University of Louisiana’s National Championship Weightlifting Teams
by Warren A. Perrin, Attorney at Law
Part Three: The Culture of Winning
Chapter 1 – The University of Louisiana
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette is a coeducational, public, research university in Lafayette, Louisiana. It has the largest enrollment within the nine-campus University of Louisiana System and has the second largest enrollment in Louisiana. Founded in 1898 as an industrial school, by 1937 SLI had their first live mascot, a bulldog. In the late 1950s, a French Renaissance began taking root in Southwest Louisiana. In 1960, in recognition of a resurgence in cultural pride, SLI became the University of Southwestern Louisiana. USL’s first Sports Information Director was Robert “Bob” Henderson (1960-1972), and he started calling athletes “Frenchmen.” In the mid-1960s head football coach Russell “Russ” Faulkinberry (1961- 1973) was inspired by insurance executive Sid Ory and they coined the term “Raging Cajuns” as the new name for the football team that was then known as the Bulldogs. In 1967, the “g” was dropped and replaced by an apostrophe thus, UL gained its current popular nickname, the Ragin’ Cajuns. The moniker was an adopted honor of the Cajun heritage of some 95 percent of the team. The name would finally stick during “Operation Turnaround” in 1974, when the athletic department moved to bolster team and fan morale.
One of the best discussions of the relationship between Cajuns in the Jim Crow era is contained in Dr. Shane K. Bernard’s book The Cajuns—Americanization of a People (University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 2003), where prior to the Civil Rights movement segregation made up an integral part of everyday life in Acadiana. Even though many south Louisiana Blacks shared with Cajuns a French Catholic heritage, the area was firmly entrenched in the racism which was found in the solid south of the old confederacy. There was an unwritten rule that prevented Cajuns from allowing Blacks to expand their social status and those who attempted to do so would face recrimination from their fellow whites. And for those Blacks who aggressively push back against segregation they faced the ultimate penalty: lynching. Between the 1880s in the 1950s more than 3,800 Blacks were lynched in the area known as Dixieland.
A very effective tool for keeping Blacks in their social place was to deny them voting rights. Many of the sheriffs in Acadiana were adept at finding reasons why Blacks should not be allowed to vote. Later, when federal laws mandated registration of Blacks, the politicians sought to keep control by marshaling support from Blacks by either outright bribes or the ever popular “bullpens.” These were used by both political factions. They were all-night parties where liquor was freely served along with great food to a group of easily influenced, unschooled voters who usually were poor whites or Blacks that worked for large farmers. After the party they were not allowed to go home but held in camps and then bused to the polls as soon as they opened at six AM to vote for their favored candidates. Another common tactic was to have the appointed voting commissioners “help” illiterate voters when they were inside the polls and made sure that they voted for the commissioner’s favorite candidates.
The following will discuss some of the reasons that the university in Lafayette was more accepting of minorities during the Jim Crow Era, and why Imahara was readily accepted by the Cajun weightlifters.
Bernard wrote that Cajun culture by its nature fostered attitudes more laissez-faire than found elsewhere in the solid segregated South. In addition, Anglo-protestant enmity against both Cajuns and African Americans created a modicum of compassion between the two minorities. Most Cajuns generally accepted advances in racial equality but did so with some grudging reluctance.
“The reaction of the Cajuns to the integration at SLI showed a more tolerant racial environment,” wrote Bernard. In the summer of 1954, only weeks after the Brown decision by the United States Supreme Court, the university became the South’s first previously all-white state college to admit Blacks as undergraduates when four local Blacks filed suit against the school. When this relatively peaceful event is compared to the integration confrontations of other universities in the South it shows a more tolerant attitude existed in South Louisiana rather than in the old Confederacy. Bernard concludes the chapter by stating the following: “Jim Crowe would nonetheless persist in Acadiana into the early 1970s. It finally would be put to rest during the administration of the state’s first Cajun governor [Edwin W. Edwards] at a time when Cajuns looked to the civil rights movement as well as the other liberation and empowerment movements for inspiration in fostering their own cultural renaissance.”
On July 16, 2020, Dr. Florent Hardy Jr., former Archivist for the State of Louisiana, sent an email to me referencing information he had written about the integration of the University of Southwestern Louisiana in his book, cited below:
Subsequently, the first Black, John Harold Taylor, of Arnaudville, Louisiana, registered in the College of Engineering on July 22, 1954, alone and without incident. Thus, Southwestern became the first institution under the State Board of Education to be racially integrated. Seventy-five Black students registered at Southwestern for the 1954-55 session and by 1960, 205 Blacks were registered at Southwestern.28
Beginning of the Team
Born on November 17, 1930, Mike Stansbury was instrumental in the development of weight training, Olympic weightlifting and body building in Louisiana. He developed innovations in the burgeoning sport. As a result, the whole approach to athletic training was revolutionized. As a teenager, Stansbury began working out with weights at a small gym in the Woodman of the World building in Abbeville, Louisiana. Later, his family moved to Lafayette and he began a weightlifting team in 1947 and called it Mike’s Gym. Mike graduated from SLI with degrees in business administration, history and art.
In 1949, Mike Stansbury contacted the SAAU and sponsored a novice weightlifting meet in Abbeville, the first such event held in South Louisiana. In 1953, the first national collegiate weightlifting meet was held. On November 19, 1955, Imahara entered his first competition. In 1956, with the support of SLI Dean of Men E. Glynn Abel, four members of Mike’s Gym, who were SLI students, qualified for the National Collegiate Weightlifting Championship in Columbus, Ohio. Team members included: Stansbury, Stafford Palombo, Cliff LeBlanc and Imahara. The following year in 1957, with the addition of Louis “Lou” Riecke Jr. of New Orleans (who in 1964 set a world snatch record of 325 pounds), the team was successful in winning the first National Collegiate Weightlifting Championships for SLI. This was the first national team championship for the university in any sport.
Interestingly, the team that finished second to SLI in 1957 was the University of Hawaii that was represented by only one lifter, Jim George. At the meet, George lifted as a light heavyweight and a middle heavyweight and broke seven collegiate records. He was named the Best Lifter of the meet. It
was the last time that a competitor was allowed to lift in two different weight classes in the same meet. He went on to have a very distinguished career in Olympic weightlifting representing the United States in many international meets. Jim was a four-time AAU champion and the 1959 Pan American champion
in the light heavyweight division. He also won four medals at the world championships (1955-1959) and set two world records (1956), in the snatch and clean and jerk. He competed at the 1956 and 1960 Olympics and won a bronze and a silver medal, respectively.
In 1960, Stansbury became recreational supervisor for the City of Lafayette. He was very successful in discovering and developing young lifters in Lafayette, including Mike Thompson, Dick Fleming and Jimmy Reinhardt. His work inspired many other young men from Vermilion Parish to enter the sport of weightlifting, including Gene Hebert, Terry Perrin, Bill LeBlanc, Jay Trahan, Mack Schriefer, Andrew Hebert, Stafford Palombo, Glen Viltz, Cliff LeBlanc, Weldon Granger and the author.
Athletic Director “Whitey” Urban, who served a stint of 13 years (1960-1973) and died at age 77, decided to promote sports like wrestling, tennis, golf, cross country, gymnastics, bowling and weightlifting. It was a turbulent era when the college was moving into modern athletics. He increased the number of sports from seven to 13 and moved from college to university status with very limited resources. In 1962, tragically his daughter Susan was killed in an auto accident. His hurt was masked by his gruffness. He was a very hard-working, kind and intense man. Former President Dr. Ray Authement said, “Whitey ran the athletic department out of two cigar boxes. He was in charge of everything.” Other coaches were track coach Bob Cole, football coaches Russ Faulkinberry and Irvin Sibille and basketball coaches Beryl Shipley and Tom Cox. Cars were raffled off to provide scholarships–an NCAA rule violation. Businessmen like J.Y. Foreman, Bob Wright, Herbert Heymann, Richard D’Aquin, Ashton Mouton Sr., Sidney Ory, and Sen. Edgar “Sonny” Mouton financially supported the team.
Whitey received a lot of support from Dean of Men E. Glynn Abel and Associate Dean J. B. Guillory. On his desk he had a sign that read: “There is no security on this earth; only opportunity.” He purchased an Olympic set of weights for us and designated an old hand ball court in Earl K. Long Gym for us to use
as a gym. We named the place: “the dungeon.” Because all fourwalls, the floor and ceiling were made of concrete, the noise from dropping weights was deafening. It was not air conditioned and had very little ventilation. There was no heat in the winter. We built a lifting platform and “borrowed” squat racks and an Olympic bar for a meet (our old one was bent) from the football team as a covert operation–without asking anyone’s permission. Football coach Russ Faulkinberry found out about it and told team captain George Weatherford to immediately return it or face suspension by Dean E. Glynn Abel. We had
to get Urban to come to our defense, which he did. He loved us because we were bringing the school national recognition and fulfilling his plans. At that time, weightlifting was a sanctioned sport by the NCAA, so we were officially a team and not just a club. We purchased our own equipment, such as towels, belts, chalk, shoes and braces. Annually, we were given seven red and white uniform jerseys for competition. The professors in the physical education department gave us “excuses” from attending scheduled classes and we were given automatic “A”s.
For four years, Urban had a secretary named Bonnie Maillet who was the athletic department’s “gate keeper.” She was quoted as saying, “on my first day as Whitey’s secretary they had a staff meeting and there was football coach Ray Blanco jumping up-and-down on Whitey’s desk. It was different and exciting watching Whitey and the coaches go at it. It was like a zoo, but it was a good zoo. A chain-smoker, he would tell me through a cloud of smoke, to stop smoking.”
The athletic department was operating on a shoestring, so we were not given scholarships. However, Bonnie was able to dispense some little perks to us. When we drove to meets in our cars, we would be loaned a university credit card to purchase only necessities, like gas, food and occasionally rooms, if we could not get a free one from a friend or stay in a school dormitory. She would keep track of the credit card that was given to the captain of the team to make sure we did not abuse it too much.
James H. Craig sent this email where he confirms what George felt about Coach Faulkinberry’s unfavorable attitude against our weightlifting team:
There was also a “book room” in the athletic department filled with books available for checking out by university athletes on scholarship. After the scholarship athletes had gotten their books, we were given this privilege of checking out books by Urban so we did not have to purchase all of our books. At the end of the semester, we were supposed to return the books. This rarely happened. Bonnie allowed us to check out more books than we needed for our classes and this allowed us to then re-sell them on the “black market” to students who needed them. She also gave us passes to be able to eat “for free” with the other school athletes in the cafeteria. Finally, Bonnie made sure that all of the lettermen got a school sweater and ring in their senior year.
In 1973, as a result of the NCAA terminating the basketball program for two years for rules violations, Urban, and coaches Beryl Shipley and Tom Cox, were indefinitely suspended. Urban was reassigned to the intramural department. Maillet used her experience in dealing with men and went into a field that had been for men only: the oil patch. As the CEO of Boysenblue, a supplier specializing in fluid additives used in the drilling process, Maillet deflected praise when credited with blazing a path for women in the roughand-tumble oil field boys’ club back in the 1970s. If she helped make history, she insists it was completely unintentional.
My friend Eddie Mouton of Lafayette, Louisiana, wrote his memoirs in April, 2020, about weightlifting in Lafayette in the 1950s. This memoir appears on the website (cited below) hosted by Ed Dugas, which is the most comprehensive collection of sports histories of the university:29
I have a particular interest in weightlifting as I knew the participants in the sport when I was in high school and at USL in the early 1960s. Mike Stansbury’s gym was opened on Jefferson Boulevard around 1958 and my coach Bill Arms told me to go there in order to help my jumping ability in basketball. Mike personally made me jump and make a mark on the outside wall of the gym and assured me that by the end of the summer I would surpass that mark. I did by several inches after doing recommended exercises and also gained total body strength.
This was the beginning of weight training for all athletes, which carries on today. Alvin Roy of Baton Rouge and Mike Stansbury were pioneers in the field of weightlifting for athletes.
Red Lerille was enrolled at USL and as Mr. America 1960 was quite popular. He posed at half-time of USL basketball games in the Long Gym, which brought some hoots from the crowd. As we all know he opened Red’s gym, which is one of the premiere facilities in America. He is today a wealthy man.
The author has had a long and close personal and professional relationship with Mike Thompson, a Lafayette lawyer and building contractor, who was on the team with my older brother Terry in the early 1960s. I became friends with Mike through weightlifting and once I had completed my education and clerkship at the Third Circuit Court of Appeal in Lake Charles, he offered me a job with his law firm in Lafayette. It was then called Thompson and Dennis. I later became Mike’s law partner for several years. We practiced under the name of Thompson and Perrin until Mike retired and went into construction full-time. On February 2I, I received this email from Mike:
Warren, in 1957, while I was still in high school, I attended a national collegiate meet at Southwestern’s Men’s Earl K. Long Gym. It was organized by Mike Stansbury and the team consisted of Cliff Leblanc, Buster Loubriel, Walter Imahara, Stafford Palombo and Mike Stansbury. I joined Mike’s Gym that summer and trained with Buster, anxiously awaiting Walter’s return in the fall when I then trained with both outstanding lifters under the supervision of Stansbury. Those were very memorable times for me. I was so well-treated by these older lifters who brought me along and shared their experiences with me.
28 Hardy, Florent Jr., Ph.D., A Brief History of the University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1900-1960. (Baton Rouge, LA, 1973) with re-prints in 2013 and 2019, at pp. 61-62; Chapter V, The Fletcher Administration. Pages 60-62. “Negro Registers at SLI to Study in Engineering,” The Daily Advertiser, July 22, 1954. Telephone interview with Joseph Riehl, August 20, 1968. Southwestern Louisiana Institute, Distribution of Students by Race Within the Several Academic Areas, in U.S.L. Papers, Presidential Papers, 1900-58
29 Edward P. Mouton, E.P.M., ‘People Search,’ Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns Athletic Network, accessed 29 April 2020, https://athleticnetwork.net/site.php?pageID=55&profID=305.