Rabalais: Another emotional night at the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame

Someone cries. Someone always cries when they’re inducted into the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame.

Big tough football players like Kevin Mawae when he was inducted in 2007 or pint-sized volleyball setters like Dani Reis on Friday night.

It’s not, I don’t think, the fact they have joined such an exclusive club. It’s not that at all.

It’s being faced with the entirety of their lives all at once, the special people of their lives and the memories of their years at LSU all washing over them in a huge emotional wave.

No one teared up or provided more laughs than Reis, the three-time All-American who became the hall’s first volleyball inductee. She recalled arriving on the LSU campus from her native Brazil and finding a life-long friend in teammate Nyla Shepherd.

“A black girl from Alabama and a beach girl from Rio. What could they have in common?” said Reis, the setter who led LSU to its only volleyball Final Four appearances in 1990 and 1991. “Turns out a lot. She was my English teacher. Every time I made a mistake, she would hit me. I made sure I made very few mistakes.”

Then there was Amy McClosky-McGinley, an emergency room doctor in Baltimore and the first LSU gymnast to score a perfect 10. On July 27, McClosky-McGinley suffered a stroke and was confined to a hospital bed, contemplating the very real prospect of her own mortality.

But she recovered quickly and, without a halt in her voice or her step, she made her acceptance speech, thanking coach D-D Breaux and the LSU teammates who shaped her life.

When she was five, she wanted to be a flight attendant. Then a pizza delivery girl, then Mary Lou Retton after watching the 1984 Olympics. But when she was 15, she watched a 6-year-old child pulled lifeless from a pool and revived by paramedics — and knew she wanted to be an emergency room doctor.

With a long overdue honor, 90-year-old Frank Brian was inducted into the hall this year. An All-Southeastern Conference performer the year before and year after he served in the Army during World War II, Brian recalled the day Harry Rabenhorst came to his home in Zachary to offer him a scholarship.

“You could have heard me holler all the way down to the dairy barn because I was just tickled to death,” said Brian, his voice still clear and strong.

Ashley Culpepper-Gluck became the first female swimmer or diver to be inducted but said she wouldn’t have made it here had not her husband, Steve, convinced her to return for her senior year after the crushing disappointment of being left off the 2000 U.S. Olympic team.

“Steve told me I owed the university, and I did,” said Culpepper Gluck, the 2000 NCAA diver of the year. “I would have been a quitter, and I’m not a quitter. And I wouldn’t be here if not for him.”

Kurt Ainsworth, an All-American as a pitcher and academically in 1999 and a gold medal winner in the 2000 Olympics, thanked everyone from his teammates to his family to his Hall of Fame coach, Skip Bertman.

He also gave thanks for good fortune.

“Let’s be honest,” said Ainsworth, who grew up in Baton Rouge and prepped at Catholic. “I could have been born in Tuscaloosa. Or Starkville.”

Ainsworth admitted his entire career wasn't Hall of Fame material.

“I remember my redshirt freshman year, Coach Bertman came out to the mound to get me at Auburn and said, ‘Let’s try again next year.’ Not next week or next month. Next year,” he recalled.

In the end, as was the case so many nights, former LSU men’s basketball coach Dale Brown owned the court of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, where he coached for 25 seasons, and the site of Friday’s ceremony.

Booming and dynamic as always, the 78-year-old Brown recalled then-Athletic Director Carl Maddox taking a chance on a young assistant coach at Washington State when LSU hired him in 1972.

“Forty-one years later, I’m so proud to call Louisiana my home, and I’m so very thankful the people of this wonderful state adopted a North Dakota boy,” Brown said.

This year’s class brings to 130 the number of players, coaches and administrators who have been inducted into the LSU Hall of Fame.

The notable exception continues to be Pete Maravich, whose name is engraved all over the record books as the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer but is barred from the LSU Hall of Fame because he didn’t earn a college degree.

His name may be on the building the old-timers call “The House that Pete Built,” but he can’t get a seat at the table.

While the importance of earning a college degree shouldn’t be diminished, someone like Maravich should be in the hall. Hopefully at least an exception can be made one day for him.