Summer reunion will mark 50th anniversary of underdog Lake Charles Sun Crests’ 1978 championship win

Published 10:19 am Sunday, July 9, 2023

It has been almost 50 years since the Lake Charles Sun Crests out hustled the Montgomery, Illinois Hustlers to win the Junior Miss National Softball Championship. American Press Sportswriter Wayne Batts wrote that “it was the first national crown ever won by a Lake Charles diamond team.”

Jennifer Castille Toup was the third base player on that recreational league team that predated Little League Softball. The sound and the feel of the “ping” when bat connects with the ball still thrills her, still takes her back to her teen years and has propelled her through her career as a salesperson for IBM, then Frito-Lay.

She is not the only one on whom that winning season left a lasting impression. Next month will mark an equally, if not more awe-inspiring victory. All 11 players are teaming up in Lake Charles for a reunion. Mary Groze Paul gets the traveled-the-most-miles award. She will fly in from Germany.

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It was Ahlgrim’s mother, Deola “Dee” Fuselier, who suggested a reunion a few years ago.

“We could only find half the players and got discouraged,” Ahlgrim said. “Then, in June, we realized the 50-year mark was coming up.”

Ahlgrim is elated that each of those players – they were 14 or 15 at the time – are making plans to come to the reunion, and probably as amazed as she was when she caught a ball during the Championship game that she thought was too far over her head.

The championship was the start of more firsts for the Sun Crests. Constance Wilson, New Orleans, had never played on a softball team. Elizabeth “Liz” Briscoe Riley and just about all the others on the team had never flown before. Nationals were held in Des Moines.

“I had never flown or been away from my boyfriend before,” Riley said. “That was a big deal.”

Pitcher Laura Breaux, daughter of Head Coach Sue Breaux, said she was nervous and remembered thinking she wished her father was with them. However, a plane ticket wasn’t in the family budget in 1973.

“The plane ride was so exciting, I got ‘hooked’ on flying. A few years later I got my private pilot’s license,” Breaux said.

Erin Herford Armentor, daughter of Coach Bellie Herford, was on the first McNeese State University Cowgirl Softball team in 1979. The team won the state championship.

City officials, friends and family rolled out the red carpet when the team deboarded at the Lake Charles airport.

“Each girl and coach received a key to the City,” Ahlgrim said. “I remember asking my mother what all the fuss was about. All we did was get on a plane and play softball. That’s when mom explained that it wasn’t every day a local team wins a National Championship.”

The reunion will involve a lot of catching up, no doubt, and remembering.

Stephanie Hardesty Fogleman was playing right field when the batter hit a pop up shallow in the field.

“I started jogging toward the ball, the whole time thinking there’s no way I can make this play. I kept going, put my glove toward my ankle, caught the ball and tossed it to Jenny, first baseman, making a double play.”

Toup and Brenda Toussaint Magee said lessons learned never left them, helping both develop career leadership roles.

“Understanding your team’s skills, knowing their strengths and weaknesses and pulling together creates an overall value for success,” Magee said.

The Sun Crests were considered the underdogs in 1973. The Blue Demons were unbeaten. The win left Breaux with an important mindset, “nothing is impossible.”

Armentor agrees, adding, “Just because of past defeat, don’t give up.”