University of Louisiana’s National Championship Weightlifting Teams
by Warren A. Perrin, Attorney at Law
Part Three: The Culture of Winning
Chapter 2 – The Mid 1960s
We seemed to have a love-hate relationship with the coaches of the other athletic teams and the physical education professors. Some loved us for the favorable attention our victories brought to the athletic department, yet some resented us and were jealous of our achievements and of our unusual independence. George Weatherford tells this anecdote which is illustrative of the relationships:
We were always operating on a shoestring and sometimes we had to be creative with raising funds to go on some of out-of-town trips. Although Coach Reinhardt and Whitey Urban supported us, many of the other head coaches, like Falkinberry, did not like us. George Weatherford sent this amusing account of an incident that he experienced making arrangements for us to go to a weightlifting meet in Texas:
Poss Major was gifted with legendary leg strength. His lifelong friend Alvin Chustz sent this email relating an incident where Poss demonstrated not only his superb leg strength but his agility to complete a snatch:
Here is a story from Weatherford exemplifying the depth of our team in 1968:
On April 24, 2020, Weatherford sent the following email to me. He was one of the UL lifters who was on the team winning four National Collegiate Weightlifting Championships from 1965 through 1968:
In an interview with The Daily Advertiser in 1989, when he was inducted into the UL Athletics Club Hall of Fame, Alvin Chustz said to a journalist:
Due to our reputation as winners, we often had students drop by and ask to join the team. Bill LeBlanc remembers how one request was handled by our George Weatherford:
Jay Trahan sent the inspirational email reproduced below showing how we were all committed to one goal: team victory. It was not about individuality, but all of our work and planning was moving toward the goal of keeping our winning streak intact. What Jess Shows did to make sure we won one meet at the NOAC posed a threat to his own health, yet he did it for the good of the team:
Another outstanding member of the team was James “Jim” Reinhardt, the son of the long-time USL coach and athletic administrator J.C. “Dutch” Reinhardt. Jim received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering and was a member of the UL faculty for many years. He and his father form the only father-son members inducted in the UL Athletics Hall of Fame. Reinhardt won two national championships in the 148-pound class. In 1967, he finished second. At his induction, Reinhart said, “We coached ourselves and gave each other tips. Lifters are a wonderful breed. They were all interested in helping the sport. I enjoyed the association with all of the guys working out and traveling to meets in old junky cars. It was fun to be part of the team. We were like a fraternity on the cutting edge of the burgeoning sport.”
Here is a revealing story about Whitey Urban provided by Alvin Chustz and Dr. Lynn W. Aurich: In 1965, the team members were in their training room in the old gym. They were doing a variety of training exercises. Chustz was doing a set of “high-pulls” which is a training exercise that we all did because it is the first movement in all three lifts, the press, snatch, and clean and jerk high pulls. The high-pulls helped to develop full-body power. The exercise requires one to pull the weight up from a dead stop on the floor. The movement had to be done explosively with the bar loaded with more weight than the lifter can clean. Alvin was using some heavy weight. Unexpectedly, Whitey Urban walked in “the dungeon” carrying a clip board with papers. He was just paying a friendly visit to see how we were doing, which we appreciated, because no one else in the athletic department paid any attention to us despite being undefeated in all of our competitions. Alvin was doing sets of three repetitions each. After the third rep he lowered the weight on the floor. Whitey then said, “Son, if you can’t lift that weight all the way up the first time, don’t keep trying. You will hurt yourself.” Not wanting to embarrass Urban, Alvin told him that he was doing the exercise to increase his pulling power. With that Urban turned and walked out never to return to “the dungeon.” We all stared at each other in disbelief and then broke out into uproarious laughter. It was clear that Whitey meant well but knew nothing about training for weightlifting. We had no coach or supplies and little equipment which is why the long-running accomplishments of the teams over the years was so remarkable. We coached and supported each other and made do with whatever was available. It was a great time in our lives.
On December 4, 1965, UL hosted the Southern USA Intercollegiate Weightlifting meet on the campus of USL in Lafayette, Louisiana. David Berger participated in the meet representing Tulane and won first place in the middleweight class with lifts of press of 265 pounds, snatch of 245 pounds and clean and jerk of 300 pounds for a total of 810 pounds. Berger was awarded the Best Lifter trophy for the meet. Mike Blumenthal of LSU finished second with a total of 755 pounds and Joseph Poss Major of USL finished third with a total of 750 pounds. This was my very first collegiate meet as a freshman, and I finished in fourth place with a total of 745 pounds.
George Weatherford sent me this email retelling the story of the team going to compete in the Ozark Mountains Weightlifting Championships in Little Rock, Arkansas on January 29, 1966. While out-of-state, the Ark-La-Tex Region was hit by a massive ice storm causing us to have a very difficult time getting back to Lafayette:
Here is how Jess Shows remembered the same unforgettable trip to Arkansas:
One of the lifters who had the most natural strength was Jay Trahan of Abbeville, Louisiana. He could dead lift a phenomenal amount of weight. He was a member of our 1967 and 1968 National Collegiate Championship Teams. He sent this email to me:
Because we were always broke, we sought out the cheapest beer in the French Quarter to celebrate our victories in New Orleans. This turned out to be La Casa’s bar which became our favorite hangout. The following romantic situation evolved in the bar following one meet:
One of our lifters from New Orleans James H. Craig sent this email to me on February 19, 2021, providing more information on local bars we frequented following our meets there:
We all had different reasons for attending USL. For me it was to follow by brother’s footsteps in weightlifting and try to go to the Olympics. For Dr. Joseph Murry Jr., it was due to him reading a magazine and seeing results of the National Collegiate Weightlifting Championships. Here is the way Joe described it in his book:
So, this is where the story comes together. That summer after graduation, I was browsing through one of those Strength and Health muscle magazines and noticed an article about the National Collegiate Weightlifting Championships. The team that had won the competition for the previous two years was the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette, Louisiana, a school located two-and-a-half hours from New Orleans. It was at that moment that I realized that I had the rest of the answer to my Dad’s question. I wanted, one, to attend a school that offered a physical education major so that I could eventually become that teacher and coach that I aspired to become, and two, I wanted to attend a school where I could be a part of that championship weightlifting team, and three, I also wanted to have the opportunity to earn an athletic scholarship by trying out for and making it on the track team or weightlifting. I had new hope that those goals could be realized at one place, the University of Southwestern Louisiana.30
One of the athletes who was at USL in late 1960s became famous for several other groundbreaking reasons. In 2014, writer Paul Anthony Arco revisited the news headlines that had appeared in the Belvidere, Illinois, local newspaper 45 years previously. As a result, he retold the story of Judi Ford Nash, who became Miss America in 1968. Arco wrote the following in the story cited below: “After high school, Nash spent the summer traveling around the state as the reigning Miss Illinois County Fair. In September, she left Belvidere to attend the University of Southwestern Louisiana, where she competed on the men’s trampoline team. ‘I went down there because they had a premier trampoline coach, Jeff Hennessy,’ Nash says. ‘He was willing to accommodate a female on the men’s team.’ Nash not only became the first woman to win a men’s varsity gymnastics letter, but the first woman to win any letter in any sport at the university.”31 Since both the trampoline and weightlifters worked out daily in the men’s gym, we got to know Judi, who used her trampoline routine as her talent performance in order to win the coveted title of Miss America. Ford trained on the basketball court and we worked out in the old handball court.
Interestingly, the 1969 Mr. America was Boyer Coe, who was also a student at USL. Coe, a native of Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Judi Ford were the first two title holders of Mr. and Miss America attending the same university in the United States.
Boyer was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana on August 18, 1946. When he was 15 he started training at a studio in Lake Charles operated by Ray Roy, a brother of the famous trainer from Baton Rouge, Alvin Roy. Coe went on to claim the Mr. Universe title in 1969, 1973 and 1975.
George Weatherford recalls the one time that Boyer Coe competed in weightlifting before he seriously got into bodybuilding:
Because we were not given money by the university to travel to meets, we often had to be creative to save on money. Here is a story by Jess Shows of a trip that he and Boyer Coe took to Texas in the summer of 1961 and what they had to do to come home:
Boyer now lives in California and I reached out to him and asked him to send me some stories. He kindly complied with my request and sent some terrific memories from his high school years:
In the early summer of 1961, I was 15 and had been training for about two years. I convinced my father that I was ready to compete in a physique contest. I had read about a Teen Age Mr. All South Contest and Weight Lifting Championship to be held in Birmingham, Al. Being a patient man, he decided to go with me. In those days the bodybuilding contest did not start until after the lifting was over. This is the first time I became aware of “Poss” and Alvin. I remember them because they were the only ones in the weightlifting competition from Louisiana—and they were both victorious. They would certainly not remember me; they were older than me. One thing really stands out in my recollection: After everyone had finished the first lift—the press—Alvin took his first lift. I remember that he pressed 245 pounds which was a lot back in the early 1960s.
Regarding the contest, I had no experience in bodybuilding, except that I had seen Red Lerille in person when he gave a posing exhibition in Lake Charles at the YMCA in the fall of 1960. I had only seen photos in Strength and Health, Mr. America and Muscle Builder magazines. Yet, I was confident that I would do well.
The Teen Age Mr. South was won by Gable Boudreaux from New Orleans, who had an outstanding physique. Later, I learned that he was actually 21, but no one checked his age. I came in fifth. So, considering I did not know much, I had enough sense to get a pair of black swim trunks and rolled the legs up to try and show off my legs. Thus, my introduction to the world of bodybuilding.
Years later, when I finally did get to USL, I remember the names of those guys from New Roads, La.! In January of 1964, I placed third in the Mr. Louisiana, and in May, 1964, four days before I graduated from high school, I won the Mr. New Orleans contest. Actually, it was the biggest crowd I ever posed before—over 10,000 people in attendance.
Boyer eventually enrolled at USL and recited here the following stories of his relationships with some of the weightlifters:
I did meet George, but that was after I was enrolled at USL. I came to know Jess Shows, Pat Stewart and Poss Major, who later worked for Ken Guilbeaux from Lake Charles, who actually got me started in bodybuilding.
Jess lived with Frank Camalo and me for a short time when we were in college. The house was on Dean Street, on the side of Blackham Coliseum. As I recall, USL had some kind of experimental farm there where the agricultural department grew vegetables so under the cover of darkness Jess would sneak over and pick some. We always had fresh vegetables.
Jess went on one road trip with us to Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was Frank Camalo, Pat Stewart, Jess and me. Jess was always pulling stunts. For example, we are going down the highway and Frank was driving. Jess was in the back seat of car and he quietly slipped off the pillow case of Pat’s pillow and quickly pulled it over Frank’s head! Thank God Frank managed to get it off, otherwise the outcome would have not been pretty!
The only reason I went to USL was strictly because Red Lerille had his gym in Lafayette. I had already made up my mind at age 16 that was where I was going and learn everything I could from Red. This has proven to be a life-long friendship. I greatly value Red as a friend. We still talk at least once a week. In fact, the day after I graduated from high school—after an all-night party—I came home, packed my car and moved to Lafayette that same day.
The following appeared in the 1967 USL yearbook L’Acadien:
Rated as the team to beat in the nation, the USL weightlifters won the National Championships in 1966 for the second consecutive year. This marked the third time in the last four years that the strong men have accomplished this outstanding feat. Determination and hard work have proven successful. The USL team has lost but few meets in the last four years.
USL is especially proud of its 148-pound lifter, Jim Reinhardt, who was named National Collegiate champion last year. Other lifters scoring points in the National Championship were Mike Williams, Joseph Poss Major, Warren Perrin, Alvin Chustz, George Weatherford and Pat Stewart. The experienced lifters, along with the promising beginners, always prove too much for competition, thus making the team the most victorious team in USL’s sports history.
30 Dr. Joseph Murry Jr., Coming of Age, (New Orleans, Louisiana, JHM Publishing, February, 2018), page 8.
31 Paul Anthony Arco, PAA, ‘There She Is, Miss America: Catching up with Judi Ford Nash,’ Northwest Quarerly.Com, Spring, 2014, accessed 20 February 2020, http://oldnorthwestterritory.northwestquarterly.com/2014/06/thereshe-is-miss-america-catching-up-with-judi-ford-nash/.