Love, community carrying Cajuns through trying times
When former Ragin’ Cajuns pitcher Danny Farquhar suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm while pitching for the Chicago White Sox in April of 2018, longtime UL baseball coach Tony Robichaux was the one leading a call for prayers from Cajun fans.
Farquhar went on to make an inspiring recovery, pitching in two games at the AAA level before being released last month from the New York Yankees-affiliated Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
His return to the mound was uplifting, something for all UL supporters — Robichaux among them — to celebrate.
But in the 15 months since Farquhar — who also pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays — collapsed in the White Sox dugout, the Cajuns have had to endure one tragedy and trying circumstance after another.
Having witnessing how UL supporters have handled it all since shortly after his 2017 arrival in Louisiana from the University of Missouri, Cajuns athletic director Bryan Maggard turns to two words to describe the bond he sees when times are tough in the Acadiana area.
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“In a word, I describe it as ‘love.’ It’s a community of love,” Maggard said. “But the other key word for me is ‘community.’ It’s a community that comes together, that rallies together.”
And that’s been needed a lot lately.
Kerry Maggard — Maggard’s own wife — was diagnosed in the fall with Stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common form of breast cancer, and later successfully embarked on her battle against it with radiation therapy.
In December, when the Cajuns traveled to Orlando to play Tulane in the Cure Bowl, a postseason college football game that raises funds for breast-cancer research, Denise Juluke — wife of UL running backs coach Jabbar Juluke — was in the midst of her own lengthy fight with breast cancer and several resulting complications.
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Early the next month, Cajuns basketball coach Bob Marlin missed a game against Little Rock while his wife, Jennifer, was hospitalized.
And after the calendar flipped to 2019, an especially cruel year for the Cajuns so far, one untimely death after another struck UL’s tight-knit athletics family.
It’s a clan sadly accustomed to painstaking loss.
Shortly before Christmas in 2012, Cajuns volleyball player Sawyer Camillo died suddenly in her home state of Texas. In 2015, Andrea Brodhead — wife of Cajuns women’s basketball coach Garry Brodhead — lost her battle with breast cancer. And in June 2016, before he could ever even play for UL, Cajuns basketball signee Herman Williams died while playing a pickup game in his home state of Florida.
This year, the list of heartbreaking losses grows longer and longer.
In late January, shortly before nationally ranked UL’s season began, volunteer softball coach Geri Ann Glasco — the 24-year-old daughter of Cajuns head coach Gerry Glasco — died in a Lafayette-area auto accident.
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March rolled around, and it hit UL especially hard.
First, Lynn Williams — a well-known Cajuns’ equipment manager for multiple sports including football and baseball since 1985 — died at the age of 56.
One day later, 59-year-old Leonard Wiltz — who spent more than 40 years working at UL in many capacities, including setting up and breaking down athletic events and even driving the equipment truck to Cajun road football games — passed away as well.
In early June came the death of 68-year-old Mastern M. St. Julien Jr., a former DJ, fireman and school bus driver who spent many of his retirement years driving UL student-athletes including members of the basketball and baseball teams to road games around the country.
Big Lynn, Mr. Leonard and Saint — as they were affectionately known — all were much-loved and fondly remembered by many of the current and former Cajuns student-athletes and coaches they left behind.
Quarterback Jake Delhomme and receiver Brandon Stokley, both ex-NFL players, were especially close with Williams, as was Robichaux and longtime UL assistant baseball coach Anthony Babineaux.
Former UL head coach Mark Hudspeth, now at Austin Peay, fondly recalled Wiltz’s days traveling with the football team after learning of his death.
And Marlin considered St. Julien a friend, one he spent plenty of time bonding with on the bus while traveling to and from games.
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As if all that was not enough, UL was rocked when Robichaux — the man so vocal about putting out prayers for Farquhar, the coach best known for the kind of kids his program produced — suffered a heart attack in late June.
Ten days later, on July 3, Robichaux died at the age of 57, leaving behind not only family, friends and fans but also the highly respected baseball program and all the players he had coached for the past 25 seasons.
Thousands paid their respects at his wake last Sunday.
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Also on Sunday, adding injury to the misery, two-time All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy — who played under Robichaux at UL — sustained a concussion and a broken nose in a nasty play at the plate while his Los Angeles Angels were playing the Houston Astros.
Lucroy was hospitalized in Houston, but someone managed to make it to Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Lafayette — about 20 minutes before Robichaux’s funeral Mass was set to begin — so he could say goodbye to his old coach.
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Two days after Robichaux’s burial, Twilet Malcolm — a Cajuns sprint and long-jump track-and-field star and a member of Jamaica’s 1992 Barcelona Olympics team — became the latest of several former UL student-athletes to pass in recent years, succumbing to pancreatic cancer at the age of 50.
It’s all more in 15 months than any one university athletics community should have to endure.
Yet, through the emotion of it all, athletic director Maggard feels the strength he’s come to know well since making the move from Mizzou to UL.
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“I always say there are two things that really, to me, capture that Cajun culture,” he said, “and that is ‘genuineness’ and ‘relational.’
“You can see, through times like this, how genuine people are, how deep-rooted their relationships are with each other, and that they do care about one another very, very much.”
But how do the Cajuns move past so many losses in such a short time?
For that, Maggard leans on Robichaux’s wisdom.
“We’re gonna capture one of Tony’s taglines, and that is ‘prepare to progress,’” he said the day of the baseball coach’s funeral. “We’re gonna do that. That’s what he would want.
“Whether it was a Lynn Williams, or other members who we’ve lost from this family, they would want the Ragin’ Cajuns to move forward and to progress, and we’re gonna do that.”
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It won’t be easy.
But the Cajuns have no other option, Maggard suggested.
“It’s not something that will happen overnight. We’ll be sad,” he said. “We’ll miss Tony, for sure, and all the others we’ve lost.
“It will take some time,” Maggard added. “But we are all gonna prepare to progress.”
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