Jim Gazzolo column: Revel in the moment

Published 3:11 pm Thursday, March 21, 2024

SALT LAKE CITY — All week long Will Wade’s message to his players has been clear: they need to enjoy the moment because they have earned it.

The same can be said for the Cowboys fans.

McNeese State will return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 22 years tonight, and no group of people ever deserved such a reward as this community that follows them.

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There is no question the players have earned this trip and deserve the right to enjoy every step of their historic and record-setting journey.

But so do the people who have supported them this season by filling their home facility in record numbers.

Lake Charles and the surrounding area should enjoy this just as much, if not more. Each of us has earned this moment of joy the hard way. It has been a long four-year journey for us as well.

While the Cowboys struggled in recent years on the court, we had our own hardships to overcome.

The folks who stayed after the hurricanes of 2020 know all too well what life has been like as we rebuild our homes, schools and places of work.

While the Cowboys battled their opponents, so did we.

We fought with insurance companies and FEMA. We battled contractors and construction workers.

We waited on the phone for hours to talk to human beings while listening to bad elevator music, stayed in hotels and with friends and even lived in our driveways.

There were days when we had no water, no power and wondered if the internet would ever return all during the heat of summer’s final weeks.

We dodged downed power lines and sat in gas lines just to get enough fuel to head back to our homes away from home. It seemed as if those days would never end.

We spent numerous dollars and hours getting our tires fixed as the roadways were covered with nails from flying roofs.

When you have to flush your toilet with a bucket of water it’s hard to worry about what issues the local college basketball team is going through at the same time.

Many refused to stay and fight, understandably going elsewhere to start over. If truth be told, I would doubt if any of us could say they never thought about loading up whatever we had been able to save and take off for somewhere else.

It’s easy to think that when the guest in your living room was once the tree in your backyard.

Along the way we came to realize that it’s not good fences that make great neighbors, but rather it’s the ones who will lend you a hammer and help you rebuild those fences when they’ve been blown down.

Maybe that’s why this team is so special to this town.

Like us, this group of Cowboys has been kicked around. Their head coach fell on hard times a year ago with his career was in limbo.

We can all say it wasn’t that long ago when our lives were in the same place.

Now McNeese basketball is the talk of the college game, picked by several national folks as a try Cinderella pick.

Last Sunday, CBS came to Lake Charles to see McNeese’s players and fans react when they found out where they were headed for the tournament. The last time the national networks gave us this much attention we were being blasted by Hurricane Laura.

A few days later they were gone, leaving us to be forgotten and most of our struggles unnoticed.

Now, as we continue to rebuild, they are back to embrace the accomplishments of our basketball team and tell the story of the hardships we survived.

No question the Cowboys deserve to enjoy tonight and this entire run they have been on.

There is also no question, that so do the rest of us.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics for the American Press. Email him at jimgazzolo@yahoo.com