University of Louisiana’s National Championship Weightlifting Teams
by Warren A. Perrin, Attorney at Law
Part One – the Beginning
The Leaders: Mike Stansbury, Lloyd Red Lerille and Others
This chapter will first highlight persons from Louisiana who were influences on my life. Then it will list lifters whom I admired. Finally, competitors will be spotlighted.
In 1953, Mike Stansbury met Lloyd Red Lerille and invited him to move to Lafayette. Red was a New Orleans native and the winner of numerous bodybuilding titles, including Mr. New Orleans in 1955, Mr. Armed Forces and Mr. Hawaii in 1958, and Mr. Dixie in 1959. Red served in the United States Navy from 1955 to 1959. In Hawaii, he worked out at the same gym where Tommy Kono trained. According to Red, Kono had phenomenal strength: “I was blown away when I saw him do ten strict military presses with 250 pounds.” Lerille graduated from the University of Southwestern Louisiana in 1987.
Walter sent this email to me on February 12, 2020:
After Mike and his wife Andree opened Mike Stansbury’s Health Club, Inc. on Jefferson Street, Red Lerille worked with them in the operation of their business. The Stansburys were world travelers and passionate in many hobbies: artistic endeavors, scuba diving, fishing, photography and hunting. In 1960, Red won the Mr. America contest and in 1960 established Red’s Health and Racquet Club, one of the best in the nation. Your author and his wife are active members of the club.
On February 12, 2021, I received this email from Walter wherein he discusses some of the lifters working out with him in the late 1950s:
Warren. In the days of training in 1956, Cliff LeBlanc was in the 132-pound class and was training at the Woodman of the World weight room in Abbeville, Louisiana. Cliff’s girlfriend was living in Abbeville and we made frequent visits to her parents’ home where they served us some delicious Cajun food. Cliff graduated around 1958-I lost contact with him. Same with Stafford Palombo who was from Abbeville. Mike Stansbury trained Cliff, Stafford, Mike Thompson, the late Buster Loubriel from Puerto Rico, and me. Walt
Our saga toward excellence is a story about underdogs. Our teams excelled on every level, beating universities that had a lot of support and a lot of money behind them. Competitive weightlifting requires speed, skill and strength, which can only be developed by hard work.
Stansbury, a weightlifting enthusiast, told Imahara that he had a similar build to world weightlifting champion Tommy Kono, another Japanese American who had survived relocation camp life. “Mike said that I had the same build for the squat position as Tommy, and that I should try lifting,” Imahara said. “It changed my life. Before, I had low self-esteem, my grades were bad, and I had no ambition. All that changed.”
In 1959, Walter met Kono, who became his mentor and life-long friend. Kono, the acknowledged best American lifter of all time, who was Olympic champion twice and once won a silver medal, had some epic battles with Louis Riecke Jr. of New Orleans. At the 1963 national senior championships in Harrisburg, Kono made a last attempt 375-pound clean and jerk to defeat Riecke. Riecke went on to lead the NOAC team to the Southern AAU championships. In 2016, Kono, who won six world championships between 1953 and 1962, died. Riecke died a year later in 2017. On September 23, 2000, I had the pleasure of meeting Kono when he came to New Orleans for the U.S. Olympic Weightlifting Trials at the Alario Center in Jefferson Parish. He was a very nice and considerate man. These two men, along with Walter Imahara, were the greatest lifters the author ever had the pleasure to meet.
On February 11, 2020, Dr. Joseph Murry Jr., an outstanding athlete in both the shot put (Gulf States Conference Champion) and National Collegiate Weightlifting Champion—setting four national records in the process, wrote this email to me:
I was an admirer of Imahara, Riecke and Kono. I will briefly describe the careers of other lifers that I respected.
American weightlifter and powerlifter Paul Edward Anderson was a gold medalist in Olympic weightlifting and also a two-time national champion. He was one of the most well-known athletes of the mid-1900s and played a major role in the introduction of powerlifting as a major competitive sport. Paul Anderson is widely considered as one of the strongest men in recorded history and is inducted in the top place in our list of Top Ten Weightlifters of All Time. Paul participated in a tough duel with Argentine Humberto Selvetti at 1956 Australia Olympic Games and won the gold medal in the super-heavyweight class while suffering from a 104-degree fever. He was included in the 1985 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records for lifting in back 2844.02 kg to set the greatest weight ever raised by a human being.34
My friend Eddie Mouton of Lafayette, Louisiana, wrote his memoirs about participating in basketball and baseball at the University of Southwestern Louisiana. This first-person account of a Paul Anderson feat of strength appears on the website cited below, hosted by Ed Dugas, which is a terrific accumulation of sports history of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette:35
In the mid-1960s, Paul Anderson of Olympic fame, was in Lafayette for a professional wrestling match and there was a 300-pound dead weight in Mike’s Gym. He was visiting the gym and, while in a business suit and tie, pressed the dead weight five times after it was handed to him by two standbys in the gym.
Legendary American weightlifter Charles Robert “Chuck” Vinci Jr. set 12 world records in the bantamweight class during his heydays between 1955 and 1960. He is an Olympic champion and World Champion and is also the seventh-place inductee in a list of Top Ten Weightlifters of All Time. Vinci won the Olympic gold medal twice consecutively at the 1956 Melbourne Summer Olympics and 1960 Rome Summer Olympics. He won gold medals at the 1955 and 1959 Pan American games. Vinci won the United States Senior National Championship continuously in two spells from 1954 to 1956 and from 1958 to 1961. During his active career of weightlifting, he set and held several records in the events of snatch, clean and jerk and also in overall total.36
One of our greatest heroes was Isaac “Ike” Berger (born November 16, 1936) an American Jewish weightlifter, who competed for the United States at the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Olympics and won one gold and two silver medals. He held eight world records (four official and four unofficial) and won the United States national title eight times. Ike Berger was born the son of a rabbi in Jerusalem. He emigrated to the United States when he was in his teens and became a naturalized American citizen in December, 1955. Berger was the first featherweight in history to total more than 800 pounds, and the first to press double his body weight. He twice won the world championships and the Pan American Games. In his gold medal performance at the 1957 Maccabiah Games, Berger was the first (and only one until 1998) athlete to set a world record on Israeli land in any sport when he pressed 258 pounds. Berger was named to the United States Weightlifters Hall of Fame in 1965 and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1980. It is indeed interesting that this Berger, no relation to David Berger who lifted for Tulane, was an Israeli who emigrated to the U.S. and was a member of the U.S. Olympic Team—the mirror opposite of David Berger’s story.37
I was also an admirer of Mike Karchut, who was one of the outstanding Olympic weightlifters in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. While a student at Case Western Reserve University, he was the 1963 Teenage National Champion at 148 pounds, the 1965 Junior National Champion at 165 pounds and the 1966 YMCA National Champion at 165 pounds. Following graduation, he competed in 21 consecutive senior national championships with eight first-place finishes and four second-place showings. Karchut, an American born in Germany, also was a member of the 1972 and 1980 United States Olympic teams in addition to the 1971 Pan American team. From 1968 to 1978, Karchut set nine American records and competed with five world championship teams.38
And finally, another great was Joseph “Joe” Robert Puleo. He was born on July 2, 1942 in Detroit, Michigan. Puleo attended Michigan State University and, in 1966, he represented the university and won the light heavyweight class at the National Collegiate Championship at the University of Maryland. Alvin Chustz finished third in the division. Puleo later represented the York Barbell Club. Puleo was AAU champion in 1962 and 1964 as a middleweight, and then won light heavyweight titles in 1966-68. He also won gold medals at the 1963 and 1967 Pan American Games, as a middleweight in 1963 and a light heavyweight in 1967. Puleo retired for a time in 1970 to start a career as an attorney, but he returned in the late 1970s to try to make the 1980 Olympic team but was denied any chance at that by the America boycott.39
Bill Starr wrote an interesting account of arguably the greatest weightlifting meet held in America. In the article cited below, Starr mentioned Joe Puleo as follows:
The Olympic Trials were held at the World’s Fair in Flushing, New York on August 21st and 22nd, 1964. Joe Puleo beat Tommy Kono and was selected as first reserve who would replace any team member that got injured or could not make the trip for whatever reason. However, because the final entries had to be presented before the team left for Tokyo, Joe was left behind. Too bad. Had Joe been selected and made the same total that he did in the final trials, 942, he would have finished fourth and scored three points for the U.S. team.
34 Khabir Uddin Mughal, KUM, ‘Top 10 Weightlifters of All Time,’ Sports Look, 24 March 2015, accessed 21 January 2020, http://www.sportslook.net/top-10-weightlifters-of-all-time/.
35 Edward P. Mouton, EPM, ‘People Search,’ Louisiana Ragin’ Cajun Athletic Network, accessed 29 April 2020, https://athleticnetwork.net/site.php?pageID=55&profID=305
36 Khabir Uddin Mughal, KUM, ‘Top 10 Weightlifters of All Time,’ Sports Look, 24 March 2015, accessed 21 January 2020, http://www.sportslook.net/top-10-weightlifters-of-all-time/.
37 Wikipedia contributors, ‘Isaac Berger,’ Wikipedia, 30 December 2019, accessed 23 January 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Berger.
38 ‘Case Western Reserve University Spartans,’ Case Western Reserve, accessed 5 February 2020, https://athletics.case.edu/sports/spartan_club/bios/karchut_mike.
39 ‘Joe Puleo,’ SR/Olympic Sports, accessed 5 February 2020, https://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/athletes/pu/joe-puleo-1.html.