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Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Profile: Higgins’ nationally-respected sportswriting career began in elementary school

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Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Profile: Higgins’ nationally-respected sportswriting career began in elementary school


Ron Higgins

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL
Written for the LSWA

He was a tagalong, only eight years at the time, but the kid had a fascination with all of the things a newsroom had to offer in the 1960s.

The cigar smoke. The pounding of the typewriter. The clicking of the teletype machine. Most of all, the chatter.

Grown men talking about grown men stuff.

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“I’d sit there with my dad and all the sports writers,” he says today, “and just take everything in.”

Until one day when Bud Montet, then the sports editor of the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, called the kid over and handed him a few pieces of paper. “Can you write me four or five paragraphs on this BREC softball game?” Montet asked.

And the boy set about that task on a manual typewriter, two fingers hunting-and-pecking all the way, with the mission of crafting the best BREC softball game story that has ever been written by an eight-year-old.

“I knew then,” Ron Higgins says today, “that this is what I wanted to do.”

It has carried him into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame as a 2024 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism. He is part of the 12-member Class of 2024 to be honored June 20-22 in Natchitoches. For participation opportunities, visit LaSportsHall.com or call 318-238-4255.

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***

Appropriately, there is a story about how Higgins got started as a sports writer because stories are what he is all about.

Though he still uses that hunt-and-peck style he learned as an eight-year-old, Higgins doesn’t write with his fingers.

He writes with his eyes.

He writes with his ears.

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And he writes with his heart.

(His fingers just do the dirty work).

There are stories about covering games all over the South, stories about interview subjects that nobody else had ever heard of and stories about situations he just happened to walk into. But before you can read it, first he had to see it. Hear it. Feel it.

In a 45-year career that has included an amazing 11 stops along the way, Higgins still has a hard time deciding what he enjoys the most about covering sports.

Maybe it’s the big games. Or the off-the-wall quotes. Or giving a hard-line opinion when the situation calls for it. Or the below-the-radar feature stories that he finds that nobody else seems to.

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“I have always loved a long-form feature,” he says. “But then again, I like the immediacy of a really good game story. I love covering events because you never know what’s going to happen in a game. That’s the beauty of it and you get to write it that way. And I like writing columns because I’m opinionated. When you’ve done it as long as I have, you’ve got a pretty good perspective. I wish I had that perspective about 30 or 40 years ago.”

Maybe even longer than that.

Higgins had bylined stories before he had a driver’s license. (“Mother would drop me off at the games and come back and pick me up,” he says.) He’d go into postgame locker rooms and football coaches thought he was the towel boy.

There’s no mistaking it any more. Higgins is going to be in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, alongside sports and sportswriting heroes from his youth, and throughout his career.

“Even after they told me, I had a hard time believing it,” Higgins says. “There are so many other people in this state, which has had a history of great writers, that I think deserve it more. But I’m truly honored to be selected. It’s been my life’s work. It’s all I’ve wanted to do since I was a boy.”

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***

You want stories? Let’s begin.

On Jan. 11, 1980, Higgins had a morning appointment to talk to LSU defensive coordinator Greg Williams. Fresh out of college as a 1979 LSU graduate, Higgins was working for Tiger Rag and didn’t bother to listen to TV or radio that morning as he made his way to the LSU football office.

When he arrived, he could instantly feel that something was wrong.

“I walked in and everybody is crying and I asked what happened,” Higgins remembers. “That’s when they told me Bo’s plane went down.”

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Bo Rein, who had been hired only two months earlier, had left Shreveport the night before to return back to Baton Rouge after a recruiting trip and the plane he was on crashed in the Atlantic Ocean. (The cause of the crash was probably cabin depressurization causing a lack of oxygen.)

“I didn’t even know what to say at that point,” Higgins says. “I realized that I don’t think I can walk into anything worse than this.”

He explained that he had an appointment with Williams. He was told that Williams was in his office and, amazingly, had put Rein on the plane the night before in Shreveport.

Williams invited Higgins into his office. “All I asked him was ‘What happened?’” he says. “And he just started talking.”

Less than a year out of college and Higgins was listening to a man who had just lost one of his best friends and could have easily been aboard that plane had he not made other last-minute plans.

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Not exactly a situation they teach you in a journalism classroom.

Higgins followed up with Williams, who had retired from coaching, for a reflective 2015 story that won first place in the LSWA’s annual writing contest.

Want another story?

In 2019, Higgins was working for NOLA.com and knew a personal trainer who had a story to tell about one of his clients.

Joe Este was a New Orleans kid who had come from a tough background, but had managed to get a football scholarship at Tennessee-Martin. Este discovered his mother was homeless, living out of a car in a casino parking lot. He also had two nephews that were basically orphans because Este’s sister had a drug addiction.

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“He decided to raise those kids while playing football at Tennessee-Martin,” Higgins says. “He was 21 years old. Every day he raised those two boys and they became like the mascots of the football team. He managed to graduate, then got a shot with the (Tennessee) Titans and made it for about a month.”

Which was a nice story and made for a good video package on the 10 o’clock news. But Higgins’ story went beyond that.

“He wanted to adopt those kids but he didn’t know how,” he says. “When my story got printed, all these people, including lawyers, called me wanting to help him adopt the kids. Eventually, he did and has raised them as his sons.”

OK, one more …

When he was working in Memphis, Higgins went to the USA Olympic Baseball training facility in Millington, Tenn. “They had open tryouts,” Higgins says. “And anybody could try out.”

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Anybody did … and his name was Lonnie Altman.

“I saw this guy playing shortstop with this old-time flannel uniform on,” Higgins says. “He was probably in his 40s. And he was awful.”

Altman was staying in a van in the parking lot. “His whole life was in the van,” says Higgins. “Even had a picture of his mother on the dashboard.”

So Higgins asked the obvious and not-so-subtle question: “Why are you even here?”

“My mother always wanted me to be a ball player,” Altman told him. “I know I’m not very good, but I wanted to make my mother proud.”

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***

HRon Higginsiggins has worked for the more than one paper in the same city (Shreveport), twice in the same city (“I came back and replaced myself in Memphis,” he says), Mississippi, Alabama and all sorts of publications in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

He’s seen a lot in journalism because there’s a lot to see. And not all of it is good, in his opinion.

“I’ve grudgingly tried not to adjust to new journalism,” he says. “I still believe in the value of a good story that’s not written in tweets. I still believe that people like to read really good stories. I can’t stand some of the fast-food, new journalism that you are forced to file now because your bosses believe you have to dumb things down to the readers.”

In 2008, he served as president of the Football Writers Association of America. He remains the only Louisiana native to hold that office.

Higgins is also a 10-time Tennessee Sportswriter of the Year. He was inducted into the Tennessee Sportswriters Hall of Fame in 2011.

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He didn’t get those honors by writing stories titled “Three things you need to know about …”

“Everything is a list or five observations,” Higgins says. “They don’t believe people have time to read anything so they dumb it down as much as possible. I still believe there are literate people out there who like to read good stories. When you come across a really good story to tell and you know it’s going to come across that way, it kind of renews your faith in what you’re doing.”

And don’t get him started about the limited media access. Gone, for the most part, are the days of interviews in front of a player’s locker.

“The access is awful, Higgins says. “There is no access and that’s what you miss. Some of the greatest quotes you ever get are in locker rooms because they weren’t on a platform and they weren’t in front of a bunch of cameras. There wasn’t a moderator asking questions and it wasn’t controlled because your coach wasn’t sitting next to you.”

***

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And the reason why that young boy was in smoke-filled newsrooms back in the 1960s? That’s because the Ron’s father was Ace Higgins, who was the longtime Sports Information Director at LSU.

In those days, Ace Higgins would come to the Morning Advocate newsroom three times a week and help write stories to put the sports section together.

But Ace Higgins was much more than that. He was the school’s SID when Billy Cannon won the Heisman Trophy. And when LSU had 13 first-team All-Americans. And when Pete Maravich showed up and changed the way college basketball was played.

Three days before Christmas in 1968, Ace Higgins died of a heart attack. He was 45 and left behind a 12-year-old son.

“I think about him every day,” Ron Higgins says. “Every press box I go in, there is somebody who knew him and they’ll talk to me about him.”

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When Higgins was hired by the Shreveport Journal in December 1982, the second column he wrote was a tribute to his father, Ace.

“My dad never intended for me to be a sportswriter,” Higgins says. “So he never really knew how much influence he had on me.”

Or how much influence his son would have in a career of telling stories.

John James Marshall is a former LSWA president who writes for the ShreveportBossierJournal.com.



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Louisiana

1 of 2 abducted Louisiana children is found dead in Mississippi after their mother is killed

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1 of 2 abducted Louisiana children is found dead in Mississippi after their mother is killed


JACKSON, Miss. — A Louisiana woman was found dead in her home Thursday, and her two young daughters were abducted and found hours later in Mississippi — one dead and the other alive, police said.

A Louisiana resident who had dated the woman was arrested in Jackson, Mississippi, in connection with the deaths and abduction, investigators said.

“He had the victim’s car along with her alive-and-well 6-year-old child,” said Chief Deputy Jimmy Travis of the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Office in Louisiana.

The body of the other child, a 4-year-old, was found near the car in a wooded area in Jackson, Travis said.

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Louisiana State Police issued an Amber Alert for the children after their mother, Callie Brunett, was found dead in her home in Loranger, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) east of Baton Rouge. She had been reported missing after no one had spoken with her since Tuesday, Travis said. A cause of death was not immediately released.

“This was just an unspeakable crime,” Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards said. “Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims’ family. It was a horrendous tragedy.”

Jackson Police Chief Joseph Wade said officers contacted the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation’s human trafficking division about the case. He said small animal cages were discovered at the wooded area where the children were found.

“He tried to do away with the children by taking them into this wooded area,” Wade said of the suspect, adding, “This was a horrible, horribly tragic situation that was committed by the actions of a coward.”



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Louisiana Authorities Searching for 2 Young Girls After Mother Found Dead in Home

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Louisiana Authorities Searching for 2 Young Girls After Mother Found Dead in Home


Detectives with the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office are searching for two young girls who went missing from their home after their mother was found deceased in the home.

Callie Brunett, 35, who was found dead in her Loranger home early Thursday morning after being reported missing for 24 hours.

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Her two young children, 6-year-old Jalie and 4-year-old Erin, are currently unaccounted for. Authorities are asking anyone with information on their whereabouts to contact 911 immediately.

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Louisiana State Police

Louisiana State Police

Additionally, Brunett’s black 2012 Chrysler 200, with Louisiana license plate 859GML, is also missing.

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An Amber Alert has been sent out across the state of Louisiana.

“Amber Alert issued for 3-yr-old Erin Brunett and 6-yr-old Jalie Brunett. They were last seen at 56044 N. Cooper Road in Loranger. They were abducted before 8:00 a.m. Erin and Jalie are white females. A white male is wanted for questioning in a domestic violence incident which resulted in a homicide. He is driving a black 2012 Chrysler 200 LA plate 859GML

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This is a developing story, and the KPEL News Team is working to provide additional coverage for Acadiana. Updates will be shared as they become available, so download the KPEL News app via Google Play or in the App Store and subscribe to breaking news alerts to get the latest information sent directly to your mobile device.

You can also use the KPEL app to submit a news tip, share a traffic update, or chat directly with our on-air team.

Be sure to bookmark our latest site, wearelafayette.net, where we provide more local news coverage as well as lifestyle and community features.

To report errors, omissions, or other concerns regarding the content above, send emails to news@kpel965.com.

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More child abuse victims can sue after Louisiana Supreme Court reversal • Louisiana Illuminator

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More child abuse victims can sue after Louisiana Supreme Court reversal • Louisiana Illuminator


Adults abused as children decades ago will be able to sue over the mistreatment under a Louisiana Supreme Court ruling released Wednesday. 

Justices overturned their decision from March that declared a “lookback window” for lawsuits over older child abuse allegations unconstitutional. Now such cases can move forward.

The new ruling likely creates greater liability for the Catholic Church and other organizations accused of systemic child exploitation over decades. It could also affect individual schools, summer camps and other institutions that tolerated misconduct toward minors.

“I am thankful that the Court saw the error in its original opinion and was willing to reconsider this matter and find the Lookback Window to be constitutional,” Frank Lamothe, a New Orleans attorney who represents child abuse survivors in lawsuits against the Catholic Church, said in a written statement. “This is a victory for the survivors of child sex abuse.”

The court’s change of heart is also a political victory for Attorney General Liz Murrill, who put the justices under public pressure to reconsider the initial ruling. In April, she asked for a rehearing on the issue.

“These child victims of sexual abuse deserve their day in court,” Murrill said in a written statement  Wednesday after the new ruling. “It’s very rare for the Supreme Court to grant rehearing and reverse itself. I’m grateful to the Court for giving such careful attention to an issue that is so deeply troubling and personal for so many victims of abuse.” 

A case brought against the Catholic Diocese of Lafayette led to the justices’ ruling. A group of plaintiffs sued over alleged abuse at the hands of a priest in the 1970s. The diocese maintained the accusations were too old to be pursued. 

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The Legislature voted in 2021 to let adult survivors of child abuse file claims for damages for three years — from June 14, 2021 to June 14, 2024 — if the deadline to do so had previously expired. 

This was expected to allow people abused prior to the early 1990s, but who had never come forward with a legal challenge, to do so.

The Lafayette diocese pushed back on the law, saying legislators never intended to allow old allegations dating back to the 1970s to be examined. They also argued allowing older accusations to come forward would be a violation of due process, because witnesses and documents related to abuse claims might longer be available. 

The Legislature disagreed. It unanimously passed a clarifying law in 2022, stating its intent to allow for civil lawsuits over decades-old abuse. Earlier this year, lawmakers also unanimously approved a resolution, sent to each Supreme Court justice, restating their desire to see older abuse allegations be brought forward in court.

In the ruling released Wednesday, justices writing for the majority acknowledged as much.

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“[T]he conclusion is unassailable: the legislature intended retroactive application of the law,” Chief Justice John Weimer said in his opinion. 

Weimer also agreed with the lawmakers’ reasoning for establishing a three-year lookback period. Many victims take years to come to terms with their mistreatment as youth.

“Child sexual abuse is a unique tort in which the average victim does not come forward until they are 52 years old,” Weimer wrote. “For many victims of child sexual abuse, the revival provision represents their first and only opportunity to bring suit. Providing that opportunity to those victims is a legitimate legislative purpose.”

Justices Weimer, John Crain and Jay McCallum voted in favor of upholding the lookback window twice, in March and this week. Justices Scott Crichton and Piper Griffin reversed themselves, initially throwing out the lookback period in March but voting to reinstate it this week. 

Justices James Genovese and Jeff Hughes opposed the lookback window both times, saying the Legislature was overstepping its bounds by passing the law.

“I am very concerned about this majority ruling on rehearing granting unbridled authority to the legislature to enact legislation which supersedes and tramples our constitution,” Genovese wrote.

The confusion over the 2021 law prompted the Legislature to make yet another legal change this year. Last month, they unanimously passed an extension to the lookback window, which will allow abuse survivors to file lawsuits until June 14, 2027. 

Advocates for child abuse victims said some people have held back on filing lawsuits while the court deliberated whether the lookback period would stand.

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