Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Cinderella Stories: Northwestern State U.
By Patrick Dorsey
Happy early birthday, Vic!
The 68-team field is set, the bracket is out, and the NCAA tournament soon will begin. Before the final 64 take the court on Thursday and Friday, Playbook has chosen a few small schools to examine a bit closer, taking a look at their exploits inside sports -- and far away from the fields of play. Click here for more Cinderella Stories.
We know about Northwestern, and the Chicago-area college's (seemingly) endless quest to reach its first NCAA tournament. But about 1,000 miles to the south lies a similarly named school whose men's basketball team isn't having the same trouble.
Case in point: Northwestern State just won the Southland Conference tournament, sending the Demons to a 14-seed and a Friday round-of-64 matchup with the Florida Gators. It's their third time dancing, but far from the only thing memorable about this Natchitoches, La., institution.
• There are Blue Demons (DePaul) and Demon Deacons (Wake Forest), but in Division I hoops NSU's crew is the only one called simply Demons. Their mascot, Vic (for "victory"), turns 90 this fall. And although their hand signal might look a lot like one ever-present in their host site (Austin), those fans aren't Hooking 'em Horns -- it's a demon head, and they're Forking 'em Demons.
• Speaking of the supernatural, there's a ghost rumored to be roaming Louisiana's oldest state university (which is situated in its oldest town) -- much like the one at Belmont. Here her name is Isabella, and she supposedly lived in the Civil War era before taking her life due to a lost love. She is said to have moved from building to building, after the demolition of her original home: Bullard Mansion, which once stood on NSU land.
• One notable alumnus brought more than prestige to his college town. Playwright-turned-screenwriter Robert Harling set his play "Steel Magnolias" in Natchitoches, and kept it that way when it jumped to the big screen (the movie starred Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts and many other big-name actors and actresses; he also wrote the script). Harling went on to pen several more films, among them "Soapdish" and "The First Wives Club."
• Famous sports alumni: Jackie Smith, a former Dallas Cowboys tight end who dropped a key pass in Super Bowl XIII -- but is also a Pro Football Hall of Famer after a lengthy career; Bobby Hebert, a Pro Bowl quarterback and outspoken local sports media personality; and Lee Smith, the onetime MLB saves record holder who played one year of basketball at NSU -- but never baseball.
• There's a regular first family inside the basketball program, and its name is McConathy. Head coach Mike has held that position since 1999. His father, John, played for the school in the late 1940s and early '50s (he was selected No. 5 overall in the 1951 NBA draft), and uncles George and Leslie played there a few years earlier. Mike McConathy's sons, Michael and Logan, also were Demon hoopsters, with Michael finishing in 2010 and Logan in 2011.