By TED LEWIS, Written for the LSWA
It doesn’t happen as frequently as a decade ago these days. But still, inevitably, when Lori Lyons is out and about somewhere in the River parishes, someone will see her and exclaim, “You’re the Times-Picayune Lady!”
With good reason.
For more than two decades, Lyons was the T-P’s high school writer based in the River Parishes Bureau covering St. Charles, St. John and St. James parishes, celebrating the accomplishments of the athletes and their teams in that area between New Orleans and Baton Rouge where high school sports have always mattered. It wasn’t all Lyons did in her career, but it was what she loved most.
“First, I think I stood out because I was a young woman,” Lyons, the first full-time female sportswriter in the newspaper’s history, explained about her recognizability. “And I was comfortable talking to kids.
“I was lucky enough to be there at their biggest moments and I like to say I filled a whole bunch of scrapbooks. For a lot of them, that was their moment in the sun.”
And now, it’s Lyons’ moment in the sun.
She is a 2023 recipient of the Louisiana Sports Writers Association’s Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism and will be inducted in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. The Class of 2023 Induction Celebration is July 27-29 in Natchitoches. Information and tickets are available at LaSportsHall.com or by calling 318-238-4255.
That enshrinement seems fitting. Lyons was president of the LSWA, just the second woman in the organization’s history, when the Hall of Fame museum opened in 2013.
“Nobody had more energy for her job than Lori,” said fellow Hall of Famer and longtime T-P colleague Bill Bumgarner. “That made her a perfect match for the River Parish schools.
“Lori had so much pride in her work, and the coaches and athletes liked being around her because she always was in such a good mood.”
Lyons’ time with the Times-Picayune ended in 2012 when the newspaper terminated more than half of its staff, something she recalls as among the most personally devastating days of her life.
But it didn’t end her journalism career — or her time in her adoptive home in the River parishes.
Lyons continued to write for several outlets until 2020 when she became a journalism, multimedia and creative writing teacher at Riverside Academy in LaPlace, effectively putting her sportswriting days behind her.
But not her journalism skills.
At Riverside, Lyons is the sponsor of the Rebel Express, which this year swept the state’s top awards for high school news website.
That position has allowed Lyons to lead others into her former profession, including 2023 RA graduate and Rebel Express editor Kallie Bourgeois, who will be majoring in journalism at Northwestern State.
“She guided me in the direction of something I never thought was possible for me,” Bourgeois said. “Ms. Lyons definitely brought me out of my comfort zone.
“You can tell she really loves what she’s doing.’’
Of course, there’s far more to Lyons than writing and teaching.
Since 1994, she’s been married to longtime prep baseball coach Marty Luquet, now also at Riverside Academy, allowing Lyons to at last become a fan of the man she calls, “The Coach.”
“I rooted for him. I just couldn’t cheer for him,” she said.
Besides being a stepmom to Courtney Luquet, who now is on the football staff at Tulane, and Daniel Luquet, who is the head football coach at Hahnville, she’s also the mother of Lora Leigh Luquet, whose adoption in 2001 Lyons chronicled in a self-published 2009 book.
Lora Leigh is somewhat following in her mother’s footsteps. She recently graduated from Northwestern State, where she was editor of the Current Sauce student newspaper in her senior year, and has taken a job as a reporter with the Picayune (Miss.) Item.
“I’ve always been a good writer,” Lora Leigh said. “I think that came from her.”
That is very likely.
Born on the bayou in Houma, Lyons enjoyed writing from an early age, including “sappy teenage love poems,” once she reached Terrebonne High School.
That was also where Lyons developed an interest in sports and her writing talent was nurtured by journalism teacher Anita LaRose.
“Lori stood out because she was a natural,” LaRose recalled. “And she really loved sports when not a lot of girls did in those days.
“I think later, it was being one of those people who roots for the underdog that made her so popular. And it sounds like she’s a natural as a teacher, too, because she just relates to kids.”
After graduating from Terrebonne in 1980 — and starting her paid journalism career that year as assistant society editor of the Houma Courier — Lyons attended Loyola University where she majored first in communications, then English, taking a leisurely seven years to graduate.
She came to the Times-Picayune in 1986 as a part-time agate clerk, typing box scores and line scores. Her first day was almost her last, though. After driving from Houma, Lyons was told by the other desk personnel she needed to pick up dinner for everyone.
“I nearly walked out,” she said. “That was before diversity training, but I wasn’t going to be ‘the girl’ in sports that people liked to take advantage of.”
But as time went on, Lyons’ affinity for the job and her co-workers grew.
“Whatever happened,” she said. “I just rolled with it.”
Also, working in the sports department, first as the agate clerk and then being promoted to full-time sports clerk in 1987, was an education — not just about the different players, teams and leagues, but also how the sports staff operated.
And there was plenty of time in those pre-internet days spent answering the phone to settle bar bets, although more than once the callers demanded to speak to one of the guys for verification.
In those days, the Times-Picayune had five prep reporters in its suburban bureaus, and in 1990, the River Parishes job opened up.
“I had done enough writing to know I could do it,” Lyons said. “I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I wanted to do more. The toughest part was leaving Uptown New Orleans for LaPlace, which I knew nothing about.”
Covering sports in the River Parishes proved to be a natural fit.
The region had a long history of excelling in prep sports, and while certainly entities like the Saints and LSU were nearby, local sports still were No. 1 in communities like Reserve, Destrehan, Lutcher, Boutte, Edgard and St. James.
Hailing from nearby Houma also helped Lyons feel at home.
“It was rural, but it was also a safe place to go out and do my thing,” Lyons said. “And I really liked covering high school sports. I love the bands, the dance teams, the grandmas in lawn chairs.
“Certainly I had to prove myself to the coaches, but I never felt any horrible sexism or discrimination.”
It also helped that the area produced great teams and athletes in the ‘90s and ‘00s – Hahnville’s undefeated state championship football team in 1994, Superdome-reaching teams like Destrehan, West St. John, Riverside and St. Charles; baseball finalists Riverside, St. Charles and Hahnville; basketball champions Reserve Christian and, later, Riverside Academy.
And there were the athletes – topped by Pro Football Hall of Famer Ed Reed from Destrehan. Add in Laron and Dawan Landry at Hahnville, Tyson Jackson of West St. John, Jarvis Landry at Lutcher, Ryan Perilloux from East St. John, Rico Gathers and Jared Butler from Riverside, Cara “Moon” Ursin at Destrehan.
“I was always at the big games, and there were lots of them,” Lyons said. ”And when a kid gets interviewed after a game, it’s because they were great or they did something special. I was there to document their greatest moment.
“The next day, they got to read their name in the paper. They remember that.”
Lyons also built relations with the coaches by not second-guessing them in print and letting what happened in the game tell the story.
“She never tried to analyze what they were doing and never questioned their decisions,” said Luquet. “She wasn’t out to get anyone.”
If there was any question about Lyons’ bonafides, it was answered in 1992 when she won the first of two LSWA Prep Writer of the Year awards.
“I was stunned and elated,” Lyons said. “But it also gave me a lot of credibility to say to those who doubted me, ‘See? I told y’all I could do this.’ There were a few people who doubted whether a girl could — or should — be covering sports.”
Motherhood didn’t put a crimp in Lyons’ work habits. Lora was her mother’s constant companion at games for many years and there was only one missed big event — a Halloween when it fell on a Friday night.
“I don’t know how she did it all, but she did,” Lora Leigh said.
Luquet was another constant companion when his coaching duties didn’t conflict. She even got to cover one of his games — a late-starting rain-relocated playoff game when no one else was available.
“I think she quoted me pretty accurately,” he said.
Unlike many sportswriters, Lyons was content to continue to cover high school sports. “I guess I kind of liked being the big fish in the pond,” she said.
And she might well still be the River Parishes’ Times-Picayune Lady today had not the newspaper business changed so radically.
What she calls “The Purge,” at the T-P, was followed by six years of freelancing before she began teaching, first at Emily C. Watkins Elementary in LaPlace and then Riverside.
“Teaching is so rewarding,” she said. “When kids graduate, they remain ‘my kids,’ even if I had them for just one class or only interacted with them in the hallway.
‘It was like being a small part of their journey.”
And now, instead of climbing up to press boxes, Lyons gets to sit in the stands at Riverside games and be a fan.
“I really don’t miss it,” she said. “It’s different going to games and watching kids you actually know.
“Before, they were just a name or a number. Now, they’re my students, my kids.”
However, Lyons is often reminded of the past, especially when one of her students tells her she covered their parents or she finds a clipping from a story she wrote about their mom or dad.
Or, when she runs into one of those ex-athletes who know her even if she doesn’t know them.
That’s why Lori Lyons will forever be, “The Times-Picayune Lady.”