Driskel’s 2013 season was cut short after three games when he suffered a broken leg against Tennessee. This past season, Driskel posted numbers that kept LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings out of the cellar among SEC quarterback ratings.   

When asked if he thought Driskel could turn things around at Louisiana Tech during his one shot with the Bulldogs in 2015, Girvan replied, “Based on what I saw, I don’t believe there is much upside there.” 

Skip Holtz and Louisiana Tech disagree.

In 2014, University of Iowa transfer Cody Sokol led Tech to a Conference USA West division title, 9-wins and a thumping of Illinois in the Heart of Dallas Bowl in his one shot to be a Bulldog.  Holtz believes lightning can strike twice with the 6’4”, 240 pound Driskel.

“Jeff is such a classy individual and you read his statement on his departure from Florida and you see that he can’t say a negative word about anyone or anything,” Holtz said.  “He’s a very humble, classy young man. He runs extremely well, throws it well, been there and done that in a big arena.”

A quarterback with wins in Neyland Stadium, Kyle Field and Doak Walker Stadium probably won’t be blown away by the Rice Stadium environment.

Driskel also proved, after asking for his release from Florida, that the re-recruitment process wasn’t going to overwhelm him. Despite overtures from several schools, including Power 5 programs, Driskel chose Louisiana Tech.

“I know how things are,” Driskel said Friday. “I’ve been in a big-time college football program and understand where people are coming from, rather than being blown away by a weight room or locker room.  Coach Holtz has a good heart, is a good person and values people. I’m excited and I know coach and the staff are excited about me, so I think it’s going to be a really good fit.”

Holtz struck out trying to land Driskel back in 2010 when he was South Florida’s head coach. He wasn’t going to waste a second chance.  The night of the Conference USA Championship Game, “I had him on the phone,” Holtz said.  “He said to me, ‘Coach, I don’t know a lot about Louisiana Tech right now, but the next time we talk on the phone, you won’t have that advantage on me.”

Driskel did his homework on the Bulldogs, watched the bowl game and came away impressed. “They tried to get Kenneth Dixon touches, whether it was him carrying the ball or catching it out of the backfield.  They’re trying to build their team around players, mold the offense around the players. I talked to Cody and he spoke highly of the program and said he really enjoyed it. That was a big factor for me.”

The starting job won’t be handed to the Florida transfer this spring. Ryan Higgins, Price Wilson and Alex Woodall will do all they can to land the top spot on the depth chart. Sokol, in the same boat last year that Driskel is climbing into, advised the newcomer to, “Work hard and the players will welcome you.”

Drafted and signed by the Boston Red Sox in 2013, baseball is a solid plan “B” for Driskel.  “In the contract I signed, there is a five-year period I can come back and play. If I ever want to go back, they have a spot for me but my goal is to be an NFL player and I think that path goes through Louisiana Tech.”

So, he fulfilled his promise to learn more about Tech.  When it comes to his soon-to-be-adopted hometown of Ruston, Driskel is still in the dark.

“I googled it; went on google images to see if there was a downtown and see what it’s like. It looks like a small town but from what I’ve heard, it’s a hunting community. I’m going hunting today, so it’s something I can look forward to and maybe meet some people who will let me on their lease.”
Skip Holtz has already issued one lease to Driskel… a lease on a fresh start after a bumpy finish in Gainesville.

Fletcher Articles

For The Shreveport Times
Up From The Bottoms
By: Tim Fletcher

This is the story of a man from The Bottoms who made it to the top.

Shreveport native, Billy Thomas is the best in the Missouri Class 3 High School basketball coaching business and he has the paperwork to back it up.  After guiding The Barstow School to the Class 3 State Title earlier this month in his fifth year at the helm, Thomas was notified Friday morning that he had won the Coach of the Year award.

Former Loyola Flyers head basketball coach Brock Kantrow remembers the day he witnessed soft butter in sneakers.   It was when Billy Thomas stepped into Loyola’s band-box of a gymnasium off Jordan Street as a skinny 8th grader and rained jumper, after jumper, after jumper…after jumper.  With four twine-ticklers in four attempts, Kantrow turned to Thomas and said, “Okay. We’re good.”

That exhibition turned into the launching pad for Thomas’ basketball odyssey.

There was assistance along the way…from extremely different cultures and personalities. But everyone had the same goal in mind: Protect Billy Thomas. Enlighten Billy Thomas. Provide Billy Thomas a better world from the one he grew up in.

His journey actually started on a slab of concrete with twin aluminum spires and rusty rims off Fannin Street in Ledbetter Heights; moved to Loyola; wound over the hallowed hardwood of Phog Allen Fieldhouse at the University of Kansas; slowly made its way to the NBA and currently idles at The Barstow School in Kansas City, Missouri.

“I was telling my players and parents right after we won the championship, ‘this ranks up there with any accomplishment I’ve had.’“, Thomas said.

Thomas grew up in an area of Shreveport known for crime and poverty, especially during the tumultuous 80’s and 90’s, when violence was the common denominator shared block to block. 

“We were extremely close to gunfire every night,” Thomas recalled. “Especially in summertime.  A lot of violence but the kids were protected for the most part. Seriously, it was survival mode.  Most of the guys did what they had to do to survive.”

Thomas survived, but never succumbed to what Kantrow called, ‘the dark side.’  The men who ruled the neighborhood back then with an iron fist made sure Thomas never followed their path. 

Chip Naus, a local attorney and Loyola (then Jesuit) graduate, met Thomas through his volunteer work at “The Lighthouse,” a community center that offers after-school tutoring and mentoring to children in economically distressed areas of Shreveport and Bossier City.

“I remember a lot of the kids in his community that he was friends with, they were selling drugs,” Naus said. “That was their easiest way to income. There were a lot more selling drugs than working at McDonalds. But they didn’t want Billy selling, they wanted him to make it out. A friend of his, Alfred “Goat” Brown, even helped support Billy financially.”

“Goat”, one of the infamous Bottom Boyz spent 17 years, 1 month and 18 days in federal prison for his role with the notorious Ledbetter area gang.  Released and doing well in Shreveport with his wife and children, the “Goat” recalls, with a chuckle in his voice, a scrawny Billy Thomas attempting to hang with the older guys on the playground basketball court.

“We didn’t play around with him on the court. We told him, ‘You don’t get nothing soft down here.’  There was no friendship on that court. ‘You love basketball? Let’s see how much you love it!’ He would come in and battle,” Brown said.

Thomas remembers those skirmishes well. “I was the youngest guy allowed to play with them. I couldn’t call a foul even though they pushed and shoved me around.”  He was 15 years old when he started proving his worth on the court to his neighborhood peers. “The guys I played against were 24, 25… some were 35 years old.”

Goat said, “We would argue during a dice game or on the basketball court but the love would return right after that.  Everybody loved the people down there. I could have lived anywhere in the city, hung out in any neighborhood.  I chose to always stay in The Bottoms.”

Thomas, whose mother and sisters still live in town, attended the school of hard knocks in his neighborhood but Naus and Melissa Flournoy, who ran The Lighthouse at the time, had other ideas for Thomas and his friends in the neighborhood in terms of their real education.  

“I was a part of the Lighthouse before I was known to be a decent basketball player,” Thomas said. The center provided a port in the sometimes stormy life for children in The Bottoms. “We had things at The Lighthouse that we didn’t have at home. Quiet and peaceful time to play basketball and go swimming, to do arts and crafts; to feel the warmth and love from the volunteers; having quiet and peaceful times compared to life outside those doors. What you didn’t have at home, they had inside.”

While Thomas benefitted from the kindness of strangers who have since become lifetime friends, his connections at home were forming a protective bubble as well.

“I took care of him like he was my kid,” Goat said of Thomas, eighteen years his junior. “We’d go shopping and I’d tell Billy, ‘Whatever you need, get it. You ain’t never going to sell no drugs. I don’t want you involved in none of that.”

Flournoy had high praise for the man whose criminal activities belied his personal endeavors. “Goat looked out for Billy in the streets. Goat wasn’t going to let anybody hurt him. Goat made sure Billy didn’t do anything wrong. He has a good heart and is a good man who took care of a lot of kids and helped more people in that neighborhood than I did. He made sure a lot of people of had food on the table”

In order to fully escape the clutches of crime, though, those close to Thomas felt he needed a clean start in high school.  A number of his neighborhood friends had already knuckled under the pressure to deal drugs and resorted to a life that inevitably sent them to prison or an early grave.

Thomas said, “I thought I was going to high school with my friends, but they were looking for other options for me. It had nothing to do with the school I was going to attend, they just wanted me to go to a school with people who thought about having a future.”

By twist of fate, that school ended up being Loyola.

During his 8th grade year, Thomas needed a ride to the Linwood Middle School sports banquet, so Flournoy served as his chauffeur.  Upon arrival, she struck up a conversation with Linda Day, the schools’ principal along with the grandmother of Allamont Bates, Thomas’ good friend at Linwood.  Bates’ grandmother wanted him to attend Loyola, which led to a discussion of keeping the boys together at the private school with a hefty tuition.  With financial assistance from Naus and friends, Thomas was able to join Bates at Loyola.

The day Flournoy took him to get a school uniform, Thomas hid in the store, only coaxed out by some of the older guys in the neighborhood who convinced him to go with her. “I can’t believe he told you that story,” Flournoy said.  “He was so embarrassed.”

Upon arrival for his first day at Loyola, Thomas discovered the school was nothing like what his imagination had painted. “The students were nice, they were kind. Sports was also the great equalizer for me. What I lacked materialistically, I made up for it on the field.”

Thomas starred on the football field but served as an attendance magnet in basketball. He averaged over 24 points per game in four years as a Flyer but was unsure about his collegiate future during his senior year.  Two events sharpened his senses and cleared the cobwebs.

“It’s my senior year and I’m sitting in my car and I hear a rock hit it. I think it’s a rock. I get out, look around. I don’t see a rock, don’t find a rock. I drive off…when I get home, I look back and there is a bullet hole in my door. As I’m sitting in my car, my car got shot.  I knew then… there had to be a greater plan for me.”

In December of Thomas’ senior year, the Flyers battled a Fair Park team featuring Shawn Houston and Reggie Poole.  The dominant Indians duo drew recruiters from around the country and on the night of this matchup in the-then CNB-Times Classic, Kansas assistant coach, Matt Doherty was on hand to gauge their talent.  By games’ end, Thomas with 43 points, became the center of Doherty’s attention.

“He came down after the game and asked me, ‘Who is that kid?’”, Kantrow said.

Kansas’ head coach at the time, Roy Williams, procured a game-tape of the Loyola-Fair Park game. Thomas said, “The videotape goes to Williams in the Kansas office. He saw the ball go up and in but the video didn’t show the shooter. He sees it go in once, twice, three times without seeing the shooter, who was so far outside, he wasn’t in the frame. That’s when Williams said, ‘We need to figure out who that kid is and recruit him.’”

All it took was one visit to campus for Thomas to be convinced.  He was destined to be a Jayhawk.
During his freshman year at Kansas, on Flournoy’s birthday, the raid that netted over four dozen arrests of the Bottom Boyz took place. Only a delayed flight from Kansas City kept Thomas from returning to Shreveport on the day when so many of his friends and acquaintances were rounded up.

The Goat, tucked away in a federal prison in Maryland, stayed in touch with Thomas. “I could call him. I called him all the time, before games and give him a good pep talk. ‘Don’t be afraid to shoot the big shot!’”

He heeded that advice and then some. By the time Thomas left Kansas after the 1997-98 season, he was the Jayhawks leading three-point shooter in school history.  17 years later, Thomas’ 269 three-pointers made during his Jayhawk career is good enough for second best all-time.

A stellar collegiate career didn’t carve out a clean path to the NBA for Thomas.  Instead, he toiled away in the United States Basketball League; then off to Argentina before returning stateside for a stint in the International Basketball League. He reconnected with his USBL roots before a three year foray in the NBA Development League.  Another go-round with the Kansas Cagerz in the USBL followed and preceded a year abroad playing in Italy. Two years with the Dakota Wizards in the CBA earned Thomas all-star status and a championship. It’s also where his basketball career came to a fork in the road.

“I was on a flight to the CBA All-Star game,” Thomas said. “The night before, the thought was going through my mind, ‘Maybe it’s time to hang it up. I’ve been the best player in two minor leagues. I won championships. Maybe it’s not in the cards for me to get to the NBA. I had made my decision; after the CBA All-Star game, I was going to give up the NBA dream. I flew from Bismarck, to Minneapolis to Chicago. My agent got in touch with me in Minneapolis and told me the New Jersey Nets had called me up.”

The sneakers would stay off the hanger and remain in use.

Thomas NBA career spanned parts of four seasons, two with the Nets, one in Washington, D.C. and finally a few games with the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Thomas played in 53 regular season NBA games and scored 144 points. He also participated in 8 playoff games.

Kantrow said, “How he got to college is an amazing story. How he got to the NBA is a great story. He played minor league basketball for eight years he was a 28 year old rookie in the NBA for the Nets. Most people would have given up, but he persevered. Same thing with his High School coaching career. He is starting at a little high school, similar to Loyola, that he has built up to where they won a state championship.”

Thomas and his wife Raquel have been married seven years and have a six year old son, Zion and four year old daughter, Leyland.  How they wound up as a coaching family at The Barstow School also took a fortunate coincidence. 

Working as a private basketball instructor in the Kansas City area, one of Thomas’ clients played for Barstow.  There was an opening for the head coaching position at the school after Jeff Boschee had stepped away. By the way, Boschee is the Kansas player who knocked Thomas off the perch as Kansas’ all three-point leader. Five years later, Thomas has two title game appearances and one state championship.

At some point, most likely in the near future, Thomas will call in his one, really, big chip: his old coach, Roy Williams, now the head coach at North Carolina.

When Thomas feels he is prepared to coach at the collegiate level, “That’s the call I make.  We texted last week, we keep up with each other. When you really need it, you make the call.” 

For now, Thomas will enjoy the state championship. A visit to his hometown is on the docket soon.  When he arrives, his family will reunite with his mom, Eddie Mae Thomas and his two sisters.  He plans on seeing some of his Loyola buddies as well. And yes, a trip to The Bottoms is also on tap. 

If given the chance, Thomas will be more than happy to share his message with the new residents in his old neighborhood, especially those who need a ray of hope.

“It can be done. If I can do it? It can be done,” says the man who is living proof that starting from The Bottoms to reach the top is a dream worth living.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bracket Bounce-Back Contest Top 20 (Thru Friday)

As we approach the Final Four... How about a look at our Top 20 in the "Bracket Bounce-Back Contest"?  

I know what the 200+participants are saying.  And it's not, "THANK you." 

yes, I should have updated the scores for public consumption much earlier than now... but. uh. well. I didn't. 

BUT... Now we have the Top 20 (Before Saturday's Games)

  1. Joe T.                    51
T1. Kelli Dominick       51
  3. Coy Brotherton      50
  4. George Fauber      48
T4. Chris Madden        48
  6. Keith Bush             47
T6. Lance Lane           47
  8. Grace Nickels        46
  9. Gabe Farris           45
T9. Sabrina Hensley    45
T9. Zach Rogeau          45
12. Brandon Gautreau  44
T12. 12th Man (fitting)  44
T12. Sutton Oathout     44
T12. Rivers Breedlove 44
T12. Chris Moran         44
17.  Justin Lowe           43
T17. Cajun Rob            43
T17. Stephen Oden      43
T17. Greg Preslar         43
T17. Adam Hester        43 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Bounce Back Bracket Contest Rules and (Still Growing) List of Prizes

The "Bounce Back Bracket" Contest is open for bidness!

How many of you have suffered the High of a fabulous opening day in your NCAA bracket contest only to feel the sucker-punch of a disastrous Friday? 

Yeah. It stinks.  That bragging at the water cooler Friday morning turns into a sick day on Monday to avoid the embarrassing taunts of Jimmy, Todd and Sarah in the conference room before the morning meeting. 

This is why the sports-wife's brainchild, "The Bounce Back Bracket" is here! To save the day, save face and give you hope for a bountiful Tournament, no matter how much you stink at picking the games in one round.  That #3 seed you have playing in the national championship got upset in the first round? In a typical bracket contest, you're toast.  
In The Bounce Back Bracket Contest, you're butter side up, buddy!

Here is all you have to do:

  1. before each round of play begins that day (for example, Thursday's games tip off at 11:50 a.m. To be eligible for daily and overall prizes, you have to have the winners selected for Thursday's games emailed to me prior to 11:50 a.m.) select the winners of each game in that round.
  2. type out, just the winners, in an email
  3. send the email to: getfletchsports@yahoo.com
  4. repeat the Steps for each round.
  5. Scoring:
    1. one-point for each winner you select
    2. three-points for each double digit seed you correctly tab to win
    3. Final Four and championship games will be combined for the Final round. Include predicted final scores. The person who picks winners in all 3 games and has final score prediction closest to the actual result , gets the win for Final Four round and Championship Round.
    4. Grand prize winner: the contestant who racks up most total points at the conclusion of NCAA Tournament is our Champion!
We will award prizes for the winners of each round, plus provide 1st, 2nd and 3rd place prize packages as well!

Prizes to be given away include:
      Grand Prize:$500 Cash courtesy:

  • 2-Yeti Travel Mugs (Courtesy: King Hardware & Gifts)
  • 2-Tailgate Chairs plus a 2014 Duck Commander       commemorative matchup football (Courtesy: Duck Commander Independence Bowl)
  • 1-Strawn's Pie per round (Courtesy: Strawn's. Duh)
  • 1 year maintenance plan on a single system for a home (courtesy: AccuTemp)
  • Steak Bag: 2 steaks, 2 twice-baked potatoes, Crackers, Cheese, French Bread, Dessert (courtesy: Cush's Grocery and Market)
  • 1 free car wash per round (courtesy: Snappy Scrubs)
  • 2 $50 Gift Certificates at Porter's (courtesy: Porter's Cleaners)
  • 1-$25 Chimi V's Gift Card for each round (courtesy: Chimi V's)
  • Grand Prize: 2 Daily Passes to David Toms Golf Academy 265
  • 2nd and 3rd place overall: 1 Daily Pass each to David Toms Golf Academy 265 (courtesy: David Toms Academy 265)
  • Gift Card/Merchandise from Great Raft Brewing + Gift Basket for Grand Prize winner (Courtesy: Great Raft Brewing)
  • 1-$50 Superior Grill Gift Card for each round (courtesy: Superior Grill) 
  • 1-$25 Gift Certificate Bergeron's Boudin and Cajun Meats Gift Card for each round (courtesy: Bergerons' Shreveport and Bergeron's Bossier City)
  • 1-$20 Twisted Root Gift Card for each round (courtesy: Twisted Root)
  • Gift Cards to Honeybaked Hams
More Prizes Being Added...

Get those picks in... before the first games each round!