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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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LCO gym to be renamed for legendary coach

LCO gym to be renamed for legendary coach

Staff photo by Babs

The game of basketball was an important part of Rene LeBlanc's life. From 1956 to 1977, LeBlanc served as the head coach for two high schools -- Larose-Cut Off and South Lafourche -- and put up some impressive numbers along the way. In 22 seasons, he won 498 games, 23 tournament titles, six district championships and 11 playoff appearances.

He started his career at Larose-Cut Off and made the move to South Lafourche when the school opened its doors in 1966.

But LeBlanc was more than a coach. He was a mentor to many coaches and a role model to many of his players. He is also credited for helping start the Biddy Basketball program in the south Lafourche area.

Because of those accomplishments, LeBlanc became known as the "Grandfather of Basketball in the south Lafourche area." But for some of his former players, they want LeBlanc's legacy to live on.

Soon after LeBlanc died on April 29 at the age of 81, an effort was started to rename the Larose-Cut Off Middle School Gym after the legendary coach. On Thursday, that effort will become a reality, as the gym where he picked up many of his historic wins will be renamed Rene LeBlanc Gym.

"Coach LeBlanc probably has the most wins as a varsity coach in any sport in Lafourche Parish history," said Ronald Pere, who played for LeBlanc from 1956-58. "That will not be the real reason the gym is named after him. It's for the impact that he had on the lives that he touched."

Thursday's dedication will begin at 5 p.m. with a reception in the school library. The renaming ceremony will take place during the break between the boys and girls games against the Golden Meadow Middle School Lions. LCO and Golden Meadow are longtime rivals, dating back to their time as high schools.

The Lafourche Parish School Board approved the renaming of the LCO gym at its Dec. 30 meeting.

LeBlanc was more than a coach to many of his former players. They used the lessons learned from LeBlanc to become successful in life. Some of his former players include Herb Gros, Wayne Jones, Kurt Crosby, Gary Chouest and former South Lafourche High football coach Ralph Pere.

Pere said renaming the gym after LeBlanc is a well-deserved honor because he had an impact on the lives of his former players.

"I talked to many people since news of the gym renaming, and everyone credits Coach LeBlanc with the success," Pere said. "Like myself and any other people, a day doesn't go by that I don't think about him or remember some of the lessons he taught us."

Curtis Gisclair had an opportunity to develop a relationship with LeBlanc as a player and a coach. Gisclair played for three seasons -- 1964-65 (LCO), 1966-67 and 1968-68 (South Lafourche) -- and was an assistant coach for one season under LeBlanc. Gisclair said LeBlanc was a great coach to play for and to work under.

"Coach Rene was a very understanding coach," Gisclair said. "We were young and he did a great job with us. He was great with the kids, he always understood and was always able to get his point across."

During his 21-year coaching career, LeBlanc had some memorable seasons. One happened during the 1959-60 season when he guided the Bulldogs to a Class 1A state runner-up finish. LCO lost to St. Matthews of Monroe, 64-56, in the gym that will soon bear his name.

Gisclair said the 1966-67 season may have been one of LeBlanc's best coaching jobs because he had to take players from two rival high schools -- Larose-Cut Off and Golden Meadow -- and mold them into one team.

"He brought everybody together and made us realize that it was a team effort," Gisclair said. "We did a good job with him. He brought us to one game from the Top 20 tournament. He did a real good job with everybody that was concerned with the basketball program."

When LeBlanc retired from coaching in 1977, South Lafourche didn't have to look far to find his successor, as Gisclair was tabbed as the new head coach. Gisclair said he wished he would have had more time to serve as an assistant coach under LeBlanc.

"I didn't learn enough from him since I spent only one season coaching with him before he retired from coaching," Gisclair said. "He gave me the reigns, but unfortunately, I was young and not quite ready for it. I didn't do quite as good of a job as he would have done. I wish I could have stayed coaching with him a few more years because I could have learned a lot more."

Even when he was not coaching, LeBlanc still had an impact in the school system, as he served as the principal at Larose Elementary School and then as a supervisor with the School Board before retiring in 1987.

Pere said LeBlanc touched so many lives in his tenure as a coach, principal and supervisor, and it is good that there will be something to honor him for future generations.

"With the gym being named after him, his legacy lives on, and there is no one more deserving than Coach LeBlanc," Pere said. "He had such a positive impact on so many lives."