University of Louisiana’s National Championship Weightlifting Teams
by Warren A. Perrin, Attorney at Law
Part Three: The Culture of Winning
Chapter 3 – The Early 1970s
Bill LeBlanc, a native of Abbeville, Louisiana, won three national weightlifting titles in the 123-pound class, winning the individual titles in 1968, 1970 and 1971. His collegiate honors were part of a 15-year career in weightlifting that also included numerous regional and national titles. He still holds the state clean and jerk record in the 123-pound class with a 258-pound lift in winning the Louisiana State Open in 1976. His lift bested the 250-pound record which had been set by Walter Imahara in 1956. He won national crowns in 1968 in Lafayette, Louisiana, the 1970 title in Princeton, New Jersey, and the 1971 championship in Richmond, Virginia. For the last two years he served as team captain. In 1978, Bill won the Junior National Championships in San Francisco, California. He finished third in the U. S. Olympic Trials in 1980 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Bill LeBlanc and Wayne Vizzini were the leaders of the last weightlifting team at the university. Here is their story as told by Bill:
In 1972, Athletic Director Whitey Urban and his secretary Bonnie Maillet were the duo team helping the weightlifting team through the end of the era of USL domination of collegiate weightlifting. They always seem to be very protective of us. Bonnie would tell us we could enter Urban’s office without waiting. When we entered, we usually had to wave away the cloud of smoke from his cigarettes.
My sophomore year and Wayne’s freshman year we had to make the move from “the dungeon” in the old men’s gym to Judice Hall, on the corner across from the UL library. We were out of a weight room for about six weeks before Whitey found us one in Judice Hall, an old married-hall duplex. We had two rooms for training and a bathroom. Eventually, they moved a married couple next door to us, and we were told to keep the noise down when dropping weights and no one could train after 7:00 pm. The weight room remained there until the weightlifting team ended in 1972.
For traveling, we had a loan of a school car and a school credit card. Bonnie repeatedly told us, “just keep the receipts.”
For the national collegiate championships, we had to ask the student government for money, and they usually gave us $1,000. Urban would furnish the remainder that we needed.
We could check out some books that we needed from the “book room” if they were available. If not, we had to purchase the books on our own. My freshman year, we had the “free” meal with the rest of the scholarship athletes in the evening, but this didn’t continue after that year.
Just for fun, Wayne Vizzini and I trained for a dual clean and jerk during our training sessions. I weighed 123 pounds and Wayne 132 pounds. We were about the same height and one day just decided that would together try to do a clean and jerk of 500 pounds. Lifting together, we were able to clean and jerk 500 pounds in training. After a competition in Beaumont, Texas, we decided it was time to try it in public. We worked up to 450 pounds and were both exhausted by the time we would try 500 pounds. We decided to leave the 500 pounds dual-lift in the weight room and never tried it again.
As for physical education classes, we didn’t get the benefits of not going to classes; we had to attend the class and earn the “A” the old fashion way.
LeBlanc told about his experiences with James H. Craig, a lifter who continued to compete after college:
Another lifter who went on to achieve weightlifting victories after the college years was James, who was from New Orleans. He presently lives in Metairie and is a retired nurse. There were a couple of meets I do remember him competing and doing very well. He did lift in the 123- and 132-pound classes. In 1978, he won the Junior Nationals in San Francisco in the 132-pound class the same year I won the Junior Nationals in the 123-pound class. He was invited to the first Olympic Sports Festival in Colorado Springs, and he and I were roommates for that weeklong event.
Craig sent this email to me on February 10, 2021:
I lifted competitively from 1966-1979; I lifted first for the New Orleans Lee Circle YMCA. I transitioned to USL. I then did a stint as an independent and returned to represent the YMCA. I represented USL in 1970, 1971 and 72. I retired in 1979 when my performance did not rival that of 1978. The 13 years of competition were fun, and I took it as far as I could at the time. I left the platform to those willing to devote the time and training needed to succeed in weightlifting.
I received this email from Craig on February 13, 2021, where he discusses the end of the weightlifting team at the university:
In 1972, both Bill LeBlanc and Wayne Vizzini graduated from USL. Their departure from the university ended the reign of the Olympic weightlifting team at the university