Blonde ambition: Episcopal baseball changes look in hopes solidarity will help carry Knights to Division III state tournament

by William Weathers // Contributor

Through nearly three decades of coaching three different sports at Episcopal High School, Travis Bourgeois hadn’t witnessed a team that had gone to such lengths to alter the course of their season.

When the Knights believed their baseball season was teetering in the opposite direction of the state playoffs, they literally decided to take measures into their own hands to enhance solidarity and develop a greater sense of team.

“Coach mentioned how we lacked camaraderie,” Episcopal senior shortstop Walker Dauzat. “We weren’t close enough as a team. We all wanted to do something where everybody bought in.”

Bourgeois, in his 11th season as baseball coach, will enter his 26th season as the school’s football coach and had previously been the girls’ basketball coach.

He’s seen it all in his 29-year overall tenture at the private Baton Rouge school to foster teamwork, but when assorted members of his baseball team began showing up with blonde hair, he shook his head in approval.

“As a coach I kind of liked it,” Bourgeois said. “Initially when you have guys doing that, they’re buying into each other. Sometimes the most talented teams don’t always win it. Sometimes those guys have to pull for each other, have that bonding and teamwork … little things in the end that might pay off.”

Episcopal recovered from a bumpy start, losing six of its first nine games with three one-run setbacks adding to a sense of frustration, before a picture of postseason play gained clarity.

The Knights rallied to win nine of 14 games, including the District 6-2A championship, briefly climbing over .500 before taking their spot in the state playoffs.

No. 11 Episcopal (13-14) received a first-round bye and travels to Shreveport to face No. 6 Calvary Baptist (23-10) in the best-of-three Division III state regional series that begins at 6 p.m. next Thursday, April 25.

“That’s the thing that made us want to do this in the first place,” Episcopal junior first baseman Chase Cresson said. “We were right there. We played a really hard schedule and could hang with any team. If you watched the games, we looked like we should be there against some of the best teams in the state. We felt like we needed something to rally us together and push us over the edge a bit.”

Cresson said one of the initial ideas pitched for improved team bonding were buzzcuts.

That notion didn’t gain much traction amongst the 24-member team until three brave souls – junior second baseman Carter Guillory, junior outfielder John Hart Singer and Dauzat – voluntarily changed their looks.

Guillory and Singer bought $10 bottles of dye, while Dauzat went to a local salon.

Cresson hosted a full lineup of 15 players at his home with a hairdresser handling the two-hour process of converting the team from their natural hair color to blonde.

The Knights already had three natural blonde-hair players, while two others abstained but may reluctantly join in (pending parent approval) should the Knights advance to the state tournament.

“It was a good time,” Dauzat said. “We were all hanging out, just having fun, doing some team bonding.”

“This was the first thing that came to mind,” Cresson said. “Maybe, not the best option.”

Episcopal, with a makeup of eight seniors, phased in their new look with approximately six players sporting their new hair color in a 16-7 road win at Ascension Episcopal.

Three games later, in the team’s Senior Day, 22 of the 24-member team stood proudly with blonde hair and the Knights climbed above .500 for the first time at 12-11 in a 12-5 victory over Family Christian Academy.

“This was the first time to do something outside of school as a team,” Guillory said. “We were just having a good time, laughing at each other and with each other. We were realizing this is for real. We’re doing this together, so regardless of the outcome, we’re in this together. It made us closer as a team.”

The only thing Bourgois could remember that rivaled such a move of unity was one of his girls’ basketball teams wearing matching bows in their hair.

“It takes a lot of guts because wherever you go on campus and you see that blonde hair, you know that guy plays baseball,” he said. “You’re easy to identify. The moms had fun with it as well.

“Just to see some kids go out there you think are maybe a little passive, and to jump on board and be part of it, I think it speaks volumes about kids like that,” he said. You don’t know their personalities all the time. I see some of these kids walking around with confidence. They do have the blonde hair and they’re not afraid.”

Dauzat said his mother expressed concern with senior pictures and graduation fast approaching, but relented as long as he reverses the process right after the season.

Getting into his own house took some convincing for Singer after his dye job.

“I scared my dog when I got home,” he said. “He started barking at me and running away. He didn’t recognize me.”

Episcopal twice put together modest three-game winning streaks and captured a significant 7-6 win over Class 4A (Division II) West Feliciana on March 19.

The victory over Dunham, the No. 5 team in the Division III select playoffs, in the District 6-2A championship game on March 30 was the final piece needed to cement the team’s plans to go blonde.

With a spot secured in the playoffs, they opted to gain a head start on their makeovers over the final two weeks of the regular season in an effort to gain steam for a push through the playoffs which begins next Thursday.

They’ve encountered plenty of gasps and double takes on campus and withstood snickers and stares during the national anthem at Doyle on March 11 in their first full team appearance as blonde teammates.

Those experiences have reinforced their beliefs and further strengthened their commitments to each other to see it through.

“We could have bailed and not done it,” Cresson said. “It kind of gives you a sense where you can look to the guy next to you with blonde hair and he has my back. This is my brother that will go with me to war. He’s already dyed his hair and looks stupid with me. It kind of builds this, ‘we’re all in this together’ type of thing.”