So, it came as a refreshing surprise, albeit somber and sad, when the news of long-time LSU women's basketball coach Sue Gunter's passing made its rounds among the sports writing and reporting community. Some of my colleagues actually had to take a moment to collect themselves and try to choke back emotions before they could speak.
I know it took me more than a few moments to gather my thoughts when I heard the news of her death Aug. 4. It took even longer for me to hold back a few tears when I read the stories and reflections voiced by those who played for, worked with and covered her throughout her career.
It's a shame, but I've never met a
sportswriter who said he decided to join the ranks just to cover women's
athletics. We all wanted to be a part of the big news like football and
basketball and, around
When I started working at the LSU student newspaper, The Reveille, in 1997, I envisioned long conversations with Skip Bertman, during which we debated the merits of the sacrifice bunt with a man on first and one out in the eighth inning.
I thought I'd be sitting across a desk from Gerry DiNardo asking him how he was going to make three all-SEC-caliber running backs happy with just one football to hand off.
The thought of running from class to women's basketball practice in time to catch Gunter before she dismissed the team never crossed my mind. It wasn't part of my plan.
But, I was the low man on the ladder and my editor loved baseball. My assistant editor loved football and the other sportswriter loved basketball so that left me - the new guy. It was off to the soccer field for me, or gymnastics practice and down to the auxiliary gym to catch Gunter before she dismissed the team.
And though I did have my conversations about baseball merits with Bertman and I did get the chance to talk to DiNardo and eventually Nick Saban about a variety of gridiron topics, none of those conversations ever came close to meaning as much to me as the time spent discussing basketball (and life) with coach Gunter.
So often in sports, players and coaches take on larger-than-life personae. It's difficult, especially for young sports writers, to get past the idea these folks are not icons nor are they beyond reproach. They are simply people, just like everyone else. Sometimes that discovery is disappointing, especially when it happens after coaches and players are involved in situations that draw notoriety more than fame and ire more than praise.
But, there was nothing unpleasant about getting the chance to find out who Sue Gunter really was. Every time she answered a question, whether it was about basketball or the weather, she answered it candidly and she gave you the opportunity to find out who she really was with each word.
I was simply overwhelmed at times
at how approachable she was and at how the door to her office was always open.
She was never condescending, even when I asked the most mundane questions. She
always remembered my name and she was always grateful I was there to cover her
team. She knew the stories were often presented to blind eyes and that the
stands in the
Unfortunately, coach Gunter very
rarely had the opportunity to lead her teams onto the floor in front of a packed
house. That luxury was reserved for road games, mostly against
But, despite the lack of recognition and the frustration she surely felt because of it, Gunter never pointed fingers and she never unleashed that frustration on the media, at least not while I was there. While other women's sports coaches at LSU begged and pleaded for more coverage and accusingly asked me why their teams weren't front-page-news, Gunter went about the business of coaching her team and answering my questions. She seemed to understand, fairly or not, she would always take a backseat to her male counterparts. She knew that those of us who spoke with her regularly and wrote about every game were doing the best we could as well. That's all she asked and the only reason was because she knew her players deserved more.
Now, the crowds have arrived and there is a rare and special feeling surrounding the program she built. Tiger fans have an opportunity to watch a team this season, same as the one the last two seasons, that has as much of a chance to win a national championship as any other in the country. It is an opportunity so few fans get the chance to experience.
It's a shame coach Gunter will not have the chance to lead that team on the floor.
That has been, and will be again, the task of Pokey Chatman, who has assumed not only Gunter's control of the team and her mannerisms, but also her unwavering respect for her players, the fans, writers and reporters who are a part of LSU Women's Basketball.
My dad, a long-time newspaper
While Sue Gunter never held Knight's rank or recognition in the sports lexicon and it's doubtful few read the results, my example of why I'm proud to be a sports writer came in late spring in 1998. Gunter and I sat in her office for an hour or so over a couple of cups of coffee and discussed the reasons why basketball is such a fantastic game. She said how lucky she was to have the chance to be a coach and how lucky I was to be blessed with an ability to write about that.
For that memory and for everything else she did to bless our community, I want to say thanks.
Thank you Coach.
Chris Macaluso is a staff
writer at Tiger Rag Magazine. The son of longtime State-Times and Advocate
writer Joe Macaluso, Chris got his start at The Reveille and has since been a
fixture on the