NATCHITOCHES - Saturday morning's Graduate N Club Hall of Fame Ceremony was like old times for six of the honorees who competed in different sports at Northwestern State 20 years ago.
"Most of us were here at the same time. We've spent time today catching up, getting to know one another's families, and talking about hanging out years ago at the athletic fieldhouse," said 1994 All-America baseball pitcher Reggie Gatewood. " It's been a special day, a touching day, and I feel like I am back home."
That comfortable feel blended with emotion outpouring from all seven people spotlighted Saturday, and those who introduced them.
"I told my wife before I got up to speak, I was going to be the only person who didn't get emotional," said N Club Hall of Fame quarterback Don Guidry, who made the final presentation speech, for Distinguished Service Award recipient Herbie Smith. "But I got up there and found myself getting choked up."
Passionate reactions came from all of the recipients: football great Marcus Spears (1990-93), basketball star Roman Banks (1987-92), softball shortstop extraordinaire Sonja Olsen-Gonzales (1988-91), all-time tennis wins leader Vicky Sims Newsom (1989-92), 2000 USA track and field Olympian LaMark Carter, Gatewood and Smith, the Demons' baseball coach for 18 seasons and an assistant football coach for 15 at his alma mater.
"It's overwhelming, a blessing," said Carter, a seven-time USA triple jump champion after earning four All-America awards and winning seven Southland Conference crowns with the Demons from 1991-93. "Northwestern has given us so much, and it's a great honor to be put into the Hall of Fame."
Instead of dwelling on their accomplishments, the honorees paid tribute to their teammates and coaches, and their families.
"You don't get to this day on your own," said Newsom, who was 67-18 in singles play from 1989-92 while winning three individual Southland Conference titles in four years. Yet, her favorite memory was the Lady Demons' 1989 team conference championship.
"There are so many memories, so many wonderful times we had here, but I think the best memory is the 1989 Southland Conference championship. I remember getting the trophy, getting in the van and driving home, and staying friends for 25 years since," she said.
Team titles were treasures for nearly all of Saturday's stars.
Carter spearheaded the Demons to the 1993 Southland outdoor team championship, deciding just before the competition to sacrifice a planned redshirt year and lining up for the first time all season at the conference meet.
"(Coach) Leon (Johnson) gave me so much to make the most of my time here, so I just had to give back. It was the one event that jump started my career," said Carter. "The team had done so much that year, and going into the conference meet we were just a few points short. There was no question I was going to give it up, and helping us win our first Southland Conference outdoor championship was well worth it."
Spears admitted his envy, noting the Demons won Southland football crowns just before he arrived on campus in 1990 and not long after he left in 1994. But he relished being in Auburn Hills, Mich., on March 17, 2006 to watch coach Mike McConathy's NSU basketball team score a first-round NCAA Tournament triumph over 15th-ranked Iowa.
"I didn't get a (championship) ring when I played here. I didn't get a Super Bowl ring in all the years I was in the NFL. But thanks to Coach McConathy, and that team, I've got a championship ring, and it means the world to me," he said, choking with emotion as he brandished the ring for the audience.
There were many laughs during the poignant and joyful ceremony. Presenting Banks, 2010 Hall of Fame enshrinee Sandy Pugh pointed out that during his days at Captain Shreve High School, Shreveport-area fans jammed gyms to watch him lead the Gators in showdowns with neighboring Airline High School.
Banks took the podium and admitted he had left his speech on his desk at Southern in Baton Rouge, where he is the first-year head coach, and instead brought his first practice plan in a folder to Natchitoches. Then he had nearly three dozen family members stand up.
"Oh, yeah, you can see, I did pack the house back then, and still am doing it," he said, chuckling.